Descent Freespace: The Great War

Descent Freespace: The Great War
Platforms: PC
Publisher: Interplay Entertainment
Developer: Volition, inc.
Genres: Simulator / Space Combat
Release Date: March 19, 1998
Game Modes: Singleplayer / Multiplayer

Light on originality but high on fun, Freespace does not disappoint.

Freespace was made by the same guys who’ve developed the original Descent series, but that’s about the only thing tying Interplay’s tunnel shooter with this high-tech space combat sim. Take heart, however. Freespace isn’t the most original space sim ever created. It takes bits of ideas from here and there (notably X-Wing and Wing Commander), but merges them so skillfully that you can’t help but enjoy the final product.

Descent No More


Leading a wing of Apollo fighters.

Freespace casts you in the role of a lowly fighter pilot trying to survive through an interstellar war between Terrans and an equally determined race known as Vasudans. Not much backstory is given on the conflict, except that it’s been raging on for fourteen years with no end in sight. It’s business as usual until a third race of aggressive aliens burst into the scene, one that is capable of wiping out both Terrans and Vasudans with ease. The Shivans, as they later become known, become the game’s main adversary. Briefing videos, animated cutscenes and clever scripting give the storyline great focus.

Freespace is a linear story-driven game, in that all of its 34 missions play out in much the same way courtesy of their scripting. Even so, missions here are not in the least bit boring. Briefing videos explain your objectives before each mission and give a general idea of what’s going on. You’ll be tasked with anything from simple search and destroy assignments to escort missions, bombing runs and a host of other predicaments that are hard to label.

One mission, for instance, has you clear a path for a capital ship through an asteroid field, while in another you’re flying clandestine as an enemy fighter through hostile territory. Missions are varied, entertaining and can change in a moment’s notice, leaving you and your squad to make split second decisions as to how to react. Good conduct and clever decisions will accomplish hidden objective and win you medals.

Gameplay is enjoyably hectic most of the time. You and your wingmen will be fighting waves of enemy ships in close proximity to each other, often with limited resources and sparse information. Battlefields become even more explosive when giant destroyers and cruisers are added, but we’ll cover that later. The game, however, does justice in ensuring that both rookies and pros will enjoy themselves equally. The first three missions are basically tutorial levels (which can be skipped) that fill you in on basic flight controls and combat maneuvers while more advanced features become available and explained later on. At its minimum, the action can be controlled with only a handful of keys and a mouse. Ambitious pilots, on the other hand, can learn to use the entire keyboard to accomplish anything from energy management to advanced targeting. A joystick is supported as well, but using a mouse enables for more precise shots as far as I could tell.

Intergalactic Tenderizer

Initially, you don’t have much of an arsenal to choose from, but newer ships and weaponry gradually become available as the war goes into high gear. By the end of the campaign, you’ll have at your disposal a total of seven ships and countless lasers and missiles to equip them with. Your ships can essentially be broken down into fighters, bombers and heavy assault crafts, which combine the first two. You’ll be allowed to outfit yourself and your squadmates before starting each mission and this creates lots tactical opportunities. Fighters are agile and have a low profile, but are useless against heavy cruisers and destroyers. Bombers can launch some heavy ordinance but are slow and defenseless, and their bombs can be destroyed mid-flight. Most missions require a mix of these crafts and it’s usually your job to coordinate everyone. Even though the AI won’t get hopelessly lost if you don’t order them around, doing so does offer an advantage in combat.

1_1Other than the ships you’ll actually fly, there are over fifty more vehicles to keep track of. Knowing what you have in your sights is made easier thanks to the onboard encyclopedia, which you can access off-duty and which lists every single craft and weapon in great detail. Even without brushing through the encyclopedia, you’ll likely recognize a capital ship when you see one. These not-so-gentle giants are extremely difficult to bring down without a wing of bombers and a few escorts. But while they do speak in volume, they’re not as threatening as they could have been.

Although not revolutionary in any sense, Freespace is so well pieced together that it ranks as one of my favorite space combat games. If you’ve only lightly brushed against the genre or have never even played this sort of thing then Freespace is definitely a good start.

System Requirements: Pentium 133 Mhz, 32 MB RAM, Windows 95/98

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  1. Let me say, I grew up playing the entire Descent series. The original Descent Freespace is just an amazing space combat SIM with so much to offer that is built on the mystery and intensity of the earlier Descent releases. The missions are well designed from massive bombing combat against complex enemy capitol ships to spy missions flying captured foreign spacecraft into unknown enemy fleets in order to study the terrifying and elusive enemy. This game is sick. It’s worth a playthrough the campaign for anyone who loves a well developed sci fi adventure to save earth. I tried to make corrections to this post by editing spelling errors and repetitions, but this website won’t let me edit my post. Please play this game, and Old PC Gaming please make it easier to write a review without it being so ridiculously complicated to edit said review. If I try to go back and change anything I wrote, I am faced with ads and no choice but to subscribe for your newsletter so I had to copy and paste the original post into a document editor and repost. No harm meant, I just want folks who are fans of the most classic old space simulators to have access to real, genuine reviews on your site without being discouraged by unnecessary complications.

    But for real fellow space SIM gamers, play this game. You will end up in epic space aviation battle situations that you never imagined from a game in this era, such as sub space attacks on massive battleships bound for Earth to destroy humanity. Jump in a Hercules and destroy the Vasudans. This game is.legendary!

  2. Hi. If you ever want to change anything, just write an updated comment and I’ll delete the old one, no problem.

  3. James Adams says:

    is there any way to play this game?
    I still have the CDs from this 90s release, but can’t load the game.
    As far as I can see, my hardware passes the minimum requirements.
    Why won’t it play?
    (Freespace: The Great War)

  4. Buy an old XP laptop from like 2007, install XP and play on that. I recorded this gameplay on an XP computer. Or you can install a virtual machine with XP on your PC. I might add one here in the future.

  5. Kyle says:

    Or, get the GOG version of this game. It works great.

  6. Marcos says:

    i try to open the game in compatibility mode, in 640×480, with nglide and the game only gets a black screen and go back to desktop

  7. borkbork says:

    I remember hating entire series so much I sold all my boxed copies to EB Games back in the day.

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