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Review of:
Descent: FREESPACE 
(The Great War)
 
by Greg Miller

First Contact

It was supposed to be a hit and run operation. Just a simple harassing raid on a remote Vasudan listening outpost. If anything, this was a fairly safe way to introduce new pilots to combat, as the danger to the attacker was minimal. Slipstream was reflecting on this as he and his flight of rookies jumped into the Vasudan sector. 

As the jump flash faded away, Slip called to his wingmen, "Listen up alpha flight, we go in by the numbers here. No heroics, just like we practiced. Any surprises means we turn tail and head for home." 

A chorus of "Rogers" crackled in Slips ears as he adjusted his sensors to scan the space around the bad guys' outpost. Jammed. He'd expected as much. 

"We'll have to wait until we get in visual range before we start our run. Watch for fighters!" he called to alpha flight. "What the BREAK ALPHA! Break now and head for home!" 

Slip couldn't believe his eyes. The listening post was the site of a battle royal between a huge fleet of Vasudan ships and an equally large fleet of something. It went against his better judgement, but since his flight was safely headed home, the lure of this kind of intelligence was just too much. 

 Slip headed for the fight. Massive fireballs lit up space around the battle. What were those other ships? 

Vasudan distress and surrender signals filled the comm channels as his range to the outpost decreased. They were getting pounded bad. 

"Holy" was all Slips mike picked up as alien fighters locked on to his ship and fired Were it not for his decision to send alpha flight home at the first sign of trouble, no word of the new species existence or capabilities would have reached Terran Intelligence in time to mount any kind of defense. The Shivans had arrived. . . 

Background and Overview

FREESPACE is the newest game in the Descent series of games. This one is produced by Interplay. As you may have gathered from Slipstream's unfortunate encounter, FREESPACE is not like the other games in the Descent series. Previous Descent games (I & II) involved Terran forces fighting Vasudan forces in an ever complicated series of mine tunnels. FREESPACE takes you out of the mines and head on into another even more vicious species known as the Shivans. They don't take prisoners. . . 

 This game is about fighter ship size combat in outer space. You are at the helm of various Terran fighter craft throughout the game. You fight other fighters and also larger ships and stations. If you have ever played a flight sim, flight combat, or space combat type of game before you will have a good idea of what is in store for you as you start to play FREESPACE. Let's face it folks, there are only so many ways to draw a cockpit. In fact, in this game all you get is a HUD display. Oh well, cockpit art usually just blocks your field of view anyway. 

 As far as simulations go, this one is complex and falls more into the sim side of the house rather than the arcade side. There are enough control options in this game to make your head spin. Don't expect to get good at it until you have quite a few missions under your belt. 

 FREESPACE comes with two CD's, a trouble shooting pamphlet that suggests you'll get your best performance in DOS (yeah right!), and a 72 page manual that is actually helpful (though not helpful enough to keep a hints book from being written and marketed some time down the road, Hmmm ). 
 
 

Pluses and Minuses

Pluses: There are A LOT of features in this game! If you like complex modern flight sim games with lots of controls, you'll enjoy FREESPACE. It will take many missions just to get familiar with all the controls and instruments. Fortunately, there are some training missions in the beginning of the game to ease you into it. FREESPACE is loaded with options too. In this day (as compared to say, a year ago!) that has become fairly standard with sims. So here is a rundown of the "usual" features. 
 
 

Internet play:

the game supports up to 12 people playing together over a TCP/IP connection. There is real time, in game voice communications and several variations in play, such as melee, one on one, team vs. team and objective based missions. There is even a free place to meet and play with other space hot dogs called Parallax Online provided by the creators of the game. Statistics and rankings are also kept there. 

 Solo Play: There are single missions available that are considered "simulation" by the game so the outcome doesn't affect your pilot's stats. There is a full-blown campaign. It is supposed to be dynamic in nature in that your performance in a mission will directly affect the content of future missions. I haven't played enough to observe how well this works. There is also a mission editor (named FRED oddly enough). This allows you to create your own missions. The sky is the limit here. 

Other: The game has most current hardware support including most 3D cards, AGP graphics cards, and Force Feedback joysticks. It also has a built in update feature that allows you to get patches directly off the web, which is very nice. 

 Minuses: The biggest draw back of FREESPACE, in my humble opinion (IMHO), is originality. That may or may not say much depending on what you want to see in a game. FREESPACE is a lot like the X-wing vs. Tie fighters, Star Wars game. In fact, it is a lot like any flight sim type game you have ever played, not counting the evolution that these games have gone through over the years. The problem is pretty basic here in that a flight sim, is a flight sim, is a flight sim. The company screams original but the only original stuff you can put into a game like this is your own little tweaks and touches. 

 Don't get me wrong here. For its biggest drawback, originality isn't too much of a problem. I have a shelf full of flight/space sim type games and am not about to stop buying them just because you do basically the same thing in all of them. However, don't get FREESPACE if you are looking for a "game like no other". Get it if you want a good space sim game. 

 I also had a problem with my joystick, a Microsoft Sidewinder Precision Pro. I don't know if this is a feature or a problem, but the throttle control doesn't work for me in this game. There may be a solution (there isn't in the documentation), but I haven't found it yet. You can compensate for this if you have a programmable joystick by setting up buttons for different levels of thrust. This wastes valuable "button space" though. 

Another area that lacked was the 3D effects, again IMHO (your humble opinion may vary!). They did not seem very spectacular when I used my 3D card, so don't let the lack of one keep you from getting the game. It looks fine in the direct draw mode. 

 I also found the references to DOS in the trouble- shooting pamphlet somewhat baffling. The first line under Windows 95 says the following: "Although Windows 95 is very friendly towards the majority of DOS based games, you will experience the best performance in true DOS." Wow, kind of a blast from the past isn't it? When was the last time you tried to get a game to work in DOS and had all of your Windows based peripherals work without incident? Most of mine require Windows or you have to jump through hoops to get it to work in DOS! Then there is the relevance of the statement. Right on the box it has the Designed for Microsoft Windows Logo. And under requirements? Windows 95 or NT. Big Hmmm here I am running Windows 98, by the way, and had no problems with the game. Methinks there is a wire or two crossed here somewhere. Fortunately the problem appears to be only on paper. 
 
 

System Requirements

The minimums are: a Windows 95/98 or NT operating system with Direct X 5.0 or higher (in spite of what the pamphlet said), at least a Pentium 133 with a 3D accelerator or a P166 without one, 32 MB of RAM, 8X or faster CD-ROM, 210 MB of available hard drive space (they don't call it FREESPACE fer nuthin'), a mouse, and a direct sound compliant sound card. They recommend more of course. A P200 with a 3D card, 48 MB of RAM, a video card with at least 2 MB of RAM on board, and, DUH, a joystick. . . 
 
 

The Bottom Line

Descent: FREESPACE, The Great War is a good solid game that packs a huge punch in the features department. I like it and suspect you will too if you enjoy the flight/space sim game arena. You can get it at Best Buy for about $50.00 or CompUSA for about $40.00. There are probably other places in the S.A. area that carry it as well. If you want to find out more about the game you can go to the Interplay web site at: www.interplay.com for even more info. Just click on "Descent: Freespace" under new releases section on the left and you'll find more info than you ever wanted to know! 

 Greg Miller is a nuclear physicist who builds portable nuclear generators for a top-secret division of NASA OK, OK, just kidding. His job is really so secret even he doesn't know what it is. He is also a part time software critic for Alamo PC and can be reached at millergt@world-net.net, but don't tell anyone. . .