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Written by  :  SharkD (440)
Written on  :  Nov 06, 2008
Rating  :  2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars

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Summary

The game takes a step forward by adding some cool new features, but reverses direction in terms of polish.

The Good

It's hard to find fault with the game's basic premise: roam the galaxy with a small band of mercenaries and take part in tactical space battles. Throw in some interstellar trade, exploration and statistical character development, and you could call the game a mix of Homeworld, Elite and Baldur's Gate. The tactical battles are what made the first game so great; and on the surface, little in this regard has changed. The game also features improvements to its music, performance, voice acting and English translation. Finally, the addition of the "open world" concept seems like it might constitute a shoe-in for making the game become a classic.

The Bad

Unfortunately, all is not well with the final result. The addition of the sandbox-style of play - much lauded in games like Elite and Freelancer - has had an adverse effect on other aspects of the game, ranging from level design and mission complexity to game balance. There are also a number of areas where the game wasn't updated to match this new playing style.

The first and most glaring issue is poor level and mission design. Each level features a handful of stations and portals leading to and from neighboring sectors, as well as a multitude of space "junk". The problem is that there is little variety, and the sectors end up all seeming identical and boring. Being very small and square, each sector has little room to fit all its stuff. Further, the objects' positions all seem to have been generated using a random number generator; they are nearly evenly distributed, and little about them makes each sector seem "organic" and unique.

Missions are likewise simplified. Instead of a number of multi-stage objectives spread across an entire sector as in the first game, each "quest" now involves at most two objectives usually attached to only a single location. This means that most of the time quests simply involve going to the marked location, fighting a short battle and leaving when you're finished. There is little of the "tactical" feel that made the first game great.

The next-most significant flaws involve the game's interface, performance and graphics. The game suffers frequent drops in frame rate, often only when certain objects are displayed and resolved by turning the camera. While the interface latency issues of the first game seem to have been resolved, the slow-downs are still much too numerous. Secondly, the game has a very short draw distance. You'll frequently see not-so-distant objects suddenly appear/disappear as you move around the map. The manner in which the objects are "clipped" when they enter/exit the draw radius is also ugly.

There are also signs that the game was rushed when it made the change to the new "sandbox" format. Firstly, the mothership cannot be repaired. Instead, the mothership's hull is instantly "healed" whenever you enter a new sector. This is exactly like it worked in the first game, but serves to break the fourth wall a little in the sequel. Likewise, character skills do not replenish over time; instead, all character abilities are reset when you enter a new sector. In this case I think it would have been better if the characters regenerated by resting, as in many other RPGs. Other potential "updates" include the addition of a "dock to station" command for your mothership, an option to automatically put your fighters into "escort" mode when entering a new sector, and the ability to keep the time-compression setting when moving between sectors. Lastly, the pathfinding issues which were merely an annoyance in the first game become a real issue as you dock with and navigate around larger and larger structures.

The last issue is one of game balance and overall length. The game seems to alternate frequently from being very easy to being very hard. Most of the time the combat is so easy that your fighters will never need to leave the hangar. At other times you will suddenly be faced with vastly a superior adversary. This change in difficulty always feels sudden and random and not like it was tied in any way to the events in the game or the development of your character. The game is also very short and comes to a sudden end. You'll complete the game long before you have a chance to explore half the galaxy, and the events leading up to the end never really reach any sort of climax.

The Bottom Line

I cannot recommend this game. The addition of Elite-style gameplay has mainly resulted in the dissolution of the first game's strengths: the tactical combat. While technically very similar to the first game, the simplification of missions and maps means you'll never experience what made it great.