Being trapped aboard a spaceship that has been taken over by an overly talkative, psychotic AI and contains innumerable alien “insects” intent on snacking on your innards must be a truly terrifying experience. Especially when said vessel is hurtling down through the atmosphere of an isolated ice planet, with the inevitable impact likely to smash your delicate frame into millions of tiny little pieces.
Yet it isn’t the fear of death which will preoccupy your thoughts while working chief engineer Conrad in the final chapter of the Alien Breed series. No, the main concern you’ll have as you make your way through the endless corridors of the Leopald ship is how lonely being a hero can be. Even Gordon Freeman, one of gaming’s greatest solo-acts, got the chance to enjoy Barney and Alyx’s company for brief periods of his adventure.
Such is the sense of isolation in Descent, it makes you long for further contact with your arch-nemesis Klein. Better to listen to his frequent quips about the futility of your mission than endure the maddening silence of an empty ship littered with fallen human carcasses. It’s almost like video games’ answer to Stockholm syndrome. Unfortunately the overriding feeling of solitude, in this most claustrophobic of environments, isn’t the only thing hampering enjoyment of the game.
But let’s put such thoughts on hold for a moment and consider how AB3: Descent plays. While those who haven’t played the previous instalments, will have little interest in the story, they should be relatively pleased with the solid two-stick shooter mechanics behind the game. Conrad has a variety of weapons at his disposal, ranging from run of the mill shotguns/flamethrowers to more futuristic/surreal contraptions, including one that discharges a hefty surge of electric current at a target and then subsequently electrocutes those in its vicinity. Using these tools, our hero must make his way through five sizeable levels, battling a range of different aliens.
Some of these opponents are more irritating than anything else and can be dispatched with a quick punch, while others will unleash balls of energy in Conrad’s direction or attempt to deafen him with their piercing screams. On their own, the enemies are easily neutralised, but when they attack in numbers and from every direction, they can soon prove deadly. Team 17 have clearly strived to balance tense moments in dark empty corridors, where the player fears an ambush at any second, with spells of all-out carnage where wave upon wave of foes burrow out of the floor/walls. Its not original, but it is executed well.
The non-combat elements of Conrad’s adventure are significantly less enjoyable. Frankly, expecting 2011’s gamers to be satisfied with holding the X button to resolve everything from unlocking doors to clearing gas leaks is disrespectful. Couple that with the linear nature of the levels, where it’s all but impossible to take a wrong turn because the creators have locked any doors which might have allowed it, and Descent definitely feels like it’s reached us 20 years too late.
The simple fact is that today’s games have to engage gamers’ brains. It can be through the mental challenge of puzzles or perhaps a thought-provoking storyline/character, but audiences have now come to expect a grey-matter workout alongside the one their trigger-fingers are getting.
As with the previous two updates, in regards to visuals Team 17 have done a fairly decent job. Some of the water effects when parts of the ship become flooded are top drawer and the way the screen blurs/turns to black and white when you get screamed at is clever. The brief sections where the camera is fixed behind Conrad are a nice addition, demonstrating what the Unreal engine is capable of. It‘s just a shame these weren‘t used more regularly because the game could have only benefited from the added sense of terror they offer..
In terms of longevity completing the game on the basic skill level isn’t too taxing. There are, however, two higher difficulties for players to sink their teeth into, where conserving ammo and keeping an eye on the health bar are that bit more important. Co-Op and Assault mode (where you face hordes of enemies and must survive for as long as possible) add a touch of variety, but Descent is certainly not a game that will repeatedly draw players back months after it’s been purchased.
Those who’ve enjoyed the earlier instalments will no doubt want to download the third title for some closure and curious newcomers will find it fun in parts. If though , in a future day, Team 17 return to the two stick shooter, they’ll need to show a great deal more ambition in either story or gameplay to get the industry interested again. Alien Breed 3 has its fun moments, but there isn’t really a place for it in today’s market.