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Independence War II (PC) artwork

Independence War II (PC) review


"In the glorious past, before all the words were used up, the winters were longer, and sequels could still rip off the original without losing all dignity - Particle Systems made Independence War 2: Edge of Chaos. "



In the glorious past, before all the words were used up, the winters were longer, and sequels could still rip off the original without losing all dignity - Particle Systems made Independence War 2: Edge of Chaos.

This sequel had the original's most unique features, from the newtonian flight physics in near space, the "LDS" flight to break the speed of light to traverse distances involved in interplanetary travel, and to the carefully written mission-driven narrative.

That is to say, the sequel would never make you scream at the screen, as it goaded you into making a suicide-run on a Destroyer class battle-ship. All of which then managed to be interrupted by carefully scripted and beautifully animated cutscenes, and characteristic dialogue. Sometimes dependent on your choices during the mission. But always successful for setting the stage and the mood of the situation.

There is something about a slowly rotating camera showing you a blown main thruster, and your ship adrift in entirely empty space, as it winds down the frenetic action before it. As well as describe the new predicament you are now definitively in. But it required a different type of mission-scripting, and perhaps time that Particle Systems did not have.

So the sequel never had that thoroughly artful integration between gameplay and story, and the tale is not as well written in terms of setting and context from mission to mission. Instead the game changed tack and focused more on the free-roaming aspect. Something that naturally changed the presentation on it's own as the scope became larger.

Still, the nail-biting minutes of game-time that seemed like hours were kept in many of the missions. There are times when you jump through capsule space to another star-system, and the surroundings genuinely make you feel unwelcome. Just as the relief when jumping back is sincere sometimes. So Particle Systems certainly did not forget what made the original such a good game. The fantastic music as well does return, and is used a lot more for effect in the sequel. Whether it would be to accompany the safe return of your home base, a difficult battle, or a tense silence before the neutronium ore reaches the proverbial critical mass.

In fact, the sequel has several bright spots when it comes to the narrative - but in a different way than the first game. Whether you would be escorting large ships, ambushing a convoy behind a jump-gate. Or simply roaming freely in the Badlands star-cluster, taking a hands-on approach to managing the corporate economy with a laser-cannon. No matter how vast space is, you never wonder about what to do next, or why you are out there flying. So while Particle Systems may not have included the writer during the mission-design phases as much as in the original - there is always a story happening closer or further away from your reach.

The whole second phase of the game is based on finding and making contact with all of the factions in the Badlands Cluster, for example. And that surrounding narrative, presented via the ship's com system, the e-mail at your base, or the sparse in-game cutscenes, this always motivates you throughout the game as you flow between the free-roam and the story-driven missions.

In a few ways this also does work better than the original's branching mission-tree picker, with the thorough briefings taking place during "cruising phases" - even if it does make the captain's role less pronounced. As well as the navigation, engineering and command stations obsolete. Instead the sequel transferred the captain to the pilot's seat permanently, so that you will spend time between the mission-phases navigating the starmap, and plotting courses there for the navigation computer's autopilot. Which is an altogether enjoyable experience on it's own.

This does mean the transport stages become longer, however, which could be a problem - just as the non-arcade flight-controls - if you are somewhat impatient.

Of course, the story-driven introduction during the game that gradually moves from ordinary space-flight. Then to LDS-flight, or linear displacement flight. And then to capsule jump space is as artfully done as in the original, and it works just as well to explain the controls, as well as impress upon you the size of the starcluster the game takes place in.

Meanwhile, the "Orb", another unique feature from the I-War series, that display objects in your vincinity in 3d space - along with the speed-indicators displayed in the viewport of the command section's nicely crafted HUD - this also gives you the essential overview to effectively fly and fight in 3d space. Sooner or later, matching the trajectory of a much quicker pursuing ship before making a 180 spin to direct the particle cannons at the target, will come as naturally to you as using the autopilots. And that is when the game opens up.

When it does, the space-flight physics become an essential part of the game, both in the transport stages as well as the combat. Which immerses you into the universe in a perhaps an as deep way as the first game's more directed approach achieved (even if that is a tall order).

I-War 2 also had very new and shiny 3d-accelerated graphics at the time, along with higher resolution and more complex models. Which helps to make I-War 2 a good choice for a space-sim today as well. It looks good, and it also retained the most important features from the first game: the large ship battles seen from the captain's role, real distances in the star-clusters, and the newtonian physics engine.

The I-War series also has the science fiction to make it all fit together. This was definitively Particle System's biggest accomplishment with the series - to create the surrounding science fiction necessary to make the universe consistent, without removing it too thoroughly from more familiar surroundings that could be believed as real. The LDS flight to break the speed of light, and the capsule space jumps at the gravitational wells between large planetary bodies - these are necessary for space-flight through the large distances in the game. But with the locally consistent use of the "magical" technology, along with the very clever and well described science fiction to explain such things as faster than light local space-travel (eat it, Einstein!) - this becomes more than just a game-mechanic for transport.

After all, one thing is to immerse you in a pure fantasy-universe - it is another thing entirely to actually insert the player into a universe that, apart from the futuristic setting, feels present, real and believable. Not simply because the suspension of disbelief needs to be nursed more thoroughly then, but because the game-mechanics had to genuinely be a part of the universe. To the extent that you know, while playing, that you are flying in a large planetary cluster, in a large ship. Where the physics and navigation matters. And where the events that take place in it all happen within the rules of the universe, whether they are scripted or not.

While the space-simulator genre is currently dead for various reasons - presumably having to do with how either creating complex game-worlds, or consciously inserting script-writing into the actual mission contexts during development will not translate easily into modern day development cycles - it is always good to revisit one of the classics, only to discover it did not age as miserably as feared. The campaign will take you a couple of busy weeks to play through, but you will no doubt spend more time because of the free-roaming piracy mode. If that doesn't do it for you, there is always the endless ship-battle mode. This mode also has support for local lan-play and internet play.

With a flight-stick, some imagination with the config-files (and some help from www.i-war2.com), Independence War 2 remains the best space-sim in the post-3d graphics card era. Stephen Robertson & team at Particle Systems should have received an award for game a long time ago. (Note: best bet for getting hold of Edge of Chaos now would be download at GoG.com)

Rating: 8/10

fleinn's avatar
Community review by fleinn (August 17, 2010)

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