Freelancer - PC - Preview

The war had raged for 100 years, so long that the reason it all began was blurred in history. All that remained were two sides, battling for territory in seemingly endless engagements. Then the Coalition gained the upper hand over the Alliance. The war was coming to an end.

But rather than subject themselves to all the Coalition would force upon them, the Alliance decided to leave what was left of Earth and the system they have fought for. It launched five sleeper ships toward the Sirius system. Breaking through the Coalition blockade, each ship was named for one of the Alliance nations.

Eight hundred years have passed since the colonization in that far-away system. And as the protagonist states: "We have prospered, we have flourished, but we will never forget."

Digital Anvil and Microsoft Game Studios have combined for Freelancer, a PC role-playing game that offers vivid space combat elements.

The story begins with the survivors of an attack of an outpost arriving in New Manhattan. Trent, the story’s hero, is not only homeless, but he jobless as well. The first stop is the local bar, where he is introduced to Jun’ko Zane. She offers him a job, flying a ship to protect a transport from attack.

As for the initial attack that left Trent looking for work, authorities in New Manhattan suspect it is the work of The Order, a dangerous organization. Aha, a portend of things to come, perhaps?

As for Trent, he feigns a callous disregard, when in actuality there is a heart beating within and compassion, as well as ­ seemingly ­ a sense of justice and vengeance.

The goal, initially, seems simple. Work for credits to upgrade Trent’s lot in life, and begin to unravel the mysteries behind the attacks on the trade ship and the outpost. As the name implies, Trent is a freelancer (a gun for hire), and his direction in life is up to him.

Way back in 1998, Origin (a division of Electronic Arts) turned out a space combat game called Wing Commander Prophecy. The immersive storyline and combat system were excellent, and few games could match it. It’s been five years, and Freelancer likely won’t just match it, it will exceed it.

The game uses a mouse-keyboard control system for piloting your craft and targeting. It will take some time to get used to some of the control elements, but once the time is spent to learn the system, the game plays very well.

Graphically, Freelancer is ripe with eye candy. Not only does it do an incredible job of the three-dimensional feel, but the cutscenes set up the action with realistic animation. If played at higher than 1024 x 768, the graphical elements became too sharp and lost some of the reality feel. The cutscenes and space environments are amazing

The sound fluttered a bit at times, but this was only a beta build and that may either have been with the program or incompatibility with the host computer system’s sound.

The player interface will also take some time to get really comfortable with, but once the general concepts are in place, it really seems that care has been taken to make this a player-friendly experience.

The game will also offer multiplayer gaming, though the story missions are discarded. You can create a character in multiplayer, then pick up jobs from NPCs or the job board. Freelancers can explore the universe and trade goods.

Immersive, wonderfully rendered with solid audio and great combat elements will likely make Freelancer a hot commodity upon its release. The game plays well, but does suffer from that one overwhelming element that can plague great titles ­ players can get so caught up in looking at the environments that they forget they are being shot at. This is a game that should have broad appeal with its seemingly open-ended play.

This program is slated for release in March 2003.

Gw
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