This post brought to you by Hermes and symptoms of Freelancer withdrawal. Right at this moment in time I am severly deficient in both time and thought — a quandary I imagine a number of you can relate to.
One of the exponents of this situation is the recently release Digital Anvil production Freelancer. This game basically takes most of the things that were good in David Braben‘s epic Elite 2: Frontier and fixes the major thing that was wrong with this classic: the ship-to-ship combat. Frontier basically gave us a lesson in the impracticality of warfare in the void by showing us that dogfighting and relativity to not mix. This — while being admirable and realistic — did not necessarily result in the best fun. In fact the only way to fight in Frontier was to set your autopilot on your victim and hope that by holding down the trigger you somehow managed to atomise the unfortunate soul’s hull. Freelancer does away with alot of the realism and brings back a whole universe of fun — a process which should be applied more often in life.
Freelancer is compulsive playing at its best. It takes Civilization‘s life-wrecking “just one more turn” game play and applies it to missions in outer-space and I thank the great gods that I do not have anything of a crucial nature to achieve in the immediate future. In fact my hands are sweating and my brain is racing trying to think of a way to finish the post within the shortest possible span of time so that I may feel that instant gratification of running my mouse pointer over its delectable executable and throughly executing it — oh how it pains me to know that word is synonymous with another, not so pleasant activity where people actually leave this world but not via space vessel.
Just a few quibbles — the game from what I have seen does not have the same scope as Frontier in that there aren’t as many systems or planets or ships for that matter. Braben basically shipped an entire galaxy of systems on one 880KB floppy through the clever use of an algorithmically generated galaxy. This has not been done with Freelancer which forgoes some of the grandness associated with that other great space trading game. The missions you carry out as fillers from the main story arc are not as diverse either. In Frontier you could look up entire bulletin boards featuring advertisements for people desiring passage to other systems, goods in need of delivery, people looking for other people and the usual assassinations; to name a few. Freelancer has somewhat bland “proceed to this sector and annihilate this bunch of random no-hopers” type missions. This situation may improve though — at least I hope it does. On the up-side you can still engage in the usual commodities trading between planets and the obligatory asteroid mining.
Do not expect solar systems modeled on our current theories of stellar evolution either; most of the ones in Freelancer resemble UBD street directories with roads going between planets which seem to be only a few kilometres apart and orbiting nothing in particular. You can basically see detail on each planet from every other one, rather than just points of light; so you get the idea of the unrealistic scale we are talking about here. Who am I to talk though? It’s not like I’ve been to another planet before — although I realise that some of you probably think otherwise.
Given the long running and seemingly endless polarisation of the PC games market into real time strategy games and first person shooters, Freelancer is a very welcome addition and is the type of game that has been absent from the industry for far too long. The only modern space flight games that I can recommend are the Freespace series, Edge of Chaos, Starlancer and this. I know that Freelancer started off as being a far more ambitious title than what has been delivered but what we have here is most certainly better than having nothing at all.
Sad really considering the capabilities of today’s personal computers.