Freelancer

Freelancer

Written by Charles Husemann on 3/14/2003 for PC  

There was a lot of hype about Freelancer but for the most part it was off my radar. It seemed to be in development forever and I ignored the buzz until the demo came out. The game isn’t perfect but it does provide an enjoyable gaming experience.

Installing the game is straightforward; the game takes up about 2.6 gigabytes of space. There’s also an option to install the server files (another gigabyte you’ll have to dedicate to the game) in case you want to host a multi-player game on your PC (or setup your own server). The game is fairly complete and bug-free (the game has yet to crash on me after about 20 hours of play). It’s nice to have a big name game released without having to download and install a patch the day it hits the shelves.

Freelancer is set in the same universe as Starlancer and takes place long after the war between the Alliance and the Coalition is over (Starlancer’s main focus). The Coalition wins but before they can be wiped out the Alliance sends five sleeper ships into deep space to start over in the Sirius Sector. The five sleeper ships represent the five houses of the Alliance, the Liberty (Americans), Bretonia (British), Kusari (Japanese), Rhineland (Germans), and the Hispania (Spanish). Freelancer is set 800 years after the sleepers reach the Sirius sector so each house has developed and flourished. While this is good background, it doesn’t play too heavily during the game.

Against this canvas, you play Edison Trent, a pilot for hire who doesn’t have a lot of luck. Right after signing a large deal, the base you were on is attacked by a mysterious force and you’re catapulted into a galaxy-wide plot involving all of the houses, as well as some mysterious third parties (oohh….dramatic). The single player portion of the game is fairly deep and will take you about 12-18 hours to finish depending on how much you focus on the single player missions. I played through the single player portion in about 16 hours but I did take some time to tour the galaxy a little. A word of warning, you will get hooked on this game. I had a lot of “Just one more mission” moments that resulted in looking up and seeing that it was absurdly early in the morning.
The universe seems to be a hodge-podge of other sci-fi properties covering everything from Star Wars to Babylon 5 with elements of Star Trek and Cowboy Bebop tossed in for flavor. There are some unique components to the universe that you can really feel the influencing some parts of the game.

The goal of the game is to earn money so that you can buy bigger and better stuff to help you earn more money to help you buy bigger and better stuff….you get the picture. It’s a vicious cycle but it’s a lot of fun since some parts of the galaxy are off limits to exploration until you advance to a certain level. You can earn money several ways. The easiest is to take on missions from the bars at the bases. These missions aren’t too varied and usually consist of eliminating a rival group by either assassinating their leader, removing them from a sector, or recovering something that they’ve stolen (which involves more killing). I was a little disappointed that there’s in the missions’ lack of variety since they all follow the same format. However, it’s an easy way to make money. It would have been nice to have some kind of escort missions but oh well. You can also salvage weapons and commodities off the people you eliminate which provides a nice secondary cash flow. The other two ways of making money are a little more interesting.

One is to go mining. You basically wander out to one of the “minable” areas on the map and start shooting stuff and tractoring it in. You’ll run into the occasional group of criminals who will try to liberate your cargo for themselves. The final way is probably the most rewarding but requires the most work and it’s trading items. Each planet or base sells commodities and what is cheap in one area is very expensive in another. It’s up to you to visit all of the bases and see what they are selling and at what price. The game does a good job telling you what is and is not a good deal. There’s also a Trade Routes view which allows you to see the prices for an item at all the places you have visited. With a little time and experience, you can create highly profitable trade routes.

As you play through the game, your actions will affect your reputation. Play the side of law and order and you will be attacked on sight by the criminal elements and vice versa. Your enemies have friends and if you piss one of them off they’ll all decide they want a piece of your hide. Int turn, your reputation affects the kind of missions that will be made available to you and what ships/weapons you can purchase.

** Single Player spoiler **
This is a nice feature but it does create some holes in the single player missions. During parts of the game you are forced to deal with parties that you may have been in conflict with and they show no animosity towards you which is kind of jarring.
** End Spoiler**

One frustrating part of the single player section is that in order to fly some of the bigger vehicles you need to be at a specific level. For most of the game, your level is determined by how much you are worth. There are exceptions for a few levels when you must complete single player missions. This keeps you from getting too far ahead of the game and the enemies become easy to kill but it is a little frustrating to not be able to get something because of an artificial constraint.
The world inside the game is massive. You can spend a great deal of time just going from base to base, galaxy to galaxy. At points, you really do feel like you are a very small spec in a large galaxy and that there are a lot of things going on around you. There is a constant struggle between the law and the criminal element and you are often caught in the middle. This can get annoying as often after a long mission you just want to land and repair your ship and you have to fight off a wave of rogues as you attempt to dock at a station. However, in the long run, it does enhance the feeling that there’s a lot going on in the world.

The game is beautiful, and while not scientifically correct, the universes that you can explore are varied and the game employs lighting for some dramatic effects. Each house has its own set of ships, weapons, and universe characteristics and it’s nice to see assorted design elements carried throughout the game. Even the weapons effects for each house are different and it helps reinforce the differences between the houses. There are also a great deal of cool bases that are off the beaten path. These will take your breath away. Never have asteroid bases looked so good. The lighting is excellent, and is used effectively to bring you further into the game (some of the effects in the dust clouds are pretty sweet and help show you the way in a few cases). There are plenty of neat little touches such as how your guns follow your cursor around the screen and all of the little touch details on the ships and bases.

The ship effects are well done, too. There are some subtle shield effects as well as nice effects such as wings and ship components breaking off as you finish off the ships. The outcome is a little diminished on the capital ships but it really works well for the smaller ships. (The capital ships are done very nicely but still don’t give the same feeling of size and scope as the ones in the Freespace series).

The sound in the game is fantastic with loads of good surround effects and an top-notch movie-like score. The music is subtle and does a good job of accenting the action on the screen (more evident in the single player portion of the game than the multiplayer section). My only complaint is that the afterburner on the heavy fighters sounds very much like an outboard motor which is a little distracting. The weapons sounds are pretty good as well but typical fair for the genre.
The biggest shift in the game is the new control structure in which you control the flight of your ship with a mouse instead of a joystick. The game has two modes, mouse flight (where the ship follows your mouse cursor) and free flight where your ship flies straight and your weapons track your mouse cursor. I can hear the joystick jockeys yelling already. “Heresy! Blasphemy!” they say, “how can you have a space flight sim game without joystick support?” I was wondering how it would work at first as well but once I got used to it I’m not sure I can imagine using a joystick with the game. My big AHA! moment was trying to figure out where the “target enemy by cursor” key was and realizing you just have to click on the enemy with the left mouse button and then open fire with the right mouse button. After a while, you realize how easy it is to engage multiple enemies easily without having to constantly reach for the keyboard. If this sounds like bunk to you, I encourage you to checkout the Freelancer demo and try it out for yourself.

The default view to control the ship is a third person view from behind the ship. This allows you see what’s going on around you better . You can also switch to a cockpit view by pressing CNTL-V. What you play the most with will depend on your style but I ended up playing about 95% of the game from the behind view. You can also see what’s behind you by holding down V. This also lets you use rear-firing turrets (if your ship has them) and I found it to be the easiest way to mine things from asteroid fields.

The multiplayer game is solid. I played on a couple of servers and had an OK experience. Basically, you can join up with some people online and explore the galaxy, trade cargo, and perform missions together. The bounty for the mission is spread evenly through the group so your group will need to find some bigger missions in order to make money. I didn’t experience much of the scourge of online gaming in player killing but your mileage may vary. The game did seem to be very lag sensitive, especially during combat. It’s not bad but it’s enough to be annoying. This would be a kick ass LAN game.

The only other big knock against the game is that you’ll spend a large amount of time going from system to system without much going on. There is an autopilot of sorts but there is still a great deal of going from system to system. It gets a bit tedious after a while (especially if you are going from one side of the sector to the other) but it’s fairly realistic. I recommend having a magazine handy if you plan on doing much traveling.

Overall it’s a fun game. You can feel the Wing Commander/Privateer roots of the game and that’s not a bad thing. If you have any reservations about the mouse control check out the demo. If not, then this is probably one of the best PC games currently out.
Summary: While introducing some controversy with a new control scheme, Freelancer is a lot of fun to play and will consume large quantities of your time.

Rating: 9.1 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom.   I have been a Microsoft Xbox MVP since 2009.
  View Profile

comments powered by Disqus