Written by  :  diglot.net (28)
Written on  :  May 02, 2005
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.4 Stars4.4 Stars4.4 Stars4.4 Stars4.4 Stars
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The fresh and arguably better alternative to the Wing Commanders and the X-Wings.

The Good

Descent: Freespace is deceiving mostly because of its name. Aside from the fact that both games use physics, Freespace does not have any references or common ship designs from Descent which is actually a great thing. If you are not a big fan of Descent, don't let the game's title discourage you from trying this ambitious space sim. Unlike Descent, you will not be put into a free-floating spaceship with ugly 3D spaces, bizzare flying objects, and power ups. Instead, Freespace will place you in the character of an unknown space fighter pilot and very capable fighter ships. Freespace does what Wing Commander and X-Wing have done for years but it's executed much better. The story is well crafted but not original which is typical of most space sims. In some ways the story feels closely imitated to Wing Commander: Prophecy. However, that doesn't undermine Freespace's other great attributes as a good space sim. Some of these great attributes include its ship designs, briefing presentations and overall pre-launching interfaces. It does it with so much polish and flair that a game of this caliber definitely deserves a more aggressive marketing campaign.

Freespace is also misleading in screenshots. A single look of the HUD makes you feel overwhelmed but Volition Inc. has gone through so much effort to help players grasp their ship's instruments thanks in part to the game's innovative training missions. The training missions are neither long nor boring; in fact, they are an intriguing part of the game. Some games train you by asking you to destroy 'X' and end the mission. Not in this case. The instructors in Freespace thoroughly educate the player with each of the HUDs gauges and indicators. Freespace will even make those who have never played a space-sim before feel like experts. It educates the player over its purpose and explains each of its uses well. Moreover, the design of the HUD is extremely intuitive. A single glance of any instrument is enough to understand the relative position of any incoming targets, missiles, or other random ships that come by your way. You won't see window rails or your hand and legs in the cockpit. Everything that blinks or moves in the HUD has some significance. The game even gives you the option to change the HUDs color, brightness, and opacity. Freespace also gives the player the ability to remove any instrumentation from the HUD - a feature that would be appreciated by experienced Freespace sim-jockeys.

The graphics and sound are pretty much over the top. Ships have spectacular explosions. The explosions are similar to what you see in sci-fi movies where the ship debris have remaining discharges and electric 'waves'. But what's really the bread and butter of this game is its attention to detail. Some space sims just try to create ships that have beautiful textures but Freespace designs its ships all the way down to its subsystems (which is also a separate part of the ship that you can target as well!). All ships of all types, from cruiser-class to fighter-class, have purposeful design. Damage is also done well. When a whole squadron of fighters and freighters are damaged in the middle of a dense dogfight, a whole level of intensity is added. When you see leaking reactors, burned subsystems, and a whole slew of other ship damaging effects flooding the dogfights, you definitely feel like there is definitely a "Great War" going on.

AI is good as the enemy or as your squadmate(s). Your squadmate may annoy you when they get into a bind with an enemy fighter but at least you have the option to have them jump out of the system to fight another day if they really bother you that bad. Controlling them is just as easy thanks again to the in-game intructors.

Voiceovers and CGI Cutscenes are also of high quality which help immerse the player into the game as a whole...

The Bad

Too bad the story is not as strong.

Even with all of the great strides it has made when compared to the more popular space sims, Freespace's plot is very predictable. Another weak spot is its multiplayer. Although it is easy to setup, there isn't much of a community to play with. Multiplayer was an afterthought in this game but at least it is stable enough to for minimal lag and can handle a big dogfight. Descent: Freespace is also short. Don't expect a lengthy campaign and it is linear. There are also no branching points in the story.

The Bottom Line

Small gripes aside, if you are a seasoned space-sim vet that believes Freespace is just one of those me-too games, you must at least try this game once. This especially includes those who were always discouraged by the complexity of these types of games.