With countless E3 teasers, media releases and release date changes over the past few years, Freelancer built quite an interest base. Infact up until very recently, when the trial version was released, gamers have had little more than periodically released screenshots and fact sheets to go off. However the time has arrived and Freelancer has finally hit the retail shelves in the US with other regions soon to follow. Do Digital Anvil now becomes gods, or does Freelance fail to live up to the expectations?
Gameplay - 8.5/10:
Like every good game, Freelancer begins by introducing the player to the storyline. As fate would have it, all hell broke lose around the twenty third century and the world divided itself into two forces - the Coalition and the Alliance. With war raging for almost a century, the battling brought itself deep into the folds of the universe and beyond, with Earth and it's solar system residing only in the eldest of memories. With the thirtieth century looming, humanity finds itself on a journey into the frontier worlds. And this is basically where you pick the ball up and begin to play.
After your finally into the game itself the value of the strong storyline really becomes apparent. I always believe the essence of a game can be found in how immersible and believable the storyline is and I have to admit Freelancer does a great job. However unlike many similar games the story does not end before the game starts, as you progress along your interactions with fellow humans will reveal the story from other perspectives as well as provide you with more information.
Like many other games reflecting the real world, cash is your means of existence (hey just like real life). After you begin to undertake missions cash will be sent your way, allowing you to purchase weaponry, equipment and new ships altogether. On top of this, you can also buy items from the market like silver and food and sell your them to other markets around the universe trying to make a profit. However on occasions the police will seize items that are not allowed in specific areas, unless you decide to attempt a getaway, which is not as easy as you would think in an ultimately limitless area directional wise like space.
However there is another valuable resource in Freelancer, and that is reputation. As you jump from planet to planet, bar to bar, you will talk to different people who represent different companies and clans. If you have a good reputation with a certain company they will let you in on rumours and other information, while a company you have a bad reputation with will dismiss you without letting on anything. This is really the main aspect of the game that changes the course of the action, as you can pay for a hacker to change your reputation at times allowing information and jobs to come from another source. After a while talking with people becomes rather repetitive with the almost identically structured conversation pattern, however it is an essential part of the game you will have to put up with.
One great aspect of Freelancer that is often overlooked in a quality game is the depth of detail beyond the player. Let me explain, there is nothing more disappointing than when a fundamentally great game shoots itself in the foot and makes everything in the world revolve around you. Grand Theft Auto does it, and it is one reason why I lost interest in it. In Freelancer, you are just another person in the universe. Police check other ships for banned cargo, battles break out when your not even around and communication between computer AI can be heard in the distance. If there is one thing Freelancer does the best, it is the creation of an authentic environment.
Besides the volume of the interactive world in Freelancer, you are not really given a whole lot of room to change the course of the game. Although you can change your reputation amongst the companies and clans, the main outcomes in the game essentially remain unchangeable. This isn't really a huge problem, but due to all the hype and pre-release info I guess I just expected the gameplay to be a little more flexible.
On top of this, missions can become very repetitive in some cases. Most missions consist of the same objectives - track down something, kill it and collect your pay cheque. Occasionally there will be a twist in the mission, like decoys or an enemy ship ambush, or maybe you will be required to defend rather than attack, but usually the missions rarely stray from the standard template.
Freelancer does not take advantage of today's latest DX9 technology, but it does create an all-round visually appealing experience that can be had by almost anyone. The ingame engine is very powerful so even on a relatively modest PC the game will run reasonably well.
One problem we came across was 2d menu's and the ATi Radeon 9700 Pro. Any menu in Freelancer with a reasonable amount of text on it will slow the game down to a crawl including your mouse cursor, making navigation rather difficult. This can be fixed by turning your system hardware acceleration down a notch so it is therefore believed to be a problem in ATi's drivers. Lets hope they can get it fixed sooner rather than later.
The environment in Freelancer probably delivers the strongest visual experience. Planets either close or far away are rendered nicely with everything from space junk to large man made objects visible from great distances. The weakest visuals seem to appear in closer objects like other space ships which could have had more detail, but that is not to say their unappealing, just a tad bland.
Controlling your ship is certainly the most impressive part of Freelancer, as it is just so easy. Although some gamers may find it a little too easy, even they have to sit back and admire the design of the controlling subsystem. During flight and combat, all you really need is your mouse, which controls your speed, changes your direction and fires your weapons, and what you can't do directly with your mouse you can most probably do via the ingame displays. However this is not to say the keyboard is useless, as to perform some tasks you will need to know keyboard shortcuts, it just isn't as important as the mouse in most regards.