a snapshot review by Brad Grier
FreeLancer hails from a very rich lineage of games. Elite, the old Atari/Apple/Amiga classic, is probably the closest and earliest example of a game of this type – being a fairly rich space-combat-trading-ship-building-RPG style of game. Elite was one of the first that offered a 3d experience, albeit wire frame – you had to use your imagination a bit.
FreeLancer is Digital Anvil’s take on Elite and it’s brethren. You get cool ships. You get to fly from planet to planet using very funky space lanes. You get to blow things up in a future universe that’s chock full of people and places – and there’s lots of different things going on. You are not the focus of this universe, but what you accomplish does have an impact. Check out Microsoft’s site for the official background.
The FreeLancer Trial is somewhat limited, allowing you to play a few of the early story-based missions across more than a dozen bases. You’ll experience space combat, trading, reputation building, navigation, space exploration, discovery, and character interaction (though you may
get tired of the repetitive nature of some of that interaction – just press the escape key and you’ll get to the important information without the repetition.
The retail version includes multiplayer game-play, which according to online reports, is quite fun. You can join a squad of your friends online, and pillage through other systems defended by other live-player-squads on player-hosted servers, or escort your friend’s freighter (loaded with perishable trade goods) with your beefed up starfighter.
The graphics are very pretty, quite inline with what you’d expect to see in a modern space sim, though at times the debris fields appear quite dense. It’s almost as if you’re flying through a section of space where a fleet of Borg Cubes were obliterated. Other space environments in the Trial include nebula clouds with electrical storms, and asteroid fields.
So far, I’ve had access to two different ship types. The major differences between them are manoeuvrability, weapons mounting points, and cargo space. They’re more than enough to give you a taste of the action though.
FreeLancer Trial Version game play is rather simplistic. Meet people in the Bar (escape through the dialogue). Gather information and rumours, or be offered a job. Accept a job – usually to blow someone up, expose the location of a lost patrol, or capture a renegade – and you’re on your way to building your reputation in the galaxy. Remember to equip your ship with all the weapons and defences you can afford, you’ll need them early on and your targets are not defenceless.
Now, you will likely be ambushed on your journey to complete the mission – all part of flying the friendly skies. Be prepared for it. If you’re low on shield batteries or missiles, consider restocking enroute. FreeLancer space is a very harsh place.
FreeLancer does offer rudimentary Role-Playing-Game-like (RPG) gameplay. The process of character development is really quite simple. Launch your ship, escort friendly ships going your way (there is safety in numbers), or navigate to the target alone (the artificial intelligence helpfully tells you where to find your target). Blow up the target and collect your reward. Do that a few times and you’ve completed the pre-scripted portion and enhanced your reputation. Now you’re on your own, exploring this sector of the game.
As alluded to earlier, there is a trade-based economy built into the game. You can buy trade items at almost any space-dock or planet, pack them in your cargo hold, and then take them to customers in far-flung systems – and hopefully do so at a profit. The items may be more or less in demand at various destinations around the galaxy – you will need to pay attention to buy/sell prices. Repeat enough times and you’ll quickly have enough to buy a bigger, more powerful ship.
It appears that there is also an underground economy, as your spacecraft will often be scanned for contraband cargo by vigilant police vessels. You may have to duke it out with them, but I’d not encountered this in the Trial Version.
In the full version, you have the universe to explore. In the Trial Version, you have the New York star system of the Liberty Space – about a dozen bases and worlds. There’s a free form component to the game, and there is also an underlying system of structure and goals. These were pinched off in the Trial Version after about three missions. Yep, it left me wanting more.
Hardware-wise, this game is played with the mouse and keyboard. There is no joystick option – which may upset some of the die-hard capsule-jockeys. Regardless, it is very playable, though my mouse finger is getting a bit tired – reminded me of Diablo. I found the keyboard configuration a bit awkward, and am currently playing around with some alternate configurations.
So, after about 15 hours playing the demo, FreeLancer rates a 4/5 in my books. The repetitive nature of the negotiation dialogue dropped it, and the control scheme is somewhat unfamiliar, but manageable. Had multiplayer been there, it would have been a perfect 5/5. Consider the Battlefield:1942 Wake Island demo – if that kind of multi-player aspect had been included… the FreeLancer Trial Version would have Rocked!
As it isÂ¦it’s still a damn fine play.