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Review by: Chris Harding
Published: November 11, 1999
When you look at computer gaming from a macro level, there are really only two types of developers — those that innovate and those that refine. Throughout the industry’s short history, a few companies have risen to the top of these categories. Id Software and Origin Systems are great examples of innovators, while entertainment veteran LucasArts has focussed more on the refinement process. Both are equally important to the growth and establishment of gaming as an entertainment medium, and although it is rare when a company is able to do both within the framework of one title, that’s exactly what has happened with Volition’s Freespace 2.
In the original title, Volition established itself as a leading contender in the space combat simulation arena, and arguably produced the best Wing Commander-esque game to date in Freespace: The Great War. Equipped with an interesting storyline and a superbly designed 3D engine, The Great War was a game deserving of praise, but for some, it too closely mimicked Origin’s trademark. In the original Freespace, the humans, long at war with a race called the Vasudans, combined forces in order to combat an enemy that threatened to end both their civilizations. The attacking horde, designated the Shivans, were superior in almost every way, and almost annihilated the Terran army in its first sweep of the galaxy. Armed with shielding that protected their ships, the Shivan were an almost impenetrable enemy.
Freespace 2 begins with an alliance of humans and Vasudans attempting to rebuild their armies 32 years after the Great War had ended. With political unrest dominating the culture and civil war underway, the Alliance forces have been cut off from Earth for over thirty years. The last battle of Great War destroyed the only means of travel back to Earth. The first mission in Freespace 2 plays out the story of a rebel force of humans, known as the NTF, vowing to end the Alliance with the Vasudans and cleanse the human race of its contamination once and for all.
Unlike its predecessor, Freespace 2 places a much larger emphasis on storyline, and these overall effects are much more to my liking. While it still uses the well-established framework of briefing, ship configuration, mission and, finally, a cutscene for its model of gameplay progression, Volition has added a great deal of refinement to this process. One of the first things that will tip you off that this title is well polished is the voice dialogue, both in pre-missions briefings and during in-flight action. The voice acting is superb and never gets out of control, as so many space combat games have done in the past. Little things like crisp and easy to use menu screens, a fully featured configuration interface and my favorite–the inclusion of both working cooperative and adversarial multiplayer options–are staples to which all game developers should aspire.
In terms of being innovative, Volition has nearly doubled the size of capital ships and scaled the entire universe to much larger proportions. It’s really something to fly a small fighter in and around of the larger capital ships, and things get even better when these behemoths start duking it out amongst themselves. The inclusion of a very active and vibrant nebula is superb. The added graphical effects and gameplay enhancements brought on by the gigantic nebula are phenomenal.
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