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by Infogrames

4-01.jpg (3962 bytes)Every veteran of any type of flight simulator will tell you, without much hesitation, that planes fly better, smoother, and faster with a joystick. This idea ran over and over again in my head as I broke the plastic seal of Independence War II: Edge of Chaos, the sequel to the award winning Independence War. My (computer’s) joystick has been broken since a day in mid-July, a casualty of two old flight classics-- Red Baron and Aces of the Pacific. No problem, I thought to myself as I loaded Independence War II for a first look. I’ll get another one. Until then I’ll just use my keyboard. In thirty minutes I knew that Independence War II, even with the look and feel of an excellent game with fabulous graphics and a compelling storyline, came inherent with some annoying drawbacks in the game design.

14-01.jpg (4529 bytes)Independence War II is a space flight simulator, the next release in a series that started in 1998 with Independence War. Independence War was a game hailed for its in-depth plotline, engaging game play, and realistic physics engine. Independence War II has not fallen far from the tree. In the areas of graphics, storyline, cut scene animation, and voice acting everything is top notch. Starting one hundred years after the original game ends, IW2 takes place during the early years of your character’s childhood, beginning with the murder of your father and the taking over of your grandmother’s old family business, Space Piracy. The storyline is flushed out with cut scenes that simply reek of dark atmosphere, and the plot seamlessly unfolds as you are directed by a hundred year old AI system named Clay. The plot also heavily influences the actual play of the game as you meet new characters, take on new missions, and generally progress forward. It is easy to tell immediately that Independence War 2 is a quality game that has been in the care of competent and talented developers.

1-01.jpg (5532 bytes)That said, it took only a few minutes to isolate the game’s primary flaw: lack of adjustability. Every time I attempted to deviate from the path laid out for me by the programmers, I found myself face to face with a wall. I was able to set the computer for play without a joystick, but my mouse was ignored entirely in the control options. I then attempted to customize the keyboard, but found that the game did not allow me to, nor was I able to locate a built in information key that told me what the controls were. The software does ship with a detailed manual and adequate physical information, but I found the lack of readily accessible information annoying, especially when I was constantly digging the manual out to locate routine commands.

5-01.jpg (5587 bytes)The lack of customizability extended beyond the controls, however, and into the game play itself. While the campaign missions were very competently done, there appears to have been little time invested in preparing entertaining quick flight missions. Unlike games in the past, where quick combat missions come in a variety of styles – bombing raids, one-on-one, squadron fighting, etc – Independence War II has only one setting. After dying repeatedly in the first firefight of the campaign mode, and after finding no difficulty settings to assist my inept flying style, I launched into the single mission combat mode to brush up my combat skills before continuing on. I was surprised to find that, here too, there were no difficulty adjustments, no ability to set how many enemy ships I would be flying against or even their skill level. Instead I found myself only able to play one repeat mission: a simple one-on-one (almost) mission that grows more difficult the longer you survive.

3-01.jpg (6163 bytes)My lack of ability in the campaign mode was made more of a handicap by the game’s save feature, which allows you to save only when you are safely returned to your home base. This presents a problem when, in a brilliant cinematic touch, Independence War II adequately conveys the vastness of space by forcing you to travel from planet to planet, a process that sometimes requires minutes of space travel. This touch adds immensely to the feel of the game, but makes saving a five-minute process, forcing you to fly to your base every time you feel death’s hand on your shoulder (that happens a lot). It is also extremely frustrating when, as happens with poor pilots like me, you reload a save and must spend three minutes flying back to the point of combat for a thirty second firefight in which you are immediately killed. So while I was often impressed by the vast feel of the game as I watched the stars fly by in typical light speed depiction, and saw the intergalactic trading ships dock and depart from nearby space stations, I also wondered who it was that chose that style of save feature in combination with that style of space travel.

13-01.jpg (6905 bytes)The actual game play has a relatively steep, but reasonable, learning curve. The ship’s controls are complex in the number of systems they allow you to control, and while I sometimes wondered why they placed the manual hyper drive button so close to the target selection key, I was able to adequately fly my ship. After some time, I discovered how to make good use of the ship’s auto-targeting system, and my survival odds shot through the roof. I was finally able to survive my first enemy encounter, and was so overjoyed that I went on to accept my next mission without returning to the base to save. I died, swore at the computer, growled at the developers and, after promising myself that they were just for use until I got my joystick, began searching the Internet for cheat codes.

In the end, the items listed above are the unpleasant factors in a very beautiful and pretty game. My initial response to Independence War II was one of awe; it was a game whose opening animation I showed off to my friends when they made the mistake of asking what I was reviewing at the moment. Despite all the flaws, I found IW2 impressive, atmospheric, and engaging. It qualifies as one of those games for which we watch; it’s a really good one. It contains as in-depth and detailed a storyline as you’ll find in a space combat game. The lack of adjustability simply means that the game will have limited replay value, but the campaign missions are well built, nicely crafted, and make it a worthy game. If space is your thing, I’d recommend Independence War II be on your wish list.

Aaron Stanton   (11/06/2001)


Ups: Great cinematic feel; excellent story; nice physics; deep gameplay.

Downs: Lack of adjustability in controls; awkward save feature.

Platform: PC