Sunday, December 30, 2012
I first came across Freelancer in 2003 or 2004 while walking around a Costco superstore. Having no previous knowledge of the game, I decided to purchase the game because the box made it look like a prettier version of Wing Commander: Privateer (I had no idea who Chris Roberts was or that he was involved with both games). Then I went home, turned off all of the lights in my room, and immersed myself in the (virtual) reality of interplanetary travel. Even as a young adult, the game filled me with childlike wonder and excitement.
Coming back to the game all these years later, Freelancer still holds up pretty well. That is to say that the most important part of the game is still blissfully enjoyable. The game presents a setting that is vast, vast, vast and as densely populated as you can you expect from a video game. And on top of that, the game still looks pretty... most of the time.
It's unfortunate that when enjoying Freelancer one has to make the qualifier that the experience is as good as one can expect from a game designed within its particular technological constraints. As fond as I am of this game, I have to admit that nearly any part of the game that doesn't directly involve flying through space is somewhat disappointing. So much of the game reveals its procedural nature to the player, and that split-second realization is the enemy of immersion.
Start the game and walk into a bar. Any bar will do because they're all essentially the same place. Try talking to any person and they'll greet you with a stilted "Hello, I work for" [Insert faction here] "and we run this place. What can I do for you?" Then a textbox will tell you the rest of the information regarding whatever rumor or mission that you might be inquiring about. Sadly, you'll quickly realize that almost every person in the universe one of a handful of unique voices. And to make matters just a little worse, all of the missions that aren't a part of the main quest are randomly generated from about half a dozen fairly similar missions.
It's likely that I'm being overly reductive with my description of the games mechanics, but it seems to me that just a little more polish might have softened the blow that the player receives from the repetitive bits of Freelancer.
That being said, I absolutely love Freelancer, and I always will. The space that it offers up is so vast that the main quest—which is great fun—only involves a small portion of what can eventually be explored. I certainly haven't seen every planetary system in the Freelancer universe, and I know for certain there are better ships to be acquired after the climactic final mission. Though some of the tasks may test your suspension of disbelief, Freelancer is a rather well executed entry in the space-sim genre, which so many of us enjoy quite thoroughly.