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Dexcent Freespace

Descent Freespace

Space Battle Simulator Supreme

By Steven Bilodeau 

First things first: "Descent Freespace" has no similarity to Interplay's successful "Descent" series.  They were both developed by the same team, but that's it. "Freespace" is a space combat simulator along the lines of "Wing Commander Prophecy".  A series of missions are linked together in a campaign -- the setting is a war with the new alien species, the Shivans.  Humans ally with their old enemies, the Vasudans, to combat this technologically superior species.

As the game progresses, the player is introduced to new ships and better weaponry and defences.  Plain heat-tracking missiles are eventually supplemented with fast interceptors, or multi-warhead missiles.  There really is a sense of progression in the game. This is assisted by a storyline which is effective if not original.

Briefings are conducted before each mission to keep the player focussed on the goals. The briefings are not delievered by real actors, as in "Prophecy" but rather by voice only or, in one or two instances, via animated characters.  These, and the cutscenes between missions, are pretty but uninspiring.  They don't evoke the atmosphere or emotion present in "Prophecy" or even "TIE Fighter".

"Freespace's" gameplay is really enjoyable -- I'm almost finished my second run-through the entire campaign.  The missions are varied in their objectives and you are given generous control over your wingmen.  You can assign a task to all fighters, a wing or just to a single ship.  The interface is easy to learn.  If you don't like the joystick configuration, the game lets you change their assignments.  All of this makes "Freespace" easy to learn.

The graphics are on par with those in "Prophecy" thanks to 3D video support.   The level of detail in the ships and surrounding objects is astonishing.  Huge capital ships have an incredible amount of detail on them, like antennas that rotate, weapons turrets and nicely textured surfaces.   They also look huge; the designers have done a great job of establishing varying scales between these ships.   You can even fly into some of them and see interior details.  If these impress you, just wait until one of them blows up!  The explosions are lengthy, detailed events that you hope to see again.  They are certainly the best, guaranteed to make you think, "whoa!".

Other companies have made pretty space combat simulators, so what's different about "Freespace"? For one, this game offers multiplayer combat, a feature left out of "Prophecy".  There is support for up to 12 players via network and built-in Internet support.  Early releases of the game, including patches, left players unsatisfied with "Freespace's" Internet performance.  This should have been addressed in subsequent patches, however.

Another major difference is the inclusion of the Freespace Editor ("FRED") which allows a player to create missions.  Unlike the game editors  included with titles like "Duke Nukem" or "Unreal", this one is actually fairly easy to use.  Not only can you design the missions, but FRED also allows you to add voices to the briefings and in-flight messages.  Your homemade missions can be linked together into a full campaign and posted on the Internet. Dozens of these are already available at sites like Xanadu's Freespace Mission Archive (http//

You'll also find support for Force Feedback joysticks in "Freespace".   When you shoot your weapons or fire afterburners, you'll feel the recoil.  And when your ship gets hit by weapons fire or collides with an object, the bump will come from the appropriate direction.

Suitable music is present throughout the game to assist with the atmosphere.

"Descent Freespace" may have a number of similarities to other space combat games, but it also advances the genre through its additional features.  I know I'll be playing this one for a long time.

Descent Freespace

Distributed by Interplay Productions

$50Cdn for Windows 95/98

Steven Bilodeau is a columnist for the Edmonton Journal. You can find more of his columns at

Steven Bilodeau can be reached via e-mail at And for more computer news, visit JournalExtra, the World Wide Web site of The Edmonton Journal, at


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January 31, 2006