When you are without a place to call home,
and your previous job assignment is now floating rubble in space, you will
likely take anything that comes along in order to feed, house and clothe
yourself. Now if that job places you in harm’s way against those suspected
of blowing up your last duty station, so much the better.
After all, space is much colder than the
proverbial dish served under the guise of revenge.
The evolving plot and subplots of Microsoft
Game’s and Digital Anvil’s Freelancer will definitely intrigue and delight
game players who like space flight/combat simulations. The game does have
a few minor problems, primarily in the sound department, that tends to
stifle an otherwise enjoyable gaming experience.
The game takes place 800 years after the
end of a divisive war on Earth. There were two entities, the Alliance and
Coalition, battling for 100 years for domination. One finally won, and
the other sent sleeper ships out to colonize worlds in the Sirius system.
Edison Trent was serving aboard the Freeport
7 when it was attacked by ships and destroyed. It is rumored that a powerful
crime organization, the Order, was behind the attack. But regardless of
the perpetrators, Trent is without a home or a job. He meets Jun’ko Zane
in a bar and she offers him a job escorting transports. It pays well and
he gets a ship in the bargain which isn’t much but can be upgraded
with the money he receives from the job.
But the simple job goes quickly awry as
the ship he is escorting is blown up by rogue ships, and Trent finds himself
embroiled in a battle against an unknown enemy. But like pieces of a puzzle,
clues will begin to fall into place, and Trent will be able to put a face
to the foe.
In addition to the story-driven game, Freelancer
also has random missions which can be flown. These missions will take players
to the edges of the galaxy on a variety of missions.
The game allows players to use way stations
and transport rings to cover vast distances relatively quickly. The ship
interface will also allow for auto flying and auto-docking with various
ships and platforms, making the whole task of flying somewhat easier.
The sound on the copy of the game sent
for review had some problems. It started out very well, but the narrative
deteriorated as the game progressed. The music and effects seemed only
slightly affected, but the vocal characterization became clipped and choppy
with the first foray into space combat making it hard to hear and obey
instructions given. Going into the options menu did not provide a way to
correct the issue. It was not possible to turn off the 3D sound, and the
only controls that pertained to the audio settings that were adjustable
were the speech, music and effects volume controls.
The host system was running the latest
drivers for the sound card, and since all other games on the system seem
not to have a problem in sound rendering, it would appear as though the
problem is with the game’s interfacing with the host computer.
Control elements are mouse and keyboard
driven, and the camera angles allow a variety of views during combat situations.
You can go with the third-person perspective, or jump into the pilot’s
chair. The spacebar acts as the switch between keyboard-driven flight controls
and the free-look/move mouse-guided effort you will need during combat.
The ground scenes are mostly point and
click with each action serving only to advance the storyline rather than
give players a great deal of freedom. You can journey to other locations
and interact with a variety of characters but the game does seem somewhat
linear in terms of the overall plot.
For those who like to play outside the
lines, there is also the opportunity to play random missions and explore
the universe of Freelancer.
The free flight through an intriguing
universe is wonderful. Freelancer’s maps are huge and whether playing through
the story, taking on missions, or just exploring, the game gives players
the choice to customize their gaming experience.
The special effects are well done, and
though the player interface is a little simplistic, the game still have
an overall nice look. The animation is very well done, and the flight models
are excellent as well.
The musical score and effects are well
done, but problems were encountered in clipped narrative. The options menu
did not contain any way to turn on or off the effects.
This game offers several difficulty levels
and does get progressively harder as the story evolves. Enemy ships get
faster and are more elusive, and with the mouse-keyboard combinations,
you will be challenged. Controls can be remapped.
This game charts its own way through a
distant galaxy, but in some ways the overall game play seems like an updated
version of classic space combat games like Wing Commander: Prophecy. The
player interface is easy to navigate and the learning curve should be only
20 minutes or so, though you may spend considerably longer getting comfortable
enough to deal with the challenges the game throws at you.
You can fly companion missions and trade
with other players via the multiplayer interface (Internet or LAN). You
can take on missions from the NPCs or Job Board, chat, and group with other
The sound problem is definitely an issue
in the story-driven game, particularly when the plot is advanced by the
dialogue. However, Freelancer excels in other areas, such as graphics and
special effects. And it is definitely a challenging game to play. The game
has intrigue, solid action and evolving difficulty. For those who enjoy
space combat/flight sims, this is an enjoyable ride.