It’s a pretty space simulation, but...
Originally published in May 2000.
Historical note: Of all the reviews I wrote for The Louisville Computer News, this is the one that drew the most criticism. Freespace 2 has some really passionate fans. What can I say, I am not one of them.
Name: Freespace 2
Genre: Space Simulation
Developer: Volition, Inc.
Publisher: Interplay Productions
Latest Patch: Most recent patch Version 1.2
Requires: 200 MHz Pentium, 32MB, 400MB hard disk space, 8X CD-ROM, Accelerated Video Card
Retail Price: $50
Street Price: $30
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I have become jaded and maybe I expect too much for my entertainment dollar. When I purchased Interplay Production’s Freespace 2, I was filled with anticipation. The trade press was raving about this game. They were raving about its beauty, its artistry. They marveled at the game engine technology and the ingenious simulation of space physics. All important considerations to be sure, but now I realize that there was one important aspect missing from their praise – the story. What about the story?
The story that accompanies any space simulation is what gives that simulation its soul. When I play a space simulation without a compelling story, a soul, I feel oddly empty. It’s the same feeling I get when I hear Michael Bolton or Celine Dion sing. All the notes are in the right key, so technically its good singing, but its hollow and empty. Freespace 2 fulfills its technical promise admirably, but the game lacks heart. It is hollow and very disappointing.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one
The premise of Freespace 2 is your basic fighter-pilot-goes-to-war plot. You are a nameless fresh recruit sent to the front lines to combat an unknown enemy of unknown capability. As a rookie pilot, you are presumably (predictably) cocky, and you have to learn the ropes of flying and fighting in the frontier of space. As you complete the usual missions of escort that, reconnaissance there, destroy this, you are well aware that eventually you will have to watch your new friend die and you further know you will ultimately have to save the universe from destruction. The standard, “win one for the Gipper” plot. The plot methodically moves in its predictable methodical way to the open-ended conclusion that leads to a third installment of the series.
All is not lost
In contrast, the game play in Freespace 2 is truly a technical marvel. The game universe is exquisitely manifested in a tapestry of color and light. I found myself wishing there was no enemy breathing down my neck and no mission to complete so I could just fly around and sight-see. The huge capital ships are painstakingly detailed and project a looming, ominous presence to every frenetic battle that takes place around them.
Sound is very important in this game, especially if you have a 3D sound card. The pilot chatter, the sound of energy weapons depleting your ship’s shields, and the nerve-racking missile-lock warnings that trumpet your eminent destruction are very engrossing, especially with the enhancement of 3D positioning audio.
The game interface is fairly typical space simulation fare, but it is nonetheless well executed. Keyboard, mouse and joystick commands can all be programmed to meet your particular needs and game-playing style. The campaign can be played at several levels of difficulty, giving the game the flexibility to be enjoyed by players at many levels of expertise. These settings are well balanced, which means that the very easy setting makes Freespace 2 accessible to first time neophytes, while hard core space simulation buffs will be have all the action they can handle at the highest difficulty level.
Like I said, maybe it is just me and my jaded, hard-core gamer attitudes, but Freespace 2 just left me wanting. In terms of technical excellence, Freespace 2 is unsurpassed. If that is all you require of your space simulation games, then Freespace 2 is worth the money. If you prefer a more meaningful and engrossing story, then one of the Wing Commander games may be more to your liking. As for me, when I finished Freespace 2, I deleted it off my hard drive and loaded Wing Commander IV.