18 April 2013

Freespace 2 (PC game review)

I was very excited when I noticed that Good Old Games had added both Conflict Freespace and Freespace 2 to their games catalogue. Back in the late 90's these were THE best space simulators you could play. They were released a time after the excellent X-Wing and Tie-Fighter games and built upon that success with a great story, fantastic graphics and good gameplay.

The thing I remembered the most however was the story, space simulators back then were all quite good but the Freespace games really distinguished themselves by having a great plot and very good atmosphere. And while Conflict Freespace hasn't aged good at all Freespace 2 still holds up very well up to this day - 14 years after it's release!


So let's talk a bit about Freespace 2.

The story of Conflict Freespace was that humanity, or Terrans, had a large expanding space empire and came into contact with an alien race called the Vasudans with whom they began fighting. When Conflict Freespace begins the player is thrown into the already ongoing conflict. The game establishes the hardships of war wearing on both sides before it throws in a third race the Shivans. The Shivans attack both the Terran and Vasudan systems, don't care at all for diplomacy and neither side is able to even so much as contact the Shivans and ask them what it's all about. The Shivan technology is far superior the Terran and Vasudan in terms of ships, weapons and shield technology. The Shivan capitol ships are extremely powerful and even their small cruisers give the best Terran and Vasudan counterparts and larger class models hell. Ultimately  the Terran and Vasudan forces, after having lost vast amounts of ships, pilots and inhabitable systems are forced into an alliance.

The alliance proves to be a great success and the Shivans are finally defeated. However the victory is cut short as a big chunk of the Terran-Vasudan fleet is cut off and left stranded at the other side of space.

When Freespace 2 begins 30 years have passed since the "Great War", the Terran-Vasudan alliance is still in place but it remains shaky. The stranded forces keep tracking and destroying Shivan remnants while fighting a civil war against Terran rebels opposing the Terran-Vasudan alliance. And as you can imagine, the Shivans return, exactly how will be left for the player to figure out as the campaign progresses.

What I always loved about these two games is that the story is really epic and, the space battles also - with several fighter wings and capitol ships fighting it out in almost every mission. However the player remains this tiny brick, a regular pilot, through it all. Oftentimes you have little impact on greater events, you won't be able to single handedly bring down large cruisers due to the defensive armament of those huge ships ripping small fighters and bombers apart. Sometimes you even fail missions because you get overwhelmed by enemy superiority or sudden events that force you to abort the mission. The game does a great job of making you feel like a great fighter/bomber pilot, but still humble enough to not think you can take on everything and everyone in an unrealistic manner.

The gameplay is quite awesome, but can be quite daunting at first. You NEED a joystick, preferably with at least 6 buttons. A mouse or gamepad is impossible to play with even if it's supported. You also use pretty much the entire keyboard for ship controls and commands necessary to play. The keyboard manages rate of fire, changes which weapons you use, distributes ship power supply between shields, engine and primary weapon systems, tracks enemy ships, matches speeds, finds enemy bombs, nearest enemy bomber, changes targets, changes what subsystem of an enemy ship you are targeting etc. It's really quite overwhelming at first, but the game does a great job of establishing all the controls step by step with tutorial missions, not only at the beginning but also as you progress into the campaign and unlock new ships with new abilities or roles.

The fighting was always great, and remains so, chasing enemy fighters and wear down their shields with your plasmaguns and finish them off with a rocket - watching the ship lose control and explode is very satisfying. The thrill of flying through anti-fighter barrage of enemy capitol ships while friendly fighters on your wind unleash their rockets to destroy vital weapons is also great. Watching several large capitol ships fire at each other with large death rays, explode and break apart as smaller fighters circle the mayhem unleashing rockets and laser projectiles is super cool. The shock wave of explosions, big one's in particular, can rip your ship apart and destroy subsystems of your fighter. So when you see the health status of an enemy cruiser drop towards the 1% you better hit your afterburner and get the hell out of the blast radius fast!

The story of the game is very serious and grim, events are told through pre-mission briefings and after action reports, but also very often through actual gameplay of the missions. Chatting pilots and commanders tell you a lot about the backstory of the previous game and other events in the current one in a realistic and not out of place manner. The variation of missions is great as the player is assigned to various fighter, bomber and Spec-Ops wings throughout the game. The music also helps to set the perfect mood; it is really one of the best soundtracks made for a PC game out there. It's very foreboding, tense and somber and one of my favorite of all time soundtracks (up there beside the soundtracks of Starcraft 1 and Myth II).

I still have my old CD-rom version of this game, bough in Poland when I was visiting my grandparents around the time of the release. Though that version was dubbed in Polish (but it was done very well) and I don't know if the game would work on a modern PC. However the Good Old Games versions of all classics are made to work flawlessly on modern computers. And I have read that there is a still living modding community for this game that has released a graphics overhaul to bring the game to the standard of modern PC games, and there are mods for a Battlestar Gallactica look and campaign, as well as other stuff that I have yet to check out myself.

This is a timeless classic that goes to show that good gameplay and story holds up very well, over a decade after its original release.

Recommended to any fan of space simulator games. You can get it for 10 dollars  HERE

9/10

8 comments:

  1. David "Molle" MolanderApril 18, 2013 at 2:40 PM

    Love this game.

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  2. Sorry if this is a dumb question, but how are you getting these to run on your computer? I love Medieval Total War (the first one) but can't get it to run at all due to some kind of graphics conflict.

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    Replies
    1. As stated in the review, games that you buy from the site Good Old Games are converted to install and work on modern computers.

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    2. Sorry didn't read that last bit carefully. Thanks for the follow up. Must need more coffee.

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  3. Must resist urge to play classic games and lose hours of my life again!

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  4. I really did love this game. It will never displace Wing Command III and IV as my favorite all time space combat games though.

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  5. I'm not really into spaceship games, I love racing, bike, motocross n dirtbike games but recently i watched Stark Trek show (the whole thing) and now i'm full into sci-fi stuff lol gonna try this one :D

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