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
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
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
"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//xanadu.ml.org/freespace).
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.
Distributed by Interplay
$50Cdn for Windows
is a columnist for the Edmonton Journal. You can find more of his columns
can be reached via e-mail at StevenB@msn.com.
And for more computer news, visit JournalExtra, the World Wide Web site
of The Edmonton Journal, at http://www.edmontonjournal.com.
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