Review by McGray

"Oh man... Gaming perfection has been reached."

Freespace 2 is amazing. Even after 3 years, after beating it 4 times, it never ceases to astound me each time through. As far as I'm concerned, this is the culmination of space sims, and comes to the closest to gaming brilliance than you can possibly achieve. Few games can attain that honor, let alone from me. Freespace 2 not only earns it, but also passes the test with flying colors and wears the banner proudly. This is the best space sim you've never played.

Graphics: Amazing. This game has excellent graphics. The darkness of space stretches into the infinite, with stars and planets and nebulas in the background, really immersing you into the tranquility and eeriness of space.
From the lasers to the missiles to the fighters to the freighters, it all looks great here. You play in a first-person view, looking out into space from your ship. What appears on your screen are several things, including a radar, targeting box, your mission objective, selected weapons and more. Looking past the futuristic HUD, you'll see space, ships, asteroids, or whatever it is that you're against.
Fighters very in size, from the massive Assault-class fighters and Bombers to the thin and sleek Interceptor-class. The bigger vessels, ones that range from the large freighter, to the huge cruiser, and finally to the enormous warship, also look well done. At a distance, turrets protrude from its surface; close up, you can barely notice the polygons, and every ship has a crisp look.
Each race has its own distinct traits and technologies. The Shivans (a hostile race of a advanced aliens) have twisted, complex crafts and cruisers with crude bodies. The Vasudans (another, friendlier alien race) has a smooth breed of machine, usually dull in color but awesome to behold, built with mystical and aerodynamic designs. The Terrans, the human race (your race), has more standard designs, which, nevertheless, ever cease to kick major amounts of butt.
Weapons' fire is nicely done. Firing a laser will send off a blast of super-intensified energy, which varies in size, rate-of-fire, and color from laser to laser. The Subach HL-7 fires out a thin, rapidly-firing purple laser which does decent damage; on the other hand, you have the overwhelmingly powerful Maxim cannon, a weapon of Terran-Vasudan origin which fires out heated uranium slugs from its smooth-bore barrel, showing a large, purple, cloudy mass of energy, with enough power to actually blow your ship slightly off-course when fired; maximum damage to hull, minimal to shields. Excellent.
As far as missiles go, there are also many kinds, ranging in functions and speeds. The sleek Tempest missile is a dumb-fire type, meaning it fires extremely fast but without any kind of guidance system. The Hornet missile is a swarm-type, lock-on missile. Lock on, keep the enemy in your sights and let loose, and you'll send a quick bunch of 4 yellow missiles, striped in black, which will track your victim down until detonation. There are many variations of missiles as well.
Each fighter has a certain amount or shielding and hull tolerance. The shields are invincible, but when you shoot them, they burst into white light, curving around the ship and revealing the area of shielding that's been hit. Shoot the back and a portion of shield will appear around the area affected, obviously--same with any other side. While the shield effects are pretty, explosions are prettier. Shooting your enemy, you'll see their health (shown in a percentage, starting from a healthy 100%) dwindle until it reaches 0%, in which case they lose all power and guidance. Your targeting reticle around the ship disappears, as they start to spiral out of control, all the while you can hear the engine shutting down just before the ship explodes, sending out shrapnel and such. A large ship, on the other hand, is much more awesome to behold. When enough damage is sustained, electricity starts to pulse over its surface, jumping from one area to the next as the it short circuits. Small fireballs will then start to burst forth from the hull. They grow more numerous and more speedy, until the entire ship splits in half, sending a massive blue shock-wave out from around the area. The rest of the ship continues to fireball until the pieces explode and send huge chunks of slag into the far reaches of the universe. Am I the only one that loves explosions this much?

Sound: The sound is another aspect of FreeSpace 2 that makes this game so great. The music is nice, if somewhat non-existent. It's quiet as you patrol space, but it livens up as battle approaches. You can hear the contrast as you see a ship jump into the system and onto your radar, as the music picks up pace; however, the music is often-times too quiet to hear, and not very memorable in the first place. Music on the briefing screens is nice, however, setting the stage for your next mission. If the mission is nothing out of the ordinary, it'll play normal briefing tune, but if your mission is urgent, the music will convey the feeling well with a distressed sound. It set the mood perfectly.
Where music fails to please, as far as in-game missions go, sound effects more than make up for it. The lasers sound relatively the same, with more bass or a different pitch depending on which weapon is fired, and the missiles have different sounds depending on type. In the heat of battle, you may hear missiles and lasers whiz by your cockpit, other ships zooming past, and warships dueling it out as you keep the smaller ships away from them. The sound effects can get intense, and they're all very pleasing to the ear. Get a decent pair of speakers for this game, or better yet, some headphones, as this game is best played when it's turned up.
The voice acting is easily one of the best qualities of FreeSpace 2. The voices are absolutely top-notch, and really immerse you in the game. Each voice is serious when needed, adds humor with a sarcastic scoff, or instills fright with an apprehensive tone. You'll be hard-pressed to find better voice acting in a game, I guarantee it.

Story: (All explained within the first few minutes) February the 28th, of the year 2335. The Battle of Deneb, the notorious ''Great War'', is waging (explained in Decent: Freespace). The Terrans and Vasudans, after teaming up, have battled madly against the Shivans. In the final course of their attack, the Shivan destroyer, the almost-invincible Lucifer, is making the jump through subspace and into the solar system to destroy earth. In mid-jump, the Lucifer, after sustaining massive damage, explodes while half-way into subspace. The explosion ripples through the jump node (points where subspace can be entered), and the node collapses. That node was the Sol jump node, the Terrans' only access to earth. The Shivans flee, leaving the Terrans stranded in the middle of space. With the Sol jump node destroyed, all contact with earth has been severed, and now the Terrans wander space, searching for their home.
32 years pass, and a peace between Terran and Vasudan races has been reached, and the GTVA (Galactic Terran-Vasudan Alliance) was born. Now a new threat arises: Admiral Aken Bosch, one who thinks that Terrans and Vasudans cannot, should not co-exist, defects and forms the NTF (Neo-Terran Front). This band of renegade Terrans now hunt Vasudans and Terrans alike, and are quite the threat to be reckoned with.
So is the story of Freespace 2, at its beginning. The story is very compelling, taking many twists and turns, and is one game that will, like the first Freespace, actually make you want to finish the next mission, just to see what happens next. Nothing is ever as it seems in the confusing, yet awe-inspiring FreeSpace 2.

Game Play: This is where it all comes together. Controls aren't at all simplistic, and to say so would be a lie. The first layer is nothing challenging. Controlling your ship is used with the numeric keypad on the right of the keypad: 8 is nose up, 2 is nose down, 6 is turn right and 4 is turn left. 7 and 9 are the roll commands, 7 is left, 9 is right. Then you have fire weapon, which is control, and missiles, space bar. That's basic control. Then, you have more uses--a lot more uses. Almost every key on the keyboard has a use, literally. T? Target enemy fighters; you can also use F for Friendly-ships, H for Hostiles, and E for Escort (targets of opportunity or friendly warships), or R to see who's firing on you, to be more specific. A is accelerate, Z is decelerate, B is target Bombers or their bombs, Q is equalize shields, and the list goes on. Complex at first, yes, but they soon become second-nature, and with one key having a specific use, it helps you to be able to do what you want to do the first time. It's easy to use, believe it or not.
As far as missions go, each mission can range anywhere from 10 minutes, to half an hour or more depending on your pace and objectives. It's not uncommon to find that your next objective has been cancelled out due to in-mission plot twists. This really livens up a mission, when all of a sudden a mission objective is cancelled as a cruiser jumps in from subspace, out to destroy everything in the vicinity.
In-game, there are a lot of things you'll need to do. There is no ''standard'' or ''basic'' mission, since there is no basis for this kind of thing. They can be anything from escorting a warship to the next jump node, which usually involves fighting off bomber wings and their assault (while dodging the smaller ships that they use for cover), to destroying a large warship, to taking out asteroids and laser turrets, or scanning a large warship. There is a lot of diversity in missions.
There are many options available to the space fighter pilot today. One key aspect to FreeSpace 2 is shield maintenance and energy management. Depending on your situation, you may need to divert more power to weapons, so you can fire at a steady rate, instead of having to wait for your reactor to churn the needed amount of energy to fire. The bigger and more powerful the weapon, the larger amount of energy is needed. Using the ''Insert'' and ''Delete'' keys will either add to or subtract from your weapons power. By adding to your weapons' energy, you'll be leeching power from your shields and engines (your other energy properties), and by subtracting from your weapons you'll be adding power to your shields and engines. By adding power to you shields with the ''Home'' key, they will recharge faster. This is obvious: if your shields take damage, they will deteriorate. You can send power to certain areas of your shield with the arrow keys (up and down are frontal and backward shield areas, same with right and left), or you can equalize all sections with Q. If you're under heavy firepower and you're taking too much damage for your shields to sustain, you can shaft the energy less from your weapons or engines in order to sustain the shielding. Same with engines. While each ship has a maximum speed, some slower than others, each fighter also has an afterburner. Hitting Tab will hit your afterburner, exceeding your speed limit considerably, and giving you that extra speed needed to escape the fire of your enemies or to catch that stray fighter who seems to have slipped your grasp. The thing is, your afterburner takes a few seconds to charge, and sometimes you simply cannot afford wait. That's what diverting your power to engines is for; it gives you a longer boost and a faster recharge rate, as well as boosting your max speed. Mastering your energy management is crucial to making your fighter run smoothly. Some ships have less firepower with more speed, so speed should be decreased and added to firepower to give it a decent punch. It's all easily done by the aforementioned six keys (Home, Insert, Page Up, etc.).
Another interesting aspect of FreeSpace 2 is the subsystem targeting ability. This was also in the original Freespace. What is does, is lets you scan the subsystems of smaller, and larger, ships. If you try to take out a larger warship with just lasers and missiles, you'll be utterly destroyed and blasted into an embarrassing pile of space-faring ashes; however, approach the ship strategically and you could overturn the tides of battle. By itself, the firepower of your fighter cannot take out a ship, but it can damage the subsystems. By hitting S, you can target the subsystems of a larger warship. By targeting and neutralizing the Weapon's subsystem of a warship, the weapons systems won't have any guidance, and they fire loosely, making them largely inaccurate. If you destroy the sensors of the warship, it will disable its radar and other systems. Destroying its engines will leave it stranded without the power to move. By destroying a subsystem, you can plow the way for an assault of larger warships and keep them safe from the firepower of the enemy. This is a strategic aspect of FreeSpace 2 that couldn't have been better pulled off, and it really adds depth. Scanning the subsystems of another fighter is just about useless though, because you'll destroy them long before their subsystem.
Once you earn clearance, you can access the ship-selection screen, where you can pick from available ships and outfit them with available weaponry. Sometimes, the computer will give you a fighter that you don't see fit for the mission, so you can switch it and its weapons if need be. Flexibility is a great thing.
There is also a multi-player option. It's a great addition, and a lot of fun to play. It's better with friends than with strangers, but even then, it's an awesome addition to an already awesome game. Like most multi-players, there is a cooperative mode, an a basic fight-fest, where you choose your ship and weapon and do what you've got to do.
Then you have the Mission Editor. It's a little complex, but if you can think of the perfect mission, and this game doesn't have it, just create it. It takes a lot of getting used to, however.

Replay Value: This game is full of replay value. The missions themselves are fun to play over, and the game keeps a record of the missions you've played, so you can select one and go. Add to that the fact that there are over 50 missions to play and a compelling story that encourages you to finish it, and that's a decent-sized game. Then you have the Mission Editor and an extremely well-done multi-player, and you've got something that will keep you busy for quite a while, and pull you back even when you're done with it.

Rent or Buy: Buy. Definitely. Not that you can rent PC games... This game is definitely worth the $30 bucks. Even back when it was $70, and it was even worth it then.

FreeSpace is the perfect space sim, put simply. This is one of my favorite games of all time, and should not be missed up by any simulation fan, or just about anyone else out there. I strongly, strongly recommend this game to anyone. You won't be disappointed.

Graphics: 10
Sound: 10
Story: 10
Gameplay: 10
Replay Value: 10
OVERALL: A very rare 10/10


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 10/20/02, Updated 02/15/03


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