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Product: Freelancer
Platform: PC
Company: Microsoft/Digital Anvil
Website: http://www.microsoft.com/
Estimated Street Price: $44.95/29.99
Review By: Byron Hinson

The Features

Freelancer offers cutting edge space combat within a vibrant, living universe on an intensely epic scope. You can freely navigate, providing vast opportunities for exploration, trade and combat. Additionally, Freelancer offers a seemingly endless pool of missions that you can choose from to create your own adventures. If you're more interested in a structured experience, Freelancer also features a compelling storyline that draws you deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the human colonies in the distant Sirius System and against a villain unlike any mankind has faced before.

  • Open-ended universe-Gamers can select to play random missions or follow the storyline. The universe is open for exploration, and the game advances based on decisions players make.
  • Dynamic reputation-The players' reputations constantly evolve as they choose their missions, make allies or enemies and succeed or fail.
  • Distinctive styles of play-Players can choose to act like bounty hunters, traders, pirates or explorers for different gameplay experiences.
  • Trading-Commodity trading turns the gears of the universe. Mining planets churn out valuable minerals while agriculture planets cultivate grain. Players must find the best trade routes in order to profit.
  • Compelling storyline-More than two hours of in-game cinematics plunge players into the mysteries of a vast planetary system. Character interaction will emotionally involve players in an intriguing and compelling storyline, giving them a sense of purpose.
  • Vibrant, rich universe-Political intrigue permeates almost every aspect of the game. Players' decisions affect the dynamic relationships of other characters, and ultimately alter the gameplay experience.
  • "Simple" combat interface-The intricacies of space combat can be mastered via a simple and intuitive mouse-driven interface.
  • Multiplayer-Players may set up their own persistent world servers or play with gamers across the globe

Installation, Settings and Loading Speeds

Preview Quotes
"Believe me you will need to keep your ship upgraded as the game goes on, especially in missions when you are outnumbered about 10 to 1! In all fairness though the game doesn't just rely on throwing large numbers of enemies at your to cover up bad AI, it has some very impressive AI that should test most avid space sim players."

The press preview version of Freelancer comes on a single CD and doesn't take very long to install at all. As this is a preview we won't be going into many of the bugs and such like that crop up in this beta build as we have been told that final music, dialogue and option screens have not been completed yet. Also the game needs to be optimized for various graphic cards.

Gameplay

It seems like it has been an age waiting for Freelancer to be released, it was first announced a few years ago when Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame was still involved, but now It has been left to his brother to complete the epic game. Since it was first announced a number of features have been dropped, mostly on the multiplayer side, but that doesn't mean there is no longer a large scale multiplayer part to the game now as the one we are left with looks like it will be pretty good, the only problem for me in this preview is that there were NO multiplayer worlds being run with this press preview release during the times I checked.

So what is the actual game like? Well the first few hours took me back to the great days of Privateer and that of Wing Commander, there is no doubt that not a great deal has changed since then, although the emergence of multiplayer games have made some different here. The game begins with the destruction of a space station from which the hero of the game "Trent" was based on, thankfully he survives (wouldn't be much of a game without him would it) and within a few hours you are flying around various planets and bases getting into a large scale conspiracy about artifacts, planets and people trying to silence you.

The story so far is excellent, so now on to describing the space simulation side of the game. Well for the first time ever, Digital Anvil have decided that no one needs to use a joystick with their games anymore, what we have here is a new style of mouse look - one that a lot of readers have been worried about, but I am here to tell you that it works very well indeed. The layout of the HUD has various menus at the top and bottom of the screen, if you are not holding down the left mouse button you can move the pointer over these menus to click on various settings such as weapon load outs and ship details. Once you hold down the left mouse button you can move your ship around via mouse look, the right mouse button is used for firing your weapons.

This is not the most detailed of space sims out there, there are no major settings for you to fiddle with, just the basic fire missiles, repair ship, accelerate and decelerate options. So you don't have to worry too much during the space fights, this fits the game well as it is more about action than simulation, you could I guess call it more of a role playing game than anything else as you need to gain a certain amount of money before new story missions are opened up for you.

The game is based around picking jobs, you get jobs as an escort (that is a ship escort you dirty reader you), to take down various ships who are smuggling around the space lanes, trading items, there are lots of jobs to pick from and you do get to make a choice which ones you take up, they vary in difficulty but if you have made a lot of money over your missions you can purchase better ships, weapons and shields to make life just a bit easier.

Believe me you will need to keep your ship upgraded as the game goes on, especially in missions when you are outnumbered about 10 to 1! In all fairness though the game doesn't just rely on throwing large numbers of enemies at your to cover up bad AI, it has some very impressive AI that should test most avid space sim players.

Preview Quotes
"It seems like it has been an age waiting for Freelancer to be released, it was first announced a few years ago when Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame was still involved, but now It has been left to his brother to complete the epic game. "

Graphics & Sound

I'll start with the sound work first, the voice over work that has been placed into the game so far is excellent, especially that of your main character Trent. There are also a number of reasonably famous actors doing the voice overs for the game like John Rhys Davis (Lord Of The Rings) and Ian Ziering from 90210. The only problem with the sound so far is the repetitive voices from the Non playing characters such as those in the shipping, bar and repair areas can get on your nerves a bit, but I guess this could change in the final version, although it is highly unlikely as they can't add loads of audio on the CD's.

Graphically I expected Freelancer to be a little bit behind all other recent releases over the last few months due to the fact that it has been in development for such a long time, but I am pleased to say that it looks great and runs very smoothly even in this beta release. It is also good to see that they have decided to go back to the good in-game engine cutscenes that were used in Starlancer the other year rather than the Full Motion Video that only ever worked well in Wing Commander 3.

While the on-planet graphics are nothing to write home about, they don't look half bad. The great thing here though is that when you are up in space everything looks superb and particle/lighting effects are also great to see. Another plus point is that all of the planets I have visited look different too and there are also a number of different space ships in the game, each with distinct looks.

Final Comments

Well I hope I am safe in saying that Freelancer is going to be an excellent title for Digital Anvil when it gets released in a few months time, the single player game is great in its own right and it looks like the multiplayer side will add some life extension to the game too, although I didn't get the chance to try it out due to no servers running our press preview build, only newer versions. Fingers crossed, this could be great.

Specs & Package
Version Previewed PC-CD Rom
Release Date March 2003
In The Box? 1 Freelancer CD
1 Set Of Instructions
Preview System

AMD Athlon XP 2100
Asus A7V333 Motherboard
512MB DDR PC2100
Leadtek NvidiaGeForce 4 Ti 4600
Creative Labs Audigy Sound Card (OEM)
100 GB Western Digital Hard Drive 7200 RPM, 8mb Cache
Samsung 16x DVD-ROM
Mirai CD-RW (40x12x48x)
Creative Inspire 5.1 5300 Speakers

Widescreen Support N/A


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