Descent 3
The new '99 model has some nice features
Publisher: Interplay
Developer: Outrage
Posted: 07/03/1999
Written by: Jason Cross
DEMO: Descent III
FEATURE: Descent 3
FORUM: Descent 3
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QUICK TAKE: Descent 3
REVIEW: Descent 3 Mercenary
Shot One What would Descent be without a killer automap?
It's been over three years since Descent II, a long time to wait for an action-game sequel. The second installment was hyped with a multimillion dollar TV ad campaign featuring the likes of Rodney Dangerfield and Jenny McCarthy telling us "You're going down." It was largely just more Descent, with a few small changes and a bigger roster of enemies and weapons. Since then, the developers (Parallax Software) have split into two companies—Volition Inc., known for the Descent: Freespace line, and Outrage Entertainment. Volition obviously took the franchise in a different direction with Freespace, though they're currently developing a "proper" Descent game with Descent 4. Outrage took their sweet time to make what they felt was the ultimate Descent game, a true sequel of sequels. Did they succeed?

Shot Two Let's see... red is positive, and green is..., no wait... green is positive...
Descent 3 starts off much as Descent II did; an FMV introduction sets the stage for the game's plot. There are only a handful of these videos throughout the game, but unless you enjoy watching the Incredible Plastic People try to develop a plot, you're not missing much. Yes, that's right, the latest Descent game makes a serious attempt at having a plot. It only half-succeeds. The story of the Material Defender (you) and his struggle against the evil leader of the P.T.M.C. really doesn't have much to do with actual gameplay, however. You can be completely ignorant of the plot and still accomplish all the missions, and knowing the reason why you have to go flip some lever or collect some icon doesn't really make it much more fun. Being in a ship fighting robots infected with an evil virus just doesn't provide the kind of personal connection necessary to make players feel as though they're part of the story. As such, the story is told mainly through the short text of the mission briefings between each level, rather than with elaborate scripted events during the game.

Shot Three
An effort was obviously made to break away from the "red key, yellow key, blue key, blow reactor, get out " formula of the first two Descent games. Each level has mission-based objectives that provide far more variety. One mission, for example, is a prison-break. Your objectives include finding the prisoner, getting him transferred to minimum security, and opening the force field that will allow a transport ship to pick him up. Some of these mission objectives are interesting puzzles that require a little thought, but the vast majority are of the standard "go here and hit this trigger" variety that has been popular in most shooters since time immemorial. The whole experience is about as involving as Quake II's mission objectives. The attempts at a plot and mission structure are a definite step up from the monotony of Descent II, but don't expect competition for Half-Life's rich storytelling.

Shot Four Some of the new weapon effects are pretty impressive
Players are once again thrust into a series of corridors with enough twists and turns to resemble a plate of spaghetti. Descent 3 boasts the addition of outdoor areas, and the seamless transition between indoor and outdoor areas is handled with aplomb, but don't expect to spend much time with the sky above and the ground below. Descent games have always offered a fantastic auto-mapping feature, and the third installment is no exception. Gone are the days of a simple wire-frame map. Replacing them are flat-shaded polygons that provide more detail and make it easier to recognize where you are and how to get where you want to go. A great automap alone won't get you through the numerous twisting passageways, though. Finding your way to your next objective can still be rather difficult, and that's where the GuideBot comes in. Learning to use the GuideBot menu well is the key between making this game a joyful exploration of subterranean tunnels or suffering through a frustrating exercise in "how to get lost in a hurry."

Shot Five Bosses will likely cost multiple lives to defeat
The handy little GuideBot can find your next objective for you, lead you to powerups, and even whip out the fire extinguisher when you've been torched by an enemy robot with a penchant for pyrotechnics. You'll need all the help you can get, too, as the AI for the robots puts up a good fight, even on easier difficulty levels. To say the 15 regular levels and two hidden levels are large and complex is like saying that Jar-Jar Binks is "a little difficult to understand." Between the huge levels and tough opponents, the single-player missions in Descent 3 will keep players involved for quite a long time. Still, it never really becomes frustrating. Outrage wisely chose to give the player infinite lives, so getting past a tough area is typically just a matter of grabbing the scattered powerups from where your last ship blew up, and getting a few more shots in on those tough opponents. Those with more skill will get through the game more quickly, but the ability to finish has more to do with persistence than piloting skills.

Shot Six
Of course, no game released over three years after its predecessor can get by without a major technology overhaul. Thanks to the magic of several-hundred megahertz processors and zippy 3D accelerators, the levels in Descent 3 are more detailed and colorful than ever before. You'll find interesting structures in every level, lit up by the colored glow of missile fire and laser blasts. Many of the visual effects are subtle, delivering a more believable overall aesthetic than the disco-like effects of other games. Still, all the nifty effects you're used to seeing in a modern shooter are there, including scorch marks on walls, cool weapon effects, spectacular explosions, fancy missile trails, flowing lava, etc. Overall, the game looks every bit as good as the best of the traditional "on foot" first-person shooters. You'll need a pretty beefy computer to turn the detail levels up very far, but even at more modest settings the game is beautiful. The sound is likewise some of the best you'll find anywhere. Interesting techno tunes change as your ship enters new locations. Sound effects are distinct and powerful, and are delivered in convincing 3D using either DirectSound 3D, A3D, or EAX. Those with good speaker systems will find that Descent 3 gives audio gear quite a workout, and is one of the best games available to show off new sound hardware.

Shot Seven
Modern shooters are almost expected to ship with a functional Internet multiplayer component. Descent 3 really shines in this area, delivering rock-solid performance on standard dialup modems and easy connectivity via an in-game connection to Parallax Online. This free service allows players to easily find and host games of different types, and ranks players based on performance. Direct modem and serial connections are also supported via DirectPlay, and Quake-style shooter lovers will be happy to know that the game ships with both a dedicated server and GameSpy support. While these features are quickly becoming commonplace, the sheer number of multiplayer variants included is truly exceptional. Players have several varieties of co-op, teamplay, and deathmatch games available. Most are typical, like Capture the Flag, but others are more original, like "Monsterball", where players score by hitting a ball into their opponents' goal. Furthermore, the game is quite extensible. A level editor ships with the game, and a Software Developer's Kit is already available for download to help MOD authors create their own game variants.

Shot Eight The purple robot maker teleports in these nasties
Another nod to the first-person shooter crowd is the inclusion of the mouse as a control device. Those used to mouse-and-keyboard control will find themselves right at home with Descent 3, though the joystick jockeys haven't been ignored either. With the move away from DOS, far more controllers are supported. These are not the only subtle changes that have dramatic impact on the game-the cockpit views obscure far less of the screen than before, for example. At high resolutions, larger fonts are used for messages, so they remain readable. Players no longer have to worry about saving lives for those later levels, as they have as many lives as they want. A training mode will help acquaint new players with moving and turning along three axes. Truly, a lot of thought went into making a daunting game much more accessible.

Shot Nine Occasional brief cut-scenes help tell the story, but don't expect much
When all is said and done, it's still Descent. There are changes and improvements too numerous to mention, but the core of the game is still flying around labyrinthine tunnels, blasting renegade robots with a variety of weapons and missiles, dropping mines in your path. There's more than enough refinement to bring the Descent franchise up to date, and those who liked the first two games will absolutely love Descent 3. Those who didn't really enjoy them won't be converted, though. Ultimately, Descent 3 is "more of the same," but it's MOTS done really well.

Addendum: Though there is a folder named "edit" and an executable named "D3EDIT.EXE" there is no actual level editor included with the game. The executable merely brings up a message stating that the level editor wasn't ready to go when they shipped the game, and will be available for download. At this time, it is not yet available. [7/6/1999]

Gameplay: 4
Graphics: 4
Interface: 4
Multiplayer: 5
Depth: 3
Stability: 4
It's Like: Descent all grown up
Windows 95/98
200 MHz Pentium or higher
32MB of RAM
3D Accelerator card, DirectX 6
2-16 players

�1999 Strategy Plus, Inc.

Descent 3 CD 06/99 $9.95