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Freespace 2

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Original it may not be, but entertaining it certainly is.

30 years have passed since your grandpappys flew a desperate campaign against the Shivan invasion. Their bravery in the face of bleak odds saved the Earth but stranded them on the unhappy side of an intentional jump gate collapse.

Since the victory, the rebellious Neo Terran Front (NTF) has been putting a great strain on the Terran-Vasudan relations under the new Galactic Terran-Vasudan Alliance (GTVA). Now, due to a discovery made by the NTF using an archaic device created many millennia ago by the "Ancients," a new portal has been opened that leads directly into Shivan space. The destroyers of The Great War are back, and they are definitely out for blood.

Freespace 2 works very much like its forerunner. You are a pilot in the GTVA fleet; you are assigned missions in briefings and outfit your own craft as you see fit, with more options becoming available to you as you advance in the game. Once you have your orders and are loaded to kill in your favorite ship, the fun starts. You fly your chosen craft through deep space and around capital ships; through chaff and gunfire, carrying out your mission objectives as any good soldier should.

To make a comparison between another game similar would be to say it is very much like Homeworld, but if you have played it, let me put it this way: you ARE flying one of those little scout ships, the tiny ship dwarfed by the carriers and destroyers. Although with more action.

Space combat sims are obviously inspired by the carrier battles of World War II, where capital ships were the prize and smaller ships and aircraft were just a buffer to keep the enemy away. Freespace 2 has finally achieved a sense that the capital ships are the point of the battle. It's done this partly by giving them stronger and more varied defenses, but mainly by making them active and visible participants in the combat. When two huge ships start slicing away at each other with massive beams, it's like an overscale slo-mo lightsaber duel, one word can describe the power and force of these beams: truly awesome. That's actually two words but anyway... There's a sense of majesty and destructive power. There's a sense that you're just a tiny player in a supporting role. In this regard, Freespace 2 is a downright Copernican revolution in space combat sims.

Just as compelling are the nebula missions. This eerie effect fills the screen with a mesmerizing swirl of floating color and shapes. The limited visibility recalls sci-fi submarine games such as Subwar 2050 or Archimedean Dynasty. Some of the later missions take place in increasingly angry parts of the nebula, flashing with lightning and electronic interference that create one of the most disconcerting and tense effects since the flickering fluorescent light in Doom. I wondered why my eyes hurt after playing until I realized I was afraid to blink. With capital ships and nebula effects like these, Volition has come maddeningly close to making the most compelling space combat game yet. Missions in Freespace 2 are furious and fun. At times the laser fire, missile locks, and flack bursts are so thick on the screen that all you can do to keep your shields up, let alone remember your mission orders.

As advertised, capital ships are huge -- around 10 times larger than the biggest ship in X-Wing. Yes they dwarf Imperial destroyers. They sport some new technologies as well; beam cannons and flack turrets. Large beam cannons are huge solid beams that rip through other capital ships like a buzz-saw through soft Downy tissue (reminiscent of those used by ships on the television show... nah, that's mean.)

Just flying around among the giant four mile-long capital ships is awe-inspiring, I'm not kidding when you meet the GTVA's biggest ship it WILL TAKE YOU ONE MINUTE TO FLY THE LENGTH. Then the Shivan's have larger capital ships! Intercepting bombers, performing surgical strikes against heavily-defended targets, dog fighting and more is at the heart of what Freespace II is all about. Again, this isn't one of those cinematic space operas, it's an action-packed shoot 'em up, with the deep recesses of space as your arena.
The ships also have smaller versions of these deadly weapons for handling pesky fighter jocks, like you, at a distance. If you manage to get close enough, they will bomb you with flack. Both weapons not only do you damage but jolt you around pretty hard, knocking you off course and making it tough to steer. It's a blast. Literally.

Eventually, you will finish the terrific single player campaign. At that point, you'll still have three great options: play it again, go into the included FRED 2 mission / campaign editor and make some new missions, or play online. Internet play has been seamlessly integrated into Freespace 2 using Interplay's Paralax Online service. In Freespace 2, the lag problems that plagued Freespace are gone. Freespace 2 online is a smooth and satisfying ride all the way, with extensive options (including playing in Freespace 1 situations with Freespace 1 craft). With deathmatch, Team, and Coop play, you'll be kept busy for months.

Much of the added intensity in Descent Freespace 2 is communicated brilliantly through the previously mentioned newly retooled graphical engine. Although still based on the Freespace 1 code, Freespace 2 features support for 1024x768 resolution (with a hefty hard drive install) and several other enhancements. In the battles, a combination of more detailed space backgrounds, electric slicing beam weapons (excellent addition), flak explosions, vibrant weapon fire, and greatly increased texture detail adds up to what is easily the best looking space combat game on the market. The graphics in Freespace 2 are the best to date in any space combat game. The nebula effect is awesome. Nebula, you ask? Yes. Many of the missions take place inside the dense nebula that interferes with your instruments and guidance systems a la Star Trek 2. The effect is truly spectacular -- it's like tumbling through an endless purple cloud. The demo missions take place inside the nebula so if you'd like to see it firsthand, download the demo. Freespace 2 will never cease to please your eyes.

The musical score is very good, although it is not overpowering or inspiring like in the X-Wing series. Instead, it is more subtle and moody. The music even gives clues as to what is going on -- when bad guys appear the music switches from a neutral theme to a tense one and then becomes lighter once the mission objectives are complete. The sound effects are superb! Everything sounds as it should, only bigger and badder! Things rumble and shake with the sound effects or at least they seem like they do because the sound is so good. My girlfriend begs me to turn it down but I just can't. I must get the full experience. Go out and buy this game with a pair of Cambridge Soundworks Four Point Surround speakers and a Live! Value, PLEASE. You don't know what you're missing.

The voice acting in the game is of a very high quality, being mostly done by established Hollywood talents such as Kurtwood Smith (Robocop, Dead Poet's Society) and Stephen Baldwin (Backdraft). One sound of special note is the popping of chaff. Its crackling sparks are accentuated by thundering spurts of pow pow pow. It's really cool.

The only drawback to the game is its huge installation size. To get the best performance, with everything stored on your hard drive, you're eating up over a gigabyte of space. Speaking of large real estate, the game has over 100 Megs of music. Impressive! Even without installing the music and movies, you're going to need at least 500+ megabytes of free space (really...no pun intended).

But this doesn't alter the fact that Freespace 2 is a very, very enjoyable game to play. The number of difficulty settings (five) and the ability to skip missions should you fail them five times means you can play for as long, or as little as you like. It is highly addictive, due mainly to the trite but compelling story, is great fun to play, and should provide as much of a challenge to those who aren't familiar with this genre as it does to space-sim veterans. If you're in the market for a space-opera that kicks the crap out of Wing Commander: Prophecy and is a great improvement over the original, Freespace 2 is the one. Original it may not be, but entertaining it certainly is.

Reviewed by Quinton Evans, PC Gameworld.

Sep 21, 2002

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Amazing graphics; gameplay; love the beam cannons.

Even with the three discs there's not enough of it - more, more, more; some really odd-looking terran ships; there may not be a number three!

Great game - better than the original.


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