Review by Stinger31383
"Like fireflies in the sky. The colors children! The colors!"
Every once in a while you'll get lucky and notice a diamond in the rough. Sometimes you'll pick it up and, without cleaning it off, just toss it back in the dirt. Other times you may just look at it, then put it in your pocket and forget about it. And if you're lucky, sometimes you'll actually do something with that diamond and find out how valuable it actually is.
If you're lucky enough to try Freespace 2, then you'll know you've found an extremely valuable diamond in the rough. A highly overlooked space simulator that came out in 1999, FS2 can be boasted by almost any of its players as one of THE greatest games ever made. Just looking over at other reviews, you'll notice just the sheer number or 10's and 9's. So, why haven't more people even heard of this game?
I showed a couple of friends earlier this year (as in early 2004) a glimpse of Freespace 2. The first comment I got was, "Holy crap! How does this game even run on your machine?!?!" Mind you, I have a 2.66 ghz processor. If anything, it tells you that, for an old game, it definitely looks pretty good.
Ships themselves are textured extremely well, especially when you're able to see the little details on cap ships and fighters alike. What makes these ships even more interesting to look at is their practical looks as well as their sleekness, from the spider-like Mara, to the sleek but hulking Herc II, or the small but versatile and dark Pegasus stealth fighter. Meanwhile, nebula details and celestial bodies are colored brightly or in a very mysterious mood. In essence, you really feel like you're flying through the black mass of space, with the sun shining into your cockpit and large ribbons of nebulas stretching across. Or if you're in the nebula, little blips of lightning flashing in clouds of gaseous cloud, not knowing WHAT'S behind the next few meters. And the explosions? Great splashes of red and orange before ships rip apart in debris.
What should be also taken into account is just the sheer size of some of these ships. The game has put almost everything into scale; you will definitely know the difference between a cruiser and a cap ship, or an even larger cap ship for that matter. However, details on both the larger and smaller ships do not suffer at all; get close to a ship and you'll see the details of turrets for a larger ship or just some of the tilings on a smaller ship. Seeing an Orion classed ship and you'll piss yourself; see the Colossus, and you're going to go insane. Literally, it takes sometimes as long as a minute to just GET ACROSS TO THE OTHER SIDE of the ship.
But what really got to me was especially one thing: beams. Giant beams. REALLY big beams. It's like a scene out of Gundam Wing or any other mech animes you can think of. You'll see laser shows that are both trancing... and really really deadly. You start to realize that in this giant mass we call space, you're nothing more than a tiny firefly amidst a universe of giants.
FS2 can boast with some of the best voice acting. This isn't some cheesy Resident Evil craptastic voice acting, this is some of the best you'll hear in any game. You are actually INVOLVED with the game; you don't just fly a box without any other idea of what's going on. In here you're just a regular soldier, hearing the banter of other pilots in your wing, listening to chatter, being ordered confidentiality matters when things go weird or being praised for a job well done. Or heck, even being ordered to dive because you're going to get smashed by a giant oncoming ship.
For the most of the voice acts are in sync with the game, and only on a few occasions (and I mean VERY FEW) do you find anything strange or off-cue. The only problem I can really think of is the eventual repetition of some of the quotes, but just the sheer quality of the voice acting is exemplary.
Music is great, fitting every situation as best as possible. For the most part, it is atmospheric music. Lying dead in space you're just waiting with the a soft-toned song, while when you're in battle the rhythm beats faster and fits the occasion. It is a little subdued however so you can't really hear much of it unless you turn it up. Of course, you could also turn the volume of the music down and put on some other tunes while you're playing (like in Iron Eagle... you know, that movie with that F-16 pilot... and Chappy... yeah... ok, you probably don't get anything I just wrote...)
This is a game with A LOT of buttons, as with any other space simulator. However, once you get started, the learning curve makes it so that you'll get used to the setup almost instantly. The game has several tutorials before and during the main campaign, such as basic commands, use of countermeasures, etc. If you need to, you can also go back to these tutorials to review what you had learned. In the first few missions, they also guide you on what buttons to press to access some commands (like warping out, always a helpful one). Space sim vets of games like X-Wing/TIE Fighter or the Wing Commander series will instantly know what they are doing. I highly recommend a good joystick.
For a space sim, there's definitely many different parts to discuss.
First off, the game has several paces that it goes through. By this I mean there's times where you'll be sitting, waiting anxiously for the enemy to pop out, and other times where you'll be in the heat of battle trying to avoid enemy fire that's coming from every imaginable direction. You're always doing something for a reason.
And trust me, there's a LOT of enemies. Bogies come in from everywhere, and many times you're just not going to know what to shoot down first. Combine that with the hectic battle of the cruisers. Not only will you be dealing with a hoard of fighters, you'll also have to deal with bombers attacking your objective, caps with flak guns barraging your ships with explosives and anti-fighter beams, as well as beams firing at enemies and allies alike. It's not unusual to get your face plastered by one of the BIG beams in your face just because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But it's not just "hey, I'll kill a bunch of guys," you'll also have to be thinking of other things. The fighters on your tail or the cruiser that's going to annihilate your objective? What is your choice? In fact, it's not weird to have 20 kills in a mission, and sometimes as high as 40 kills in a single mission... and still lose. Yes, even on easy this game can be pretty tough. Making it out alive AND completing your objectives, that's the tough part.
The game is also set up so that you're involved with what is going on. In some ways this almost sometimes makes it feel like a first person shooter; you're in the middle of conversations, you're picking up clues to what is going on next, you're involved with the conspiracies. You even get to fly Special Ops a few missions as a double agent.
You also DO make a difference. No matter how big those ships are, you can turn the tide by doing something to make it so that you can win. Maybe two gigantic caps are duking it out with beams, but you can gain the upper hand by taking out the enemy turret. On the other hand, you also have to fly through endless flak and enemy defenses, and the enemy never makes it easy on you.
And remember, the size of these ships also do make a difference in how you play the game. Try defending a cap ship that takes a couple minutes to get from one end to the other on full afterburners. It is not easy.
Variety of missions is also another definite plus. You attack, defend, infiltrate, disable, investigate, and much more, sometimes many of these in combinations. Like I said before, you are always doing something, and for the 10 minutes most of these missions take, you are almost always on high alert waiting for more.
Of course, every game has a few problems. For FS2 it comes down to linearity. The game is extremely well scripted, and when you play it the first time you feel your heart pumping and adrenaline rushing on wondering what's happening next. But play the campaigns over against a few times and you'll know where to expect the enemy. However, you also have several options to beat the mission, which sort of breaks this ''linear'' play. Sometimes, though, there is only one correct decision, and you have to find it to become victorious.
Which takes me to my final point: the missions require planning. You can't just jump in and destroy everything, you need to get your priorities straight. Beam cannons or bombers? Flak cannons or fighters? How do you set up your wingman's ships and weapons, along with yourself? Where is the enemy most likely going to jump in from? You must know what you're getting into. My best advice is to listen carefully to the briefings and expect anything.
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
It's just too difficult to describe how good this game really is. What it comes down to is actually playing it and getting involved with the game. Freespace 2 gets you involved with the plot, and very quickly. It's so organized and good you can play the main campaign repeatedly without getting bored; sometimes you get something new every time you do play.
Multiplayer is also extremely good. Problem with this is with the amount of people playing mostly. FS2 online requires a pretty large learning curve, especially in terms of etiquette and strategy. The newer missions, especially coops, need a lot of planning and skill by each pilot. If you really want to be just decent, you'll need a lot of time to play online.
The game is also very good in terms of replayability. Like I said before, you may find new things while playing it again. Plus the main campaign is just plain fun. MODs and other user-made campaigns also make this game still incredible, and I highly recommend looking into some of these if you get the chance.
Final Verdict: 10/10
FS2 is one of the greatest games ever, and definitely my favorite space sims, surpassing greats such as TIE Fighter and the Wing Commander games, and I'll even say better than even the first Freespace. The game is fun, hands down.
The sheer size of the game, along with the well-made missions, and the expansions of other campaigns that are being made by players, just make this game a real treasure.
But again, it's a diamond in the rough. It never became popular; sales for Freespace 2 were terrible, and the game is often overlooked by many. You'll be lucky to find this game nowadays. Sometimes it'll be burned, or maybe you'll find it on E-Bay or at a garage sale. If you get the chance though, pick it up and play this game. You're not going to regret it.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 03/16/03, Updated 07/28/04
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