|In 1998, space simulation games broke away from the conventions of the
X-Wing and Wing Commander series with the release of Descent: Freespace. By
borrowing the strongest features of the former champions and kicking in with a few of
their own tricks, the boys at Volition assembled the best space simulation ever. This year
they did it again, keeping the title belt around their waists with Freespace 2, a
remarkable improvement on last years award-winning game.
Freespace 2 takes place roughly thirty years after the original leaves off. The Terran/Vasudan treaty is still in place; however, a small group of Terrans has broken away from the alliance and gone to war with your Vasudan allies. The Shivan army has also re-emerged, forcing the allies (your team) to divide their forces and fight two wars at once. Much of the outcome relies upon your decisions and abilities as a Terran pilot. No matter the outcome, though, the missions and cinematic scenes keep the plot intact and appealing throughout the game.
Volition has done an excellent job designing the missions in Freespace 2. Rather than just shoot the hell out of everything that moves again and again, Freespace 2 offers a wide variety of goal-oriented missions. The mission objectives are explained well during the mission briefings; however, some missions have several objectives and can be very difficult. For those of you who are easily frustrated, though, there is a feature that allows you to skip past a mission after it has been failed five times. And if youre one for multiplayer (discussed more below), Freespace 2 also includes a mission editor, allowing you to create your own little scenarios should you be so inclined.
Spectacular visual and auditory effects are yours to behold as you pilot your way through Freespace 2s storyline. Nebulas are not only seen in the distance, but can completely surround your battle, flaring energy pulses all around and creating stunning light and shadow effects. Massive capital ships make their presence felt in many battles, often engaged in combat with one another. Their colossal armaments light up the skies, creating dazzling explosions and reverberating booms as their munitions impact with unequivocal force; their destructive capability is so overwhelming that it gives pause to the brashest of pilots. Incredibly, Freespace 2 improves on its predecessors graphics, adding hi-res (1024x768) mode and 32-bit color, and of course, requiring 3D acceleration of some sort (either Direct 3D or 3DFX), making it the most visually amazing space sim Ive ever seen. Sound effects and background music are also excellent, making use of Aureal 3D, EAX, and DirectSound.
The original Descent Freespace included probably the most intuitive interface available in a computer simulation game. While many aspects were improved upon in the transition to Freespace 2, there was little room for improvement of the interface, so the designers left it virtually unchanged. Other spacecraft are easily targeted, assessed, and eliminated using the appropriate weapon, radar, and sensor systems. Information about target ships, missiles, cargo ships, and escorts can be found effortlessly on the heads-up display. There is enough information given on the HUD (nearly 40 different items) that novice pilots may find it overwhelming at first, but with a bit of practice it will become second nature. And if the interface is just naturally uncomfortable, there is no need to worry, as it can be fully customized to suit the tastes of each pilot.
Much has been added to the multiplayer system in Freespace 2 also. In addition to making the multiplayer option more playable (i.e. less lag), the online developers created a set of servers (www.pxo.net) where pilots can go to test their skills against others from around the world. Pilots can enter dogfights and team battles, and the servers keep an inclusive database of pilot statistics for everyone who plays there. Pilots can also play Squad War (this one is a blast), where teams of pilots compete against each other in attempt to become the most dominant squad in the galaxy. You can even upload your picture to the server, so your enemies can see your face as you shred his craft with a volley of Hornets. In addition, the pxo.net servers also host fights for the original Freespace and for Descent 3.
Hmm complaints. This paragraph could almost end here, as there are very few drawbacks to the game. The only two even worth mentioning are 1) There is no 800x600 mode. Its either 1024x768 or 640x480. No biggie, though--this is an excellent game even at low resolution. 2) Freespace 2 requires a little more than a gigabyte of hard disk drive space for a full install (400+ megabytes for a minimal install). Welcome to the world of computer games.
In short, Freespace 2 is an incredible game. Everything from Descent Freespace that needed improvement was improved upon, and everything else was left alone. Excellent sound, amazing graphics, action-packed missions, a gripping storyline, a fantastic interface, excellent multiplayer options, and a stunning sense of realism, make Freespace 2 (IMHO) the best space simulation game to date. Hats off to Interplay and Volition!