Freespace 2

Freespace 2 is billed as a space-flight sim, but it’s far more like a complex arcade game. Ships don’t follow Newtonian flight dynamics as in more modern games; if the throttle is at zero, they don’t move.  Despite this however, it does possess sim elements: players must lead their target in order to hit, divert energy between different subsystems of their ship, and control the strength of their shields in different quadrants.

The game is a descendant of the “Wing Commander” school of space games: rather than the free-roaming RPG style of the Elite series, there is a series of set missions and objectives to accomplish within them. There is a little branching, but it’s fairly superfluous; the game’s plot is mostly linear. But what a plot! It is deeply engaging and conveys a real sense of the importance of the player’s part in the war against the Shivan invaders. Very few of the missions feel anything other than vital and the sense of urgency only increases as the game progresses. Though players never personally meet any of the characters they’re dealing with (since it’s all handled through briefings and comm transmissions) they are well acted, and it’s possible become quite attached to some of them, particularly the allied contact in the Intelligence missions. Of course, this works both ways, and everyone quickly grows to loathe the high-ups at Allied Command after their third suicide mission.

The graphics were excellent at the time of the game’s release, though now they look terribly dated. Fortunately, after Volition went out of business, they released the game’s source code, and it is now possible to get a copy of the FS2 Source Code Project, which includes updated graphics that are very impressive in places. The sound quality is also consistently good; although the weapon sounds and other effects are merely average, the voice acting is exceptional and the music is brilliantly evocative, both contributing wonderfully to the sense of urgency throughout the game.

By far the most impressive thing about Freespace 2 though, is its sense of scale. Not only the scale of the plot, which is felt most keenly in missions where the player is but a diversion while the real action happens elsewhere, but the scale of the ships. The player takes the role of a fighter pilot, but the ships of real value are the capital ships, varying from compact frigates to massive multi-kilometre behemoths, bristling with weaponry. The player is just a gnat next to these ships, and considered about as important. If the player’s fighter gets between an Allied battleship and its target, they won’t hold their fire. The enemy capital ships don’t pay much heed either; their main weapons are too large to even track the tiny fighters. Instead, the player will be shredded by smaller turrets, while the enemy’s main guns are focussed on the ships they’re supposed to be protecting. A bombing run against one of these titans is an amazing thing, gloriously cinematic in its extravagance as the fighter swoops low over the pocked metal surface of the ship, jinking to avoid the turret fire, before launching its last two missiles at the main cannon.

Despite its advancing age, Freespace 2 is still the best of its genre by far: it surpassed all others when it was released, ousting even the famed X-Wing games, and those few similar games produced since have been unable to hold a candle to its brilliance.

Though it takes some time to the updated SCP version up and running, there is no better space-flight game than Freespace 2 for those who don’t care to deal with trading and economics.

Published on January 2, 2010 at 3:48 pm  Comments Off on Freespace 2  
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