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I have been waiting for a good space sim to take on the X-Wing series for a long time, yeah Wing Commander had a few good tries (Prophecy especially) but nothing has really come close. Will Freespace 2 be the first title to give X-Wing a run for its money? Here are a few of the features:
Installation, Settings and Intro
Freespace 2 is a very large game indeed, at least in terms of installation it is. The game comes on 3 CD's. Each CD is needed during the installation and the game can take up at least 1.2 GB's of drive space if you want to get the best performance out of it. Installation, while slow, doesn't cause any problems. Once the game is installed you are presented with the following options:
The first thing I did was to go into the setup area and make sure that my G400 and SoundBlaster Live! were being used properly, once there I selected 1024x769 in 32-Bit Color and the game correctly noted that I would be using the EAX option for the SoundBlaster Live! to get the most out of the games sound and music. While I was there, I also picked my Microsoft Force Feedback Pro and the controller of choice for Freespace 2 as it has Force Feedback built into the game.
Now that the main setup parts are out of the way, I clicked on Play and the first introduction movie began. The Full Motion Video movie lasts just over 5 minutes and explains the first part of the story (Which a lot of you who have played the first game will be familiar with). The intro is very nice to look at. Next you need to decide on a Pilot name, this will be used during the game to save your place in the campaign. Now we can finally begin the game.
You begin Freespace 2 in The Flight Deck, from here you can access the Ready Room, Barracks, Campaign Room, Tech Room, Options Menu or return to Windows.
I made sure I had detail levels up to the best my PC can get (Not quite full in this game) and then began the main campaign in Freespace 2. The first couple of missions are training based, training missions crop up a lot during the game, such as whenever you take control of a new ship. Each mission, be them training or otherwise, begin in the briefing room. From here you learn about the mission objectives, what ship you will be flying and view brief video sequences at the bottom of the screen.
There are a number of new weapons and ships available in Freespace 2 over the first game. There is a new Myrmidon space superiority fighter, the original Hercules and the new Hercules Mark II, the Perseus Interceptor, the Ulysses.
Mission designs are pretty good, there are the basic escort missions seen in such games as X-Wing Alliance, Wing Commander, but also some massive battles against Shivan and NTF Capital Ships. These Capital ships are massive, probably the biggest ships I have seen in any space shoot-em up simulation. The AI of the enemy is pretty good, not perfect as many of the ships still like to fly into you but there is very little in the way of bad points I can make about the enemy AI. It is also nice to see some intelligence from my Wingmen during the game too, shooting asteroids so that other ships wouldn't crash into them etc, but they do seem to like to get killed by capital ships far too easily.
Now onto those Capital ships that make up a hefty part of the game. The capital ships are rather more dangerous than they were in the original game, both in size and in weaponry. Most of the Capital ships come with massive beam weapons, they are mostly used to battle it out with other Capital ships during the game, but there are also smaller beam weapons to fight it out with the smaller ships. Capital ships also come with a number of flak cannons which make bombing from a distance very difficult.
Graphics, Sound & Music
Freespace 2 is graphically amazing, from the designs of the ships to the great sick-inducing nebula effect used during the game. The game can be run in either 640x480 or 1024x768 modes, both can also be run in 32-Bit color. There is no 800x600 option so some Voodoo owners may be a bit disappointed, but I doubt that the card would have been able to handle it anyway. The game also comes with the best explosions seen in any space sim so far, capital ships explode in a ball of flame similar to those explosions seen in Wing Commander Prophecy, but pieces of debris fly off out into space.
Sound I cannot find much of a fault for, I ran the game with my SoundBlaster Live! and Freespace 2 makes full use of Creative's EAX extensions so you get some wonderful 3D sound effects. Explosion sounds are excellent, most impressive of all are the pounding flak cannons. Speech is also well spoken throughout the game. Music wise I didn't take too much notice, but during some battles the music did manage to increase some of the tension.
Freespace 2 is finally the one Space Sim that can take on the X-Wing series. It doesn't quite over take it, but it does come pretty close with far better graphical effects, excellent sound effects and some very exciting gameplay. The only doubters I have are that the missions can be a little similar and some of the enemy AI isn't as good as it maybe should have been, but other than that Freespace 2 is a great purchase.
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