Words & Captures: Allen Collins
Freespace 2 from Interplay is arguably the finest space simulation yet made. You enter this tour of duty in the middle of a fairly deep and complex story carried on from the original. If you never played the original, this release contains an extensive database covering the story. And I do mean extensive; the game ships with 3 cd's. It might be more reading in a sim than yank and bank junkies want, especially since each mission is pre-flighted with 10 or 11 pages of text and debriefed with yet another. But the database is there if you want it.
Once past the reading, yanking and banking, turning and burning is the order of the day. Dog fighting is Freespace 2's long suit and the action is fast, furious and fun. Now and again things can get downright chaotic with frequent collisions and, more frequent, total disorientation. But its space, who cares if you don't know which way is up? Often your opponents are in escort of a huge capitol ship. After you and your wing dispatch the escort you go after the big prize. An excellent feature of this sim is the ability to target specific sub-systems of the ship such as a single laser battery. In some missions you will be asked to disable a ship by taking out the engine room rather than destroying the ship outright.
As with most mission based sims the missions are scripted. But Freespace 2 does as well a job as any by adding surprises of some type to nearly every mission. Better still, unlike some titles, the game doesn't refuse to have anything further to do with you until you get your act together on a particularly tough mission. After a few re-flys, it gives you the option of opting out of the mission and moving on. Of course it brow beats you a little in the text. But hey, I just tell it that I'm better at car racing sims.
In the 30 missions there is a good bit of variety, intrigue and innovation in equal parts. In some missions you are left to decide who is the good guy and who is the bad. On others you act as a spy. One very cool mission has you beta testing a new weapons system called Target Acquisition and Guidance or TAG (get it? got it? good!) You paint the target for the capitol ship by shooting it with a missile that illuminates it. Then the capitol ship blasts it with mondo-laser (kinda like the BFG in shooters).
Mondo-laser is very pretty too, along with all the rest of the graphics. Indeed the graphics are stellar (couldn't resist). Excellent nebulae atmosphere, incredible explosions, massive capitol ship laser beams � all these are rendered with a purpose that Hollywood could envy. Freespace 2 boasts some of the largest ships ever seen in a sim. Though their shapes are often odd, they are impressive to observe, fly around, admire and then blast the *#$% out of.
And on the dark side of the moon there was an idealistic, whiney game reviewer who thinks that all things should be perfect. Alas! For all the beauty of the capitol ships you really don't get to interact with them much. Would have been nice to at least dock on the mothership. But you exit missions by pressing a key that shoots you through a portal and zaps you uneventfully back on deck. I would have also liked a cockpit view instead of just a screen full of gauges and sensors. Immersion is everything in sims. Finally, as with all flight sims of modern fighter aircraft and beyond, there is an overload of information, systems and key bindings to tackle. Even with a full HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick) setup you could get nowhere near mapping the 109 commands. Obviously all of these aren't used in a dogfight, but still enough are to have you, at times, fumbling around looking at the keyboard with a missile up your butt.
Those complaints are minor compared to all the goodies. I didn't have a chance to try out the full compliment of multiplayer support, but I hear it is quite good. So I'm off to the Sirius sector. Always nice to get off the planet once in awhile.
32 Mb RAM
3D Graphics Accelerator (supports Glide or D3D)
250Mb Hard Drive Space
8X or faster CD-ROM Drive
Direct Sound compliant sound card
100% Microsoft-compatible mouse (joystick recommended)
Multiplayer: 8 player TCP/IP over LAN or Internet