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SummaryThe next big thing on Sci-fi sims, and I do mean BIG!
The GoodFreespace 2 is more than your average Wing Commander clone and actually manages to make quite an impression in the genre to the point of carving itself a place as one of the most impressive examples of sci-fi sims ever.
Taking up years after the original, the Freespace universe has now joined the terran army and it's Vasudan counterpart in one big happy family. Sure, the gate back home is gone so they are all stranded together but what the heck. Things are peachy for a while with only a renegade band of Vasudan-hating maniacs causing trouble, however when an alien gate is discovered the Shivan threat surfaces once again and this time their ships are even bigger than before!!
The game builds on from the already solid model that the original used, which is good news for everyone who fell in love with the multitude of targeting options, wingman commands, speed management and weapon firing modes. Standard features such as shield and energy management are also present ultimately giving the game almost every control option upon your little fighter without going into I-War territory.
New gameplay mechanics are introduced by the enlargement of the capital ships to gargantuan proportions (over 5 times larger than the already gigantic Lucifer on the original), and the inclusion of gigantic beam cannons that form the basis of capital ship engagements. Seeing these monsters in action is an amazing sight comparable to the best moments of animé spaceship fights like on Macross (aka Robotech) where the giant ships charge up, and then let loose a gigantic beam of light that actually rips through the enemy spaceships, and obliterates anything in it's path. While these mega-weapons are usually for capital-ship combat only, their arsenal also includes flak-guns, missile launchers and plenty of other surprises to keep space dangerous for your flimsy fighters. In fact, bombing runs pose quite a challenge to even seasoned players regardless of the new collection of ship-shaking, shockwave-creating bombs, swarm missiles and assorted weapons of destruction that manage to turn spacefights into massive rocket-frenzies with no safe zones to turn to.
These weapons and ships showcase the game's most obvious improvement over the original (and pretty much any other sci-fi sim out there): the graphics. Freespace 2 looks incredible, with detailed models, clean textures and simply amazing special effects that include breath-taking particle explosions, shockwaves and dynamic lightning effects seen specially in the kickass nebula sequences and whenever a big beam-fight occurs. It took a hefty machine to showcase the game on 1024x780-32bits, but believe me when I tell you that it's all worth it once you see the colorful spacefights in full glory.
Sound effects and music quality is equally amazing, with owners of an EAX surround setup being in for quite a treat as ships whiz by from all angles and the explosions give your subwoofer the most joyful moments of it's career.
Finally, the final cornerstone on every game of this kind, the mission design, qualifies with the best of the genre with a collection of interesting missions that revolve around recon, multi-part assaults and desperate evacuations (given the massive scale of the Shivan threat) and more esoteric objectives usually given in the optional Spec-ops campaigns. As in the original the missions follow a steady difficulty curve, but no longer it's possible to rely on your wingmen to do you job as before (tough they still remain fairly competent). And if things do get too hairy, you still have the winning choice to simply skip the mission after a number of tries, meaning you won't get stuck for too long.
And if you do, there's always the kickass level designer and multiplayer component to extend the shelf-life of the game considerably.
The BadThe story, while an engaging sci-fi warfare conflict, lacks the personal element we have got used to from the space-opera classics of the genre, pretty much you are the unnamed soldier in the gigantic conflict, who has no apparent life except the one in the cockpit... a far cry from the trials and tribulations being Mark Hamill on the Wing Commander games gave you.
The multitude of ships and weapons can be confusing at times, specially since the game, while making a great work of introducing the player to the game mechanics in it's tutorial missions, fails to introduce each weapon and ship accordingly. Something that's troubling to say the least, when there's no clear differentiation between them (there's the fast ship, the slightly faster ship, the minimally faster ship, etc...) and only experienced players will known when it's best to modify the default loadout/ship combos.
I also couldn't get the game to recognize my throttle, meaning I had to resort to the keyboard's collection of step-by-step increments and speed pre-sets, which unfortunately aren't versatile enough to my liking (regardless of the excellent auto-speed settings).
Finally, I believe that the capital ships may be TOO big. This might sound like stupid bitching, but there's a point where you are simply too confused by the scale of the enemy ships to know where you are and what you are supposed to do. Not to mention that the textures need to have like 1.000 levels of detail, which obviously they don't, and results in a somewhat blurry mess when you get too close to the biggest Shivan Juggernauts.
The Bottom LineProbably the best looking space fighter to this day, Freespace 2 injects the genre with a hefty dose of massive, colorful action that nonetheless includes exceptional mission design and killer features.
A must for action fans and sci-fi simmers looking for the next big thing. Too bad Volition's/Interplay separation means there won't be another game in the series...