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The one thing that distinguishes the action from other titles as much as the swirling perspective is the strong strategic component. I love run-and-gun simplicity as much as the next person, but there is something deeply gratifying about a game that requires more. Each robot demands a distinct approach to battle as well as tactful use of the weapons and powerups. The missions are equally demanding; a good example is a breathless scenario that requires the Material Defender to protect five nuclear reactors that are under intense fire. Shrewd use of special gadgets, such as the automatic turrets, are a must for success in this and other sorties. All the old favorite weapons return, and a wealth of new implements are premiered, including primary and secondary weapons and underhanded countermeasures. The weapons are very well balanced and enable a wide range of tactics; for example, the Vauss Cannon is great for up close encounters while the Mass Driver will appeal to the sniper in all of us. The GuideBot, bless its metallic heart, has also been enhanced with its own set of powerups and commands. It can still lead the way, but plays a much more functional role in completing the maps and surviving the intense combat.
There are three ships this time through, and each features a distinct set of assets and liabilities, adding to the depth of the gameplay. The Phoenix is fast and nimble, though light on armor and weapons; at the opposite end of the spectrum, the lumbering Magnum is hard to control but carries a serious punch. The Pyro is the most balanced of the three because it is fast but contains all the basics. These ships, as well as the amazingly agile enemy robots, respond to a realistic system of physics. To be certain, the jolting effects of being slammed against a cave wall when hit with falling boulders will not soon be forgotten. Although I will discuss the artificial intelligence in-depth in the criteria section, there is a generous number of nicely animated and smartly-coded enemies — 37 in all — that vary in their tactics and demand an observant challenger.
Although the leap in technology is significant, the step forward in storytelling is also appreciated. Those with a good memory will recall that, at the conclusion of part deux, the Material Defender barely escapes a warp breach with his life and ship and is left helplessly drifting through the emptiness of space. During the terrific CGI-animated opening cinematic, we watch as he is rescued from a toasty fate in the ripples of the sun by a group of researchers in need of a good pilot. They have uncovered evidence of a conspiracy involving an alien virus that points to the highest auspices of the dubious PTMC. It even comes to light that the person who hired the Material Defender to cleanse the solar system of the rogue robots was directly responsible for his near death experience and is the same person disbursing the virus. What this means is that our hero is once again reluctantly tossed into the fray in a quest to bring down the PTMC. Although these titles have always been motivated at the hands of passably engaging plots, this one is more evolved because the designers actually establish through an elaborate exposition what happens prior to the start of the game and the threat the enemies present.
I would be woefully amiss if I neglected to discuss the multiplayer implementation, which is fast and bug-free out of the box. There are nine — count them: nine! — game modes available. The basic deathmatch and teamplay variables are present, including the popular Capture the Flag diversion, but Outrage also added co-operative play to the solo campaign, a boon for the deathmatch-challenged, and numerous strategic and point-based modes. There is a lot of variety, though I must confess a preference for Entropy, a team-oriented contest in which the object is to gain control of an opposing team’s rooms by infecting it with virus samples created in laboratories. Even modem players are guaranteed an unruffled game, depending on connection speed, since the multiplayer architecture offers three modes for connecting to another computer, including: client-server, the most common method used in 3D games; peer-to-peer, for those with slower connections; and permissible client-server. Add to that Parallax Online, Kali, GameSpy, HEAT.NET and other services that have implemented support, and there is no shortage of butter-smooth battles here. The terrifically fun multiplayer modes and functional connection protocols are two more examples of why Descent 3 is one of the most technically proficient action games to hit stores in a long time.
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