It is a measure of the current pace of technology that the original Descent erne on seven floppy disks and ran on a humble 486. The year was 1995 and the 360 shooter was touted as 'better than Doom' - a bold claim back in the days when a new 3D shoot 'em up was still able to raise an eyebrow, as opposed to a shrug. Since then, of course, you've had your Quakes, your Unreal and your Half-Life, to name but a few, all of them considerably better than either Doom or Descent. You've also had your Forsaken, a game that, to put it politely, borrowed some ideas from Descent. To put it impolitely, they thieved the entire concept, threw in some fancy accelerated graphics and gave it a different name. They made a decent job of it, though, and Forsaken is surely the game by which other subterranean shooters must be judged. It was fortunate to arrive at a time when 3D acceleration was still quite a novelty, and we might have gone a bit over the top with it, but the fact remains that it walked all over Descent 2.
So, to Descent 3, the grizzled heavyweight taking to the ring in an attempt to slap down the upstart Forsaken. In the early exchanges it looks an even match. Now that we're all used to accelerated graphics, Descent 3 may lack the visual impact that Forsaken had, but essentially they look the same.
In fact, at a cursory glance, a layman would be hard pressed to differentiate between the two games. If the same layman took the mouse and had a dabble, he'd also find that they were very similar games to play, largely involving tearing around huge tunnels like a blue-arsed fly and shooting robots with an array of high-powered weaponry.
Descent 3 even attempts to justify the pyrotechnics with some kind of story. This is something of a departure for the series, which previously worked on the basis of shooting everything that moved. That's still largely the case here, but the action is tied to a plot that is at best intricate and at worst unfathomable. The Descent universe is a sterile, po-faced place and there are very few laughs to be had, with the 15 chapters covering such areas as orbital network transmitters, data transfers and information downloads. There are a couple of vaguely human missions, such as rescuing a prisoner or escorting a cargo ship, but in the main it gets bogged down in heavyweight techno-gadgetry. It doesn't really matter, though, because essentially it's a disguised version of the time-honoured 'here's the key, there's the door'.
It's the action that's important, and it comes thick and fast, with a large part of the game spent spinning wildly with both fire buttons constantly pressed. Aficionados of the series will recall that the first game was utterly bewildering, due to the full freedom of movement and the labyrinthine levels. The second instalment addressed this with the introduction of a so-called guidebot, which would lead the way to the next immediate goal. In Descent 3 the guidebot has gone from being a useful gadget to being the most important part of the game. In fact, the vast majority of the game involves desperately chasing the guidebot through vast underground complexes while attempting to fend off murderous robots. Occasionally you're left to think for yourself, with some rudimentary lateral thinking puzzles to contend with, but attempting an entire level without the aid of the guidebot is nigh-on impossible.
To an extent, this reliance on the gamebot gives the impression that the game is playing you, rather than you playing the game, although a degree of skill is still required to make progress, with the various levels offering different challenges. The game traverses most of the solar system, even encompassing a brief visit to Earth via the subways of Seoul. And for the first time, Descent has gone overground, with sections of the game involving skimming the surface of various planets, though only vague attempts have been made at realism. For instance, Mars is red, Mercury is hot and the moon is made of cheese. Although purists could argue that they detract from the claustrophobic feel of the original, the surface sections add some variety and actually work quite well, providing a respite from the subterranean action.
Long-time fans of the series will find enough in Descent 3to renew their enthusiasm, whereas newcomers should find it an interesting challenge. While it's never going to match the likes of Half-Life lor suspense and fear, it does what it does well and is a sprawling epic of a game that sucks you in.
It's an extremely polished affair, with wide-screen cut-scenes tying the action together and giving it a dramatic, cinematic feel, although it does tend to take itself a bit seriously.
So is it better than Forsaken? To be honest, there's not a lot in it If you enjoyed one, you'll almost certainly enjoy the other. How's that for diplomacy?
The first thing you'll notice about Descent III is that this time round the action isn't confined to the claustrophobic twisting tunnels of the first two games. This, along with the fact that it sports a super new 3D game engine that enables more detailed geometry, means that in terms of technology and potential it's leaps ahead of Descent II.
Since Descent II was released over two years ago there have been many pretenders to its throne, most recently the graphical fest Forsaken. Do developers Outrage (part of the original Parallax team who wrote the Descent games) feel they have anything to prove? "Forsaken is very pretty. I only really played the demo though, and I didn't want to play any more," maintains Executive Producer Alan Pavlish. "We're going to be more subtle. We're paying more attention to the game and going for realism. We don't want it looking like a circus, with a green light here, a red light there and a yellow light here.
"On a technical level, Descent til ls far superior, but where we're really gonna hit Forsaken is with our AI and our robots. We're gonna make it feel like you're actually fighting humans, not the CPU. You'll also have to come up with different strategies depending on your environment If you're outside, for example, you'll have to come up with a whole new strategy to beat the enemy, and use different weapons than if you were operating in the close confines of a tunnel."
The fact you can now fly outside has meant Outrage have had to develop two different 3D engines and meld them together, which is no mean feat. The results are pretty seamless, with minimum pop-up and a high level of detail. But then we'd really expect nothing less from a game that requires a 3D card.
The tunnels are more organic and less square than before, and Shere's plenty in the of cover, such as ess, small hills and rocks. There'll also be wind and rain effects and heaps of ambient stuff to set atmosphere.
Other new features include heaps of cool new weaponry, such as napalm rockets, bees (?) and frag missiles, three new upgradeable ships, and as well as the good old 'Guide Bot' there's also a 'Thief Bot' that you can send after a player with the order to steal a certain weapon.
"It's gonna be great for multiplayer," chuckles Pavlish. "You're sitting round the corner, bouncing grenades off the wall at your opponent, and this little guy flies up and steals your weapon!" Descent III will no doubt provide welcome relief to the numerous Ouake-clones due to hit the shelves this Christmas.
Download Descent 3
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Descent 3 Screenshots and Media
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