It seems that you're using an outdated browser. Some things may not work as they should (or don't work at all).
We suggest you upgrade newer and better browser like: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Opera

×

Editorial: Freespace 2

Together with Ed Zitron, we're taking you back to 1999 to see what determined the success of Freespace 2, one of the best space sims ever.

While many will bang a drum and claim that the X-Wing games ruled the roost of Space Sims, Freespace 2 trounced its relatively unadventurous peers with a slick and grim tale of war that rarely felt winnable. That was the joy, though – it was you against an insidious, unbeatable foe, and you were very much in the thick of it.

by Ed Zitron



While many will bang a drum and claim that the X-Wing games ruled the roost of Space Sims, Freespace 2 trounced its relatively unadventurous peers with a slick and grim tale of war that rarely felt winnable. That was the joy, though – it was you against an insidious, unbeatable foe, and you were very much in the thick of it.




The balance of the controls, as well as the real weight of the ship you controlled made the game both intuitive and satisfying to master [...]


Controlling well on either a keyboard or a mouse, Freespace 2 was the master of the twitch-based star war. Enemies would spiral at you from all directions, and the controls were well-tweaked enough (even on a mouse and keyboard) to let you fight back effectively. The basic thrust of it was to manoeuvre around a large body of space, following a constantly changing series of objectives. You could command squads of wingmen to drop huge barrages of rockets on capital ships, as well as call in support from localised corvettes that would refill your ship’s weapons. The balance of the controls, as well as the real weight of the ship you controlled made the game both intuitive and satisfying to master, with clever use of afterburner and barrel rolls rewardingly helping you escape certain death.



Volition created one of the tightest vehicle control systems in history – and it’s only really shown its face again in the latest Saint’s Row.



It was a joy – albeit a constantly anxious and dangerous one – to flit from dogfight to dogfight alongside titanic Capital Ships that let rip on eachother with hundred-meter long lazer beams. Volition successfully managed to create a feeling of unease and threat, as you knew that the Neo Terran Front – breakaways from the Galactic Terran-Vasudan Alliance - were waiting for you, ready to pounce.



The story takes place 32 years after the original Freespace, in a time of minor galactic turmoil, with skirmishes between the GTVA and the NTF setting the scene for what could have been a relatively mundane stellar shooter. This all changes when you face the Shivans – the real enemies in the game – as they burst through a gate (thanks to NTF meddling), sending the astonishingly large SJ Sathanas literally hurtling at the player. It’s a monumental moment in gaming. It’s rare that you’re deliberately held by the throat and told how utterly insignificant you are. It storms past you in a red cloud, followed by smaller capital ships and a swarm of fighters that tear at you as their leader casually burns lazers through hulls of ships that you thought were unbeatable.



imageimage

Freespace 2 gladly dresses you down and throws you into increasingly perilous situations. Volition managed to redefine epic in one title, by creating an engine that could take the rigours of making large, intelligent ships surrounded by smaller, more nimble craft, alongside a well-written and dramatic storyline. They managed to create a tale that enveloped the player without giving them a name, merely a role in the GVTA fleet and a time and a place to be. You may be part of the story, but it isn’t yours – it’s like being part of a space movie that focuses on fleets, on races, and on conflict rather than its micro-scale peers, and there’s never been anything quite like it since. In fact, the space sim genre almost died along with the series – seemingly at its peak, with the X series one of the few beacons in the darkness left to show us any sign of life in one of the PC’s greatest genres.



Sadly, the Freespace series will always be tinged with tragedy. While add-ons to the game were planned, they were halted by Interplay before Volition’s sale to THQ, leaving the franchise, to this date, dead in the water. This didn’t stop Volition releasing its last son of Krypton, the Freespace 2 engine’s source code non-commercially to the internet’s budding mod community.



This led to some monumental efforts. The Freespace 2 Source Code Project was established as a hub to upgrade the engine on its release, and to standardise it for both modders and gamers. This led to simple things, like flashier lazer beams and a higher resolution engine, to the creation of landmark free-to-play standalone conversions such as Babylon 5: I’ve Found Her and Beyond The Red Line (still in demo form), as well as a plethora of additional Freespace 2 campaign packs.




Freespace 2, as it stood, and as it stands, was one of gaming’s brightest flames – and it certainly went out quickly.


Freespace 2, as it stood, and as it stands, was one of gaming’s brightest flames – and it certainly went out quickly. While Volition lives to this day, it’s hard to say what has happened to the original team in the years since the Freespace universe officially closed its doors. The genre has stagnated since, with a sad shift towards the greater realisms of gigantic, open worlds rather than tight narratives exploring original storylines above the stars. It’s a genuine shame, too, but you shouldn’t feel disheartened. Freespace 2 has never been available as easily and cheaply as it is now – at a remarkable $5.99 – and we can confirm that this version works with any and all of the upgrades available through the Open Source Project, which is 100% legal and comes highly recommended.



Considering that the Project continues to go strong, and that the GOG.com edition of Freespace 2 comes with FRED2, the Freespace 2 Editor, you could join in – it’s mostly up to you. Sadly, unless somebody picks up the rights for it from former developers Interplay, we won’t see another Freespace title. Now it’s up to you, dear readers, to cry from the rooftops that there simply has to be a sequel, lest your angry, unfettered rage tear through the internet and throttle somebody.



That, or you can relish and publicise the work that’s still being done with the source code. With any luck, maybe somebody competent picks up the license, and we’ll get a Freespace 3.



The Freespace Open Source Project - http://scp.indiegames.us/

Beyond The Red Line - http://www.game-warden.com/bsg/

Babylon 5 – I’ve Found Her - http://ifh.babylonfive.ru/


Back to frontpage