There are some games you play, and there are some games that play you. Descent 3, the latest in 360-degree gaming, is definitely the latter. The first caveat is that if you were made a little queasy by the first titles in this series, don’t even think about playing this one. The second caveat is that if you’ve got the stomach and computer that can handle Descent 3, this may very well be the ride of your life.
The Descent universe is based on the conceit of a world of robot ships and the underground bases in which they move about. Think free-floating first person shooter. The problem is that as great as the graphics, gameplay and guns are, just aiming straight can be a problem. With 360-degrees of movement and multiple weapons to handle during the fast and furious levels, whether you use a mouse and keyboard, a game pad, or a joystick, you’ll be banging into more than a few walls.
While Descent 3 supports force-feedback input devices, the idea of trying to control your ship and weapons while fighting your joystick should not be entertained unless you are looking for a world of hurt.
In the real-world, the government pays millions of dollars on research on how to design cockpits better for fighter pilots. Outrage Entertainment, the game’s designers, might be well served to at least rethink how much players have to go through to fly these things. Obviously within the constraints of a PC game there are limitations, but a game as good and as engaging as Descent 3 deserves a control interface that will let players better immerse themselves in the experience. Otherwise you’ll spend half your time trying not to bang into walls, other ships and hillsides.
Did I say hillsides? That’s right, in this latest version you get a chance to get out of the tunnels and fly around the surface of different planets. Not only is this good for the sheer fun of it, it adds another neat dimension to the game.
Once above ground, you will have to fight off some new land-based enemies, but you also have some new weapons to use. And you’ll need them. While the games AI is very good, it’s the sheer strength of the enemy’s numbers that can be daunting. It doesn’t help that even in those areas where there are not a lot enemy ships, you’ll occasionally find yourself being sucked into an ambush.
The levels are challenging enough for Descent veterans, but not so tough that they are unwinnable by newbies willing to put in the time to develop their chops. There is a superficial plot that helps setup each mission, but nothing that gets in the way of blowing things up.
We also took a look at the expansion pack called Descent 3 Mercenary. This includes a small seven level single-player campaign, a collection of 4 multiplayer levels called "B-sides" that have fun with the whole playing environment, and a set of user-designed single- and multi-player levels. Rounding out the expansion pack is the Descent 3 level editor. So if you exhaust the single player levels that come with the game, you’ll have something new to look forward to.
For those that like the multi-player experience, Descent 3 offers some interesting games and levels. Performance in multiplayer games is a little less than perfect, but across a high-speed connection or on a LAN, gameplay is great. If you’re going across a 56K dial-up connection, make sure you’ve got as low latency as possible.
After a couple installments in the Descent family, you might think this one would be a little tired. Luckily for us, the action is better than ever, the graphics pop, and the whole thing comes together to give those strong of stomach another chance to test their mettle. Also, you need a 3D accelerator to play this one, so don’t leave home without it.
You might think this talk of gamers suffering from vertigo while playing this game is a bit of overstatement. If you do, you haven’t played this game. After about 20 minutes of playing Descent, don’t be surprised if you feel a bit like you’ve been on the world’s longest roller coaster. The only real down point is that sometimes it doesn’t seem as if you have any more control than a theme park ride passenger. But ahhh, what a ride! I give it 4.5 GiN Gems.