To anyone who has read my past reviews, it can easily be found that I am a die hard Wing Commander addict. I just feel that no other game series provided me with such excitement (and yes, many wrist injuries from breaking in so many flightsticks), and always gave me that urge to do "just one more mission."
And other the other hand, I’ve never truly been a big fan of the Descent series. I don’t know why it is, but just the claustrophobic feeling of flying through those tight corridors just didn’t please me much. And when I heard that Volition (a.k.a Parallax Software) was creating a spinoff of Descent with more of a Wing Commander feel, I was somewhat interested, but wondered how it would turn out, knowing how game tie-ins vary seldom work.
Descent: Freespace has been released to the gaming public, and fortunately, this is a title in that works. Not only that, it ranks up there with the best space combat sims on the market: the Wing Commander Series, Tie Fighter, and Colony Wars.
There isn’t any change to the typical story line, about an alien race attacking Earth, but this time, the Earth is already at war with another alien race called the Vasudans. Terran intelligence tries to remove any rumors about phantom ships, but they soon realize that this isn’t possible, as this new race strikes hard on both Terran and Vasudan forces.
As always though, what matters in a combat sim is the playability, and Freespace has it in spades. To start things off in the right direction, Volition designed the game to run in a control scheme similar to that in LucasArt’s Tie Fighter. Communication still is done like it is in the Wing Commander series, but Freespace adds all the TF elements: calling in support ships and reinforcements, sending commands to various wings, directing attacks to specific capital ship components (such as sensors, weaponry, engines, etc.), and jumping into hyperspace to complete each mission.
I was also very impressed with the graphic quality that Freespace used, and I was wondering how it would compare to Wing Commander Prophecy. Prophecy was a visual feast with full screen nebulae, missile vapor trails, lens flares, and unbelievable shockwave effects. Freespace doesn’t go as far as Prophecy does (there are no shockwaves or lens flares), but what is shown is done quite well. Amazing jumpgate effects where capital ships seem to mold into the battlefield, sparks erupt around critically damaged ships, and missiles still leave realistic vapor trails, while maintaining a very high frame rate (around 30 on a P150 with a 3Dfx card).
Missions and campaigns can now be created with the built in mission creator, FRED. Even better, these missions can be downloaded from the Internet and played right away. Multiplayer capability, which was sorely missed in Prophecy, is also built in, and can be accessed free via Parralax Online. At the moment, multiplay runs slow on 33.6 modems, but patches are being designed to correct this, the only flaw that this game presents.
Freespace is very impressive, combining the great single play of Prophecy with the (albeit slow) multiplayer action that was sorely missed. While not truly Descent 3 (which is planned for a Winter 99 release) it is a successful deviation from the tunnels and worth every penny.