In highlighting the DOS game Terminal Velocity back in July, I have now realized I was in error. While Terminal Velocity is a good game, the truly great action flight sim of that era was Descent.
Not only was Descent released before Terminal Velocity, it has higher quality graphics, better AI and better gameplay, in my opinion.
In Descent you play a mercenary something guy in the future, when the planets of our solar system are being mined for precious ore. Unfortunately, the robots doing the mining turn evil and the capitalist pigs who own this operation hire you to get rid of the infestation.
Each level involves you flying around the inside of a mine getting lost and shot at by robots. To win, you find the central reactor (which also shoots at you), destroy it, and escape the mine before it completely explodes.
That last element is probably the most entertaining part of the game. Desperately scrambling to get to the exit as the computerized voice (female, obviously) counts down to your demise... only to have to fight through a wave of enemies before finally escaping with your life with two seconds left on the clock = awesome.
The three-dimensional element was also amazing. Doom was a very popular first-person shooter back then, and for Descent to improve on the concept by introducing tunnels and enemies above and below you as well knocked my socks off.
The game just looks and sounds amazing. The music is great and the sounds work with a surround setup so you know what direction from which you're being shot at.
Descent was also one of the first titles to introduce a multiplayer experience over a network. Blasting robots is fun, but blasting your friends is even better.
And finally, Descent had a recording feature which allowed you to save videos of your gameplay to analyze later or show to others. That was very revolutionary for the time.
All of this adds up to a game that has fantastic replay value, even 15 years later. I found this online and fired it up on DOSBox; it is still as fun and addictive as it was when I was 13.
Descent is another shareware title, with the first few levels available at no cost, which means it found its way to my family's collection pretty quickly.