Lose your chains.
Does anyone remember Elite? I hope so, or I will retire in shame from the game reviewing business at the venerable age of thirty. I first played Elite on a BBC microcomputer (don't ask!) at my uncle's place when I was about ten. It was way ahead of its time, with beautifully executed vector graphics supporting a space trading game that was truly original in concept.
Ok, Ok… maybe you don't remember Elite. How about Ambrosia's Escape Velocity? Anyone with a Mac will surely have encountered this fabulously addictive game. Both of you have? Excellent. I have now succeeded in connecting with at least two of my readership.
For the rest of you who are wondering what on Earth I am rambling on about, let me introduce you to Freelancer, a game from Microsoft in the middle stages of development. Developed by Chris Roberts and his Digital Anvil team, this highly-anticipated title looks to single-handedly redefine the space game genre.
Webster's dictionary defines a Freelancer as either 1) A medieval soldier who sold his services to any state or military leader; a mercenary or 2) A person who acts according to his principles and is not influenced by any group; an independent. So, for once, the title is a remarkably apt description of the game. You are a gun for hire, at liberty to do whatever you want - escort terrified freighters through hostile territory, mine asteroid belts, work for the government, trade goods, or turn pirate and shoot the hell out of anything in sight. This last choice would probably not be recommended until you have spent some major credits upgrading your ship, however.
This all sounds like good fun already. But I have not yet mentioned the sumptuous attention to detail that the Freelancer team has displayed, or the beautiful environments in which you will be immersed as you play this game. While navigating through the various systems, you will encounter ringed planets, warp gates, asteroids, and gas-clouds which rival and surpass in beauty the best that the Star Trek studios can produce. The sheer opulence of the graphics is nothing less than stunning.
This looks to be the perfect kind of game for space exploration buffs. The complexity of a dynamic and multi-threaded plot, together with the action of a space fighting game and a gorgeously rendered universe easily puts Freelancer in the top five games I saw previewed at this year's E3. The one downside - nobody will admit whether this is going to be a single-player or multi-player game. On the other hand, for those of us who also need to blow real people to virtual smithereens online, there is always Microsoft's Allegiance. Either way, you are going to love Freelancer. I promise.
Countdown T-minus one year! Freelancer is due to launch in Spring 2001 for the PC.
Click for bigger screenshots!