Freelancer Update Preview

Freedom is

an endless struggle.

Freelancer! The name alone invokes a

flood of emotions. In the four years since this game was announced, it has gone

through countless revisions, extensive trimming of content and scope, not to mention

the loss of Chris Roberts (Digital Anvil’s founder, the game’s head programmer,

concept designer and paternal Father). Needless to say, we were plagued by a dilemma

that was equal parts exuberance and utter terror. Were we dealing with the birth

of a new star or a black hole?

Things change to mouse-flight mode during combat. The nose of your

ship and pitching are locked to your cursor’s movement. Move the cursor slightly

left and you will veer slightly left, whereas moving the cursor to the edge of

the screen makes for a sharper, more severe bank or turn. Without the mouse wheel,

W is accelerate, while S, A and D remain brake-to-reverse, left strafe and right

strafe, respectively.

This simple control scheme makes Freelancer highly

accessible to those of us with more knowledge about Matchbox cars than matching

speeds and controlling throttles. This innovation alone is a huge leap forward,

and proves you don’t have to sacrifice player control and functionality for mass

appeal.

When we first saw Freelancer four years back, we were simply

floored by the graphics. Thankfully, it still looks really good, akin to a more

polished Starlancer. Nebulae,

distant stars, asteroid fields and patches of space debris set an immersive backdrop.

Metal structures including enormous space stations and ships are detailed and

believable. But the particle effects are the brightest stars in Freelancer

space; explosions and gunfire dazzle with brilliant colors. You live to take down

the next Rogue or Newark Space Patrol just to show off your new toys in the field.

As if all that geeky goodness won’t be enough, they’ve thrown in an involving

multiplayer component, which is essentially the single player minus, the, uh,

single player part. What does that mean? Well, the world is still rife with activity

and employment options, just without the campaign to tie it together. The remaining

plot surrounding the tight network of solar systems, space stations and many factions

is still played out through a series of news feeds at the various bars littered

throughout space. As in the single player campaign, this is where you pick up

work from NPCs or the job board. You can also trade commodities, credits and parts

with player characters. But more importantly, you can join player “groups” and

share missions and profit. I can already imagine being in a trade lane half a

galaxy away rushing to help a buddy being pummeled by some bounty hunters for

trying to loot their Luxury Consumer Goods.

Ultimately, this nearly complete

build of Freelancer has left me stunned. It has been a long, bumpy road

through time and space, but the trip has seemingly refined and aged the game nicely.

Great graphics, vast space, open-ended gameplay, solid control, cinematic dogfights,

reputation tracking, ship customization, extensive trading…this game should

have it all. An early March 2003 release gives new meaning to the term “event

horizon.”