Give me freedom or give me your cargo.
For years, I kept an old Macintosh hooked up for one reason: a game called
Escape Velocity. It was a simple, open-ended,
non-linear space exploration and combat game. The beauty of it was that you
could be anything you wanted, go anywhere you wanted and do anything you wanted.
If you are a Mac user, the latest version, Escape Velocity Nova, is now
available, and you should go get it because you can’t play Freelancer.
And if you’re a PC gamer like myself, you can finally take that old Mac and
throw it out.
is almost exactly what I’ve been waiting for. It’s definitely not a hardcore
space sim, opting instead for easy controls and near-arcade style combat. It
has light RPG qualities, sumptuous graphics and an open universe. It’s not quite
the revolutionary title that was promised to us four years ago, but it’s a very
good game nonetheless.
Eight hundred years ago, the Coalition fought the Alliance. Nobody remembers
why, but they do know that after centuries of war across the solar system, the
Coalition got the upper hand. As a last-ditch attempt at survival, the nations
of the Alliance built enormous colony ships and launched tens of thousands of
frozen people across the void of stars to the Sirius system. Walt
Disney & Ted
Once there, the colonists began building civilization anew, with different ships landing on different planets. It was slow, hard work for generations, but new cities were built and space lanes laid out across the system and to other stars. Expansion soon became explosive, and the wild Sirius frontier became an exciting, if dangerous, place to live. Now, different factions battle for power, everyone wants to stake their claim, and a mysterious new criminal organization threatens the safety of the whole system.
You are Edison Trent, a space pilot with a problem: Your ship and everything you own has been blown up in an attack on a spaceport. Now you must start over with a cheap little ship and nowhere to go.
Except of course, that you have everywhere to go. The universe is your
oyster. You can fly absolutely anywhere, although that doesn’t mean you’ll survive
once you get there. Mostly you’re looking for work, which is plentiful. Swing
by the pub on any planet or space station to catch up on the news or find a
job. There’s always someone who needs something transported, intercepted or
But be careful who you work for. Working for one particular faction or power
(like the Navy or the Guild of Bounty Hunters) will increase your standing with
them, but it will make their enemies leery of you. You just can’t please everybody,
and people who don’t like you will try to shoot you down if you wander into
areas of space that they control.
determined to be self-employed, you can still do anything you want. You can
fill your cargo hold with cheap commodities on one planet and take them to a
space station where they are desperately needed, in the traditional capitalist
fashion. You can mine asteroids and space debris, or you can stalk the space
lanes, preying on weaker ships and stealing their cargo.
You’ll need money to go up ranks, which allows you access to bigger and better
ships and equipment, but no matter what you do, the plot unfolds the same way.
Trader, cop or smuggler, you still must help the LSF (Liberty Security Force)
investigate a fearsome new criminal organization called The Order. And if you
don’t follow the plot, you can’t obtain new ranks.
While the story is done well and features some good voice acting, it feels
a little forced that the LSF would even talk to me, a feared space pirate, much
less seek my help. Originally, the game was intended to have dynamic, branching
plots, depending on your actions. This would have improved the single player
game a lot.
But you can leave that all behind and go the multiplayer route, which is where
Freelancer really excels. While it’s not massively multiplayer as originally
intended, Freelancer allows users to host their own universes, and there
are plenty out there to play in, with some that allow up to 100 simultaneous
players. Like Neverwinter Nights,
your character is stored on the server itself, so you should try to find one
that intends to stay around for a long time.
In the multiplayer world, you can truly do anything you like, including blowing
up other players. The plot is gone and freedom reigns. You can advance far higher
and access far more equipment in the multiplayer realm as well. This is where
the real game of Freelancer is, and it makes the single player game feel
like a very long training mode.
Unfortunately, unlike Neverwinter Nights, there are no toolsets or
DM controls. This makes the universe a bit like a Counterstrike map (albeit
a very big one). So every server you can play on is essentially the same with
the same ships, same weapons, and same planets in the same places. Only the
ping and the people you play with will differ.
or multiplayer, you’ll be impressed by the graphics. They don’t seem as jaw-dropping
as they did three years ago, but they have held up nicely and allow for an astonishing
number of different ships and other space objects onscreen at the same time,
which makes for some very hectic battles.
And the battles are great fun because the game is so easy to control. Leave
your Sidewinder under the desk, because you won’t need it: Freelancer
was clearly made with the mouse in mind. You control your speed with the mouse
wheel, and you fly where you point the mouse, then right click to fire. A monkey
could do it.
Everything changes on planets and space stations, which are really just dressed up menu systems. The graphics are still nice, but you have no freedom of movement and there’s no exploration. Click on the commodities trader to sell your cargo, or click on the ship outfitter to buy new ship parts. You’ll never see any other players while you’re planetside, which unfortunately removes a lot of the community feel you often get from multiplayer games. But while the system feels a little confined, the ease-of-use is once again fantastic.
Sound is spot-on. With some surround-sound speakers in place, space combat really comes to life. And while in the real (multiplayer) game you lose most of the plot dialogue, the short “conversations” you’ll have with people in the bar are still well done, if occasionally a bit stilted.
If you’re the type of gamer who remembers Elite
fondly or who longs for the old days of Privateer,
Freelancer is clearly the game you’ve been waiting for. And if you’ve
never heard of those games and you simply wish to be a space pirate, this is
your chance. Take it.