"This Is What Happens When Children Play With Dynamite."
Thirty-two years have passed since you destroyed the Lucifer. Back then, you tore up its reactors and made it go nova as it exited the SOL jump node, cutting off Earth from the rest of the cosmos. Thirty-two years after you sat on your heiny to bask in the glory and sip tea, another pilot, a member of the "Lost Generation" of human Diaspora, will have to do much of it all over again. But this time, there's fireworks.
Since the victory, the rebellious Neo Terran Front (NTF) has been putting a great strain on the Terran-Vasudan relations under the new Galactic Terran-Vasudan Alliance (GTVA). Now, due to a discovery made by the NTF using an archaic device created many millennia ago by the "Ancients," a new portal has been opened that leads directly into Shivan space. The destroyers of The Great War are back, and they are definitely out for blood.
Freespace 2, follow up to last year's excellent Descent Freespace: The Great War, continues the series tradition. The excellent gameplay is based on a slick combination of X-Wing and Wing Commander with a near perfect interface and a totally distinct style. Although at its core Freespace 2 remains almost identical to the original, the enhancements made to the gameplay, along with a killer single player campaign and extensive multiplayer options, make Freespace 2 one of the very best space combat games ever made.
Though the original Freespace was definitely a winning game, it was missing, at some level, a certain visceral punch. This was due in large part to an esoteric artistic style and weapons that sometimes lacked 'kick.' Freespace 2, on the other hand, is probably the most kinetic and visceral space combat game yet. This time around, the weapons light up the starscape like Barium sprites, the capitol ships cleave each other (and fighters) in half with massive beam weapons, the battles crackle with flack, and the fighter on your 12 explodes fantastically as you send an eight pack of missiles up its tail. All this, while shock waves from rupturing capitol ships, 500 times the size of your fighter, fling you about helplessly like a moth caught in a tornado.
Much of the added intensity is communicated brilliantly through the newly retooled graphical engine. Although still based on the Freespace 1 code, Freespace 2 features support for 1024x768 resolution (with a hefty hard drive install) and several other enhancements. In the battles, a combination of more detailed space backgrounds, electric slicing beam weapons, flak explosions, vibrant weapon fire, and greatly increased texture detail adds up to what is easily the best looking space combat game on the market. Crowning off the tour de force visuals are the Nebula levels, which have you flying through extremely convincing gas clouds replete with varied colors, limited visibility range, and white-hot lighting. Freespace 2 will never cease to please your eyes.
To up the immersion level, a much greater emphasis has been placed upon plot developments while in the cockpit. In Freespace 2, the story is communicated by strategic and mission briefings, debriefings, a few cut scenes, and at least twice as much cockpit chatter as Freespace 1. Most of the excellent missions will end far differently than you would expect from the briefing, neatly keeping you on your toes and drawing you into the many enigmas of Freespace 2's well developed, multi-tiered plot.
The plot is, I must add, strictly first rate even for a game in a genre famous for well-developed stories. It builds through several different conflicts into an unforgettable climax, and just when you think it's all over... you ain't seen nothing yet.
The voice acting in the game is of a very high quality, being mostly done by established Hollywood talents such as Kurtwood Smith (Robocop, Dead Poet's Society, That 70's Show) and Stephen Baldwin (Backdraft, Alec's Brother).
On that note, the sound in Freespace 2 is a feast for the ears. Every missile you fire, every time a Shivan fighter streaks by, every time you fly through a cloud of flak, and every time a cap-ship beam powers up and barely misses the side of your ship, your ears become completely immersed in the extremely intense world of Freespace 2. Don't cheat yourself - play this one with the volume way up.
Eventually, you will finish the terrific single player campaign. At that point, you'll still have three great options: play it again, go into the included FRED 2 mission/campaign editor and make some new missions, or play online.
Internet play has been seamlessly integrated into Freespace 2 using Interplay's Paralax Online service. In Freespace 2, the lag problems that plagued Freespace are gone. Freespace 2 online is a smooth and satisfying ride all the way, with extensive options (including playing in Freespace 1 situations with Freespace 1 craft). With Deathmatch, Team, and Coop play, you'll be kept busy for months.
Freespace 2 is a hell of an update to an already solid space combat classic, but overall doesn't seriously add anything new or origional to the genre. Still, don't be fooled by Freespace 2's intense similarity to it's predecessor - there is more to love in this game than I could write about here. The new ships, new weapons (such as the extraordinarily nasty TAG missile...you'll see), the unbelievably large cap ships, and just the sheer joy of playing this title makes it an easy pick for space combat sim of the year. To anyone who has ever smiled as your target ship exploded beautifully under a hail of your missiles and gunfire, I guarantee you've never had this much fun in space before. And coming from me, that is one hell of a recommendation.