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Freelancer (PC) artwork

Freelancer (PC) review


"Every modern gamer knows the story of the Xbox (and later PC) role-playing game, Fable. It was supposed to be one of the largest and most ambitious games ever released, but turned out to be a short and limiting RPG that paled in comparison to its contemporaries, namely Bioware’s KOTOR. Due to the genre’s mainstream obscurity, most gamers haven’t heard of Freelancer, which was first announced roughly five years prior to its release in 2002 (and was in development for much lon..."



Every modern gamer knows the story of the Xbox (and later PC) role-playing game, Fable. It was supposed to be one of the largest and most ambitious games ever released, but turned out to be a short and limiting RPG that paled in comparison to its contemporaries, namely Bioware’s KOTOR. Due to the genre’s mainstream obscurity, most gamers haven’t heard of Freelancer, which was first announced roughly five years prior to its release in 2002 (and was in development for much longer than that). Developer Microsoft hyped it as a free-roaming, open-ended space simulator that would allow the player to influence every action that takes place in the galaxy. In other words, it was supposed to be one of the best space-combat sims ever made.

THE PROMISE

Freelancer takes place during a huge war spanning hundreds of years (or maybe even more) throughout the entire galaxy. You play as Edison Trent, a mercenary who was attacked and nearly killed in a battle and now has literally nothing. Your goal is to build up your wealth and prestige by accepting and completing mercenary missions for various factions. But this isn't your typical space game. Every action that you do will influence those around you. Allying with someone, for instance, will coincidentally increase someone else's hostility towards you, which will ultimately effect to outcome of the entire war. Different people will give you different equipment, and your missions will vary depending on who you're working for. In the matter of fact, you don’t have to work for anyone if you don’t want to. Your fate and the fate of the entire galaxy are all up to you.

But despite its depth the game would be equally accessible to everyone. The mouse and keyboard can be substituted for a joystick, which will allow those unfamiliar with the genre to easily pick up and play Freelancer. The storyline will also progress in a way so that you will never get lost or not know what to do in the enormous galaxy.

A deep, complex game that’s simple enough for anyone to enjoy? Seems like an instant classic to me.

THE TRUTH

Microsoft did succeed in creating a highly accessible space combat sim. Most people are turned off by the genre because of its complexity regarding controls, but Freelancer keeps everything incredibly simple. The mouse and keyboard setup might sound awkward at first, but it works wonderfully, and might even be better than a joystick. Secondly, it is possible to get through the game by learning only the most basic controls. You won't need to memorize every feature of the ship; just the weapons and basic maneuvers are enough to get by. The simplicity might turn off space sim vets, but there are plenty of other features for those who would want to use them.

Unfortunately that's about the only area where the game lives up to its promise. The rest of this unlimited freedom, open-ended gameplay talk is bullshit. Well, you can accept jobs from different factions, you can buy, sell, and trade ships, and you can also freely roam the galaxy, but the game is still incredibly linear. It doesn't matter how much buying and selling and exploring you do; every possible path that you can take leads you to the same exact place. This is primarily because of the game’s linear storyline, which you are forced to follow. I don’t want to spoil anything, but once you’re around two thirds through the game, you’ll get to a point in which alliances are erased. So you could spend hours and hours building up alliances with certain factions, but once you reach a certain point everything will go the way the linear storyline wants it to go. So much for freelancing!

Freelancer introduces some interesting marketing elements, such as buying, selling, and trading ships and parts, but once again the game’s linear storyline ruins all of the fun. You can earn/find cash from exploring the galaxy and doing various missions (story-related and not), but thanks to the game’s experience system, it’s all worthless. Basically in order to unlock new ships you need to reach certain levels, and the only way to reach those levels is to make progress in the good old storyline. So you can spend hours and hours exploring the galaxy for money (I guess this could be seen as the game’s equivalent of “leveling up”), but if you aren’t far enough in the game all of that extra work is meaningless.

The space battles don't make the game any more interesting, either. Although accessible, the missions lack in variety. They all have similar objectives (usually something along the lines of move to a point and destroy or capture something), and are generally very short and easy (except for the last few which are brutally hard). There are also other battles that you might encounter while exploring the galaxy, but they are all simple and even less impressive than the missions.

THE VERDICT

Despite all of my bitching and moaning, Freelancer is still an average game. Its excellent controls make it highly accessible, and the idea of freelancing in an enormous galaxy has a lot of potential. Even though it is incredibly linear, I still had some fun marketing and joining various factions, while making enemies in the process. But even with its strengths Freelancer leaves a lot to be desired. Despite its title and promises it is just another space combat simulation that has been done so much better in the past, in every aspect. Hopefully some day developers will expand on these ideas and create a game similar to the one that was being hyped for so long. Unfortunately that day has yet to arrive.

Rating: 5/10

Halon's avatar
Community review by Halon (July 10, 2006)

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