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Written by  :  Shadowcat (127)
Written on  :  Apr 03, 2001
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Superb space sim, but not without problems.

The Good

The physics model and associated gameplay mechanics. The graphics (espcially with 3Dfx graphics cards.) The introduction, and other pre-rendered video.

Shortly after finishing I-War, I played the demo for Freespace 2 -- hailed as the best space sim ever by many reviewers -- and I discovered that I-War had ruined me for all space sims that do not feature believable physics. (Freespace 2 let you slow down, but not fly backwards! I was dumbstruck.)

The *feel* of I-War is (to mix metaphors) delicious. The physics could easily make the game unplayable, but the collection of auto-pilots (e.g. approach; match speed; dock) and pilot aids (e.g. the clear continuous 3D depiction of the motion of your own and other ships) that were implemented make it a joy to play. The technical aspects of space travel and combat are all presented in a way that makes it possible to suspend disbelief, and imagine that you are indeed in space, in command of a sophisticated ship. Just watching the docking computer at work can be a delight in this game.

Like any good sim, there's a learning curve to overcome, but you don't have to take it all in at once, and the playing experience is all the more rewarding for the extra complexity. And when it comes down to it, the game isn't as complicated as some would make out, but it can seem that way when compared to most other space games.

The graphics are good in software mode, but beautiful in 3Dfx hardware mode -- the nebulae are spectacular, the models are detailed, and the effects are also generally improved (although there were one or two distortion effects that presumably could not be achieved in hardware, where the software mode actually looks better!) The destruction of ships can seem a little anti-climactic, though.

The pre-rendered sequences are amazing, and put every other space-based game CGI that I've seen to shame. And save for one or two bits of dialogue, the introduction is stunning... I'm sure I've watched it a good dozen times. (The software mode actually integrates the video slightly better than the hardware mode. It was designed so that the game could switch seamlessly between gamplay and video sequences, but the 800x600 resolution available on Voodoo2 and better results in the video sequences being less than full-screen.)

The story is really quite decent, and if it isn't completely devoid of cliches, it's better than most of the competition that I've seen.

The Bad

Sadly, the mission scripting does hurt I-War. While good for the most part, there are a few missions that will probably drive you insane; certainly they were some of the most frustrating gaming experiences of my life. On the most notable example, a series of simple but time-consuming events (which I was able to complete in about 5 minutes IIRC) culminated in an insanely intense combat encounter in which I died over and over again, dooming me to repeat those very-rapidly-annoying initial events over and over until I was able to survive the end.

The scripting also seemed to trip over itself on a couple of occasions, and either trigger an event too soon, or not trigger it at all.

Thankfully it is possible to skip missions via a cheat, so this needn't put you off the game. If only I'd known about it at the time...

Another flaw was that while you (the captain, and one of four crew members on the bridge of the Dreadnaught) were occupied remote-controlling another craft, your ship was left totally defenceless. That was a jolt to the suspension of disbelief, that the rest of the crew wouldn't even fight back if attacked!

With the "Defiance" expansion, these flaws had been diminished -- auto-save points during missions, and a more pro-active crew greatly reduced their severity. However I was greatly saddened that these changes (save-points in particular) were not retro-fitted to the original campaign in the "Deluxe Edition" which contained both campaigns :(

The Bottom Line

I-War should be a must-buy for any fan of both sci-fi and simulations. Having said that, the much anticipated sequel is nearly upon us (the estimated release is for the end of April 2001), and I imagine that I-War 2 will be the superior game in most respects; but if you can't get enough, or crave a more story-driven game, the original is a deserved classic of the genre.