|Release date(s)||Microsoft Windows
NA June 11, 1999
|Genre(s)||First-person shooter, shoot 'em up|
Descent 3 (stylized as Descent³) is a first-person shooter video game developed by Outrage Entertainment and published by Interplay Productions. It was released for Microsoft Windows on June 11, 1999, for Mac OS on November 24, 1999, and for Linux in July 2000. Descent 3 is the third game in the Descent video game series and a sequel to Descent II. The game takes place in a distant future of the Solar System where the player is cast as Material Defender, a freelance mercenary who is tasked to shut off a computer virus.
Unlike standard first-person shooters, the player must control a flying ship that has a six degrees of freedom movement scheme, allowing the player to move in any 3D direction. The game features both indoor and outdoor environments, made possible through the use of a hybrid engine that combines the capabilities of a portal rendering engine with those of a flight simulator-like terrain engine. Descent 3 received positive reviews from critics, with an aggregate review score of 89 out of 100 at Metacritic. The most praised aspects of the game were its graphics, enemy AI, and outdoor environments. An official expansion pack, Descent 3: Mercenary, was released on December 3, 1999. The expansion pack includes a new series of missions, multiplayer maps, and a level editor.
Like its predecessors Descent and Descent II, Descent 3 is a six degrees of freedom shooter where the player controls a flying ship from a first-person perspective in zero-gravity. It is differentiated from standard first-person shooters in that it allows the player to move and rotate in any 3D direction. Specifically, the player is free to move forward/backward, up/down, left/right, and rotate in three perpendicular axes, often termed pitch, yaw, and roll. The game features three different ships that the player can control and each ship offers a different balance of speed, weapons, and maneuverability.
In the game's campaign mode, the player must complete 15 labyrinthine levels filled with different types of enemies. The game primary takes place inside underground facilities, but the player can occasionally travel over the surface of the planets where the facilities are buried. The underground facilities are composed of a set of tunnels and rooms separated by doors. Most of them can be opened by either firing weapons at them or bumping into them, but others require special actions to be performed first before entry is allowed. For instance, some doors require special keys to open them. To finish a level and proceed to the next one, the player must complete a certain set of objectives, ranging from collecting items to activating switches, defeating enemies, and destroying objects, among others. Some levels also feature optional objectives that are not critical but add to the player's overall completion score.
Along the way, the player may collect power-ups that enhance the ship's weaponry. Weapons are categorized into three different types: primary weapons, secondary weapons, and countermeasures. Primary weapons range from a variety of laser weapons to the Plasma Cannon and the Napalm Cannon, which projects a stream of burning fuel. Secondary weapons include different types of missiles, while countermeasures can range from proximity mines to portable turrets. Most primary weapons consume energy in different rate, but some, such as the Napalm Cannon, use their own type of ammunition. In contrast, all secondary weapons and countermeasures require their own ammunition suppliers.
The player's ship is protected by a shield which decreases when attacked by enemies. If the shield is fully depleted, the player dies and must start the game again from a previous section of the fight without any collected power-ups. Nevertheless, the player can reclaim the missing power-ups from the ruins of the destroyed ship. Shield, energy, and ammunition suppliers are scattered throughout the levels to help players increase their resources. The player can also collect equipment items which grant special powers. For example, the Quad Laser modifies the laser weapons to fire four shots at once instead of the standard two, while the Cloaking Device renders the player invisible to enemies for 30 seconds. During the game, the player may also deploy the Guide-Bot, an assistant that keeps track of the next objective and shows the player the way to a specific target.
In addition to the single-player campaign mode, Descent 3 features an online multiplayer mode where up to 16 players can compete against each other in eight different game types. Notable game types include the traditional deathmatch, where the objective is to kill as many opponents as possible, capture the flag, where two to four teams compete against each other to capture opposing flags, and Monster Ball, in which players must shoot and guide a ball into their opponents' goal. Aspects such as time limit, number of kills to end a game, map to play on, and selection of what weapons are allowed, among others, can be customized to match player preference. The game also features an observer mode which allows players to watch a multiplayer game as a spectator and a co-operative mode that allows players to work together to complete campaign missions. Online gameplay was free over Parallax Online, an online gaming service which also kept track of players' statistics and rankings.
Descent 3 takes place in a distant future of the Solar System. The game follows the adventures of an anonymous freelance mercenary known as the Material Defender and employed by a megacorporation called Post Terran Mining Corporation (PTMC). At the end of Descent II, the Material Defender narrowly escaped the destruction of a planetoid where he was clearing PTMC's robots infected by a computer virus on orders of the PTMC. He was about to return to Earth to collect his reward, but a malfunction occurred with the prototype warp drive in the ship he was piloting, making it drift into the Sun. At the very last moment, the Material Defender is rescued by an organization known as the Red Acropolis Research Team (RART).
As the Material Defender recovers, the director of the RART informs him that strange things are happening in the PTMC, as well as the fact that one of her acquaintances in the PTMC was killed by a robot. What made the RART suspicious of the PTMC was when they denied the fact that they had ever employed her acquaintance, even though he had worked with them for years. The RART had tried to notify the Collective Earth Defense (CED), a large police group, of the PTMC's actions, but they took no action, daring not to mess with such a powerful megacorporation. The director also tells the Material Defender that, while he was clearing the planetoid, PTMC executive S. Dravis was actually testing and modifying the virus and that he had deliberately tried to kill him by disabling the warp drive on his ship. After some persuasion and offers from the director, the Material Defender accepts to help the RART stop the virus.
The Material Defender is first sent to rescue a scientist who has evidence of the PTMC's actions. After recovering the evidence, the Material Defender delivers it to the PTMC president before leaving with his reward. However, upon completing the mission, the director tells him that the PTMC president has been killed and that the RART are now considered terrorists. After a series of missions, the RART manages to develop an antivirus and convince the CED that they are not terrorists. The CED suggest to broadcast the antivirus through their Orbital Network Transmitter, but it apparently does not work. The Material Defender is then sent to Venus, where S. Dravis is located in his office. In the ensuing confrontation, S. Dravis is mortally wounded by the Guide-Bot's flares. Subsequently, the Material Defender proceeds to shut off the virus, which disables all of the PTMC's robots. The game ends with the CED destroying the PTMC's headquarters while the Material Defender returns to Earth.
Development and release
Outrage Entertainment began development of Descent 3 in November 1996. The company was founded when Parallax Software, creators of previous Descent games, decided to split in two: Outrage Entertainment and Volition. Volition would focus on creating the combat space simulator FreeSpace games, while Outrage would continue with the Descent series. For Descent 3, the developers wanted to create both indoor and outdoor environments; one of the biggest complaints of Descent II was the fact that it was considered too "tunnely". To this end, the developers created a new technology which featured an indoor portal rendering engine "hooked to a flight-sim-like terrain" engine, collectively called the Fusion Engine. This would allow the developers to create levels where the player could transit from indoor to outdoor areas seamlessly and in real-time. The game natively supports the Direct3D, Glide and OpenGL rendering APIs for graphics, and the A3D and DirectSound3D technologies for sound.
In addition to the changes in the game's engine, the developers decided to improve the enemy AI to give each enemy a distinct behavior. According to Matt Toschlog, president of Outrage Entertainment and lead programmer of Descent 3, "It's very rewarding for the player to meet a new enemy, get to know him, learn his quirks, and figure out the best way to kill him. It's great when a game requires both thinking and quick reactions". Originally, the developers planned to add weather effects that would disorient the player's ship during gameplay, but this feature was ultimately not implemented due to time and technology constraints. Multiplayer games were heavily tested to ensure their stability and support IPX, TCP, and DirectPlay. Developers also considered the idea of shipping the game with a level editor based on the one they used to create the game's levels. However, due to the constant changes the developers made to their own editor during the game's development, it was hard for them to design a more user-friendly one from the start.
The actual development of the game took 31 months to complete, with the developers describing it as both a joyful and painful process due to in part of the almost nonexistent management and the rapidly evolving technology at the time. Before release, the game's publisher, Interplay Productions, ran a program that allowed Descent fans to submit a digital photo of themselves along with a pilot name so that they could use them as their multiplayer profiles in the game. Descent 3 was initially released for Microsoft Windows on June 11, 1999. A level editor was eventually released shortly afterwards and allows users to create both single and multiplayer maps for the game. A Mac OS version of the game was also released on November 24, 1999. The Mac OS version was ported by programmer Duane Johnson, who previously worked on the 3dfx versions of the original Descent and Descent II. Descent 3 was also ported to Linux platforms by Loki Entertainment Software after an agreement with the game's publisher. The port, which features a multiplayer mode optimized for 16 players, was released in July 2000.
Descent 3 received positive reviews from video game critics. Erik Wolpaw, writing for GameSpot, felt that the game "improves in almost every conceivable way on its predecessors and reestablishes the series as the premier example of the play style it single-handedly pioneered". The most praised aspects of the game were its graphics, enemy AI, and outdoor environments. IGN reviewer Jay Boor lauded the game's new engine, noting that the transition between indoor and outdoor environments is seamless. Game Revolution remarked that the addition of outdoor environments "allows for an even greater use of the maneuvering capabilities, adds variety to the levels, and ensures that the game never gets dull or boring". The reviewer also acknowledged that the game's six degrees of freedom movement scheme may be difficult to master for some players, stating that Descent 3 "can be confusing, dizzying, and even neaseating. This is a game for the pro's".
The music and sound effects received similar praise. GameSpot pointed out that "explosions erupt with lots of satisfying, floor-rattling bass, lasers ping nicely, flamethrowers emit appropriate rumbling whooshes, and there's plenty of ambient beeping, hissing, and mechanical humming". Game Revolution praised the graphics for their "modeling, colored lighting, incredible special effects, wonderful animation, [and] sheer overall feel". Criticism was leveled at the game's story. GameSpot considered it not compelling, while Jason Cross, writing for Computer Games Magazine, felt that it "really doesn't have much to do with actual gameplay". PC Gamer reviewer Stephen Poole also criticized the Guide-Bot's efficiency, remarking that sometimes it can get lost or trapped while leading the player to a destination.
The gameplay was praised for its variety of weapons and enemies. Game Revolution said that each enemy is "unique both in ability, structure, and behavior so that each requires a specific combat approach". The levels were praised for their variety and the mission objectives were said to be interesting. Computer Games Magazine praised the fact that the developers replaced the wire-frame automaps of previous Descent games with flat-shaded polygons, stating that they now "provide more detail and make it easier to recognize where you are and how to get where you want to go". The multiplayer was highlighted positively due to its replay value and variety of game types. Computer Games Magazine also credited its "rock-solid performance on standard dialup modems and easy connectivity", while GameSpot praised it for being being "fun and stable". The game was a runner-up for GameSpy's Action Game of the Year and a nominee for GameSpot's PC Action Game of the Year. Despite the positive reviews, the game did not perform well in sales. As a result, Daily Radar awarded the game a "System Shock Award", named after the Looking Glass Studios 1994 game of the same name, implying that Descent 3 is a "game that the critics loved but is over-shadowed by lesser or greater games".
Descent 3 features an official expansion pack developed by Outrage and released for Microsoft Windows on December 3, 1999. The expansion, entitled Descent 3: Mercenary, introduces new features such as a seven-level campaign, a fourth ship, and several multiplayer maps. It also includes the game's level editor. The expansion received mixed to positive reviews from critics. IGN reviewer Rich Rouse gave Mercenary a rating of 8.8 out of 10 and praised it for its lasting appeal, stating: "With hordes of new missions and battlefields on the CD, as well as the included level creation package, you won't be uninstalling for a long time". In contrast, GameSpot editor Erik Wolpaw, giving the expansion a rating of 6 out of 10, criticized the expansion for its bland level design and lack of new features. A compilation that includes both Descent 3 and its expansion pack was released on June 14, 2001.
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