￼Published by: Interplay
Developed by: Volition Inc.
Genre: Space Flight Sim
Rating: ESRB E (US)
Original release date: 30 September 1999
SoS mission date: 28 July 2006
Where to get it: Volition released the source code for the game, along with some very liberal wording in the EULA. See below for some links on where to download Freespace 2 for free... legally. Who would have thought it? Be sure to check out the “Freespace Source Code Project”, which enhances the game experience considerably.
Original briefing by Papapishu (28/07/06)
Freespace 2 was put in 1999 by Volition. It's hailed by many to be the single greatest flight sim of all time, and frankly I'm inclined to agree. The Tie fighter series may be good in terms of multiplayer, but it doesn't hold a candle to the single player experience of Freespace 2. Like System Shock 2, the game does a good job covering the events of the first game.
In 2002 when Volition split off from Interplay and got bought out by THQ, they released the source code for the game engine. This, coupled with the very liberal wording in the EULA (“You may make copies of the software for your personal noncommercial home entertainment use and to give to friends and acquaintances on a no cost commercial basis”) means that the game is for all intents and purposes free to download, distribute, and use. Since then, a group called the “FreeSpace Source Code Project” has updated the models, textures and lighting, added their own missions, and even made ports for Linux and OSX (which works fine on my Powerbook G4). As long as you have a computer, you should be able to play this game with little or no trouble.
Here are some links to get you started:
http://www.hard-light.net - The place to be for all things Freespace. If you need help running this game, this is the place to go. Tons of how-to guides and a supportive community that will answer your every question.
http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index. ... 266.0.html - the 3.6.7 Release of the game, including standard, P4/AthlonXp/64- Optimized release, and the Mac and Linux ports.
http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index. ... 195.0.html - More links about where to get the game with the Avi (Angry_Jedi, this means you) cutscenes, the original release and handful of Emule, and Torrent links.
http://www.the-underdogs.info/game.php?id=4150 – A good summery, coupled with a link to the CD images.
http://www.freespacezone.net/ - Another place to pick up the game.
http://www.versiontracker.com/dyn/moreinfo/macosx/28874 : The Mac port, coupled with the game itself.
http://icculus.org/freespace2/ The home of the Mac/Linux Ports.
Also, I highly recommend that anyone who likes this game looks into a little game called “Allegiance”. It's a really unique, team-based multiplayer flight-sim/tactical strategy game that is completely free to play due to it's Open Source status. It is tremendously fun, and if you can get a squad running it's unlike any other online game ever made. I must warn you though; the learning curve for this game is essentially a vertical line.
http://www.freeallegiance.org – The only place on the Internet for Allegiance
Also, If you need a cheap joystick for either of these games, go into your local Gamestop and pick up the one joystick they have in the back. It should be a logitech, be USB and it should cost 20 bucks. I haven't tested it personally, so I can't speak to it working, but it seems like a good bet. Also note that, with the exception of the Linux and Mac ports, both games support force-feedback joysticks like the Sidewinder Pro. That's how I played it the first time through, and I gotta say that the resistance the stick gave really added to the overall feel of the expeience (wassup Sony?)
If anyone has any more information to post about installing the game, problems playing it, or technical issues, post them here and we will try and sort them out (Sometimes I think the Hardlight community is run by robots).
Alright. Dust off your Joysticks: It's time to roll.
Squad Archivist Report
Freespace 2 is a remarkable game to come back to in the 21st century as it was quite possibly the death-knell for that once-beloved genre, the space combat sim. Whereas many years back you couldn’t move for the Wing Commanders and X-Wings of the day, these days a good space sim is somewhat difficult to find - which makes Freespace 2’s “public domain” status all the more of a good thing to look into.
Freespace 2 does a lot of things right even within the then-saturated space sim genre. One of the things it brought to the table was a series of interesting missions based in a nebula where, rather than the infinite blackness of space stretching out in front of you, you could barely see a few meters in front of your ship. Sinfony commented on this aspect of things thus:
“However, after the mission in which you find a mysterious subspace portal, you get several missions in a row in the nebula, and that's where the game really starts to separate itself from most of the other games in this genre. Usually in a space sim, you've got nothing but, well, space. You can see pretty much to the end of the universe. In this nebula, though, your vision is limited to about half a kilometer in front of you, which is pretty much nothing at the speeds you fly. The first nebula mission, in which you're flying a patrol and happening upon a few enemies here and there, and suddenly one of the flights disappears without a trace is the first time I've ever felt any tension or fear in a space sim game. It's hard to be scared when you can see everything going on and get the hell away from it if need be (a la X-Wing games or Colony Wars). When you're flying with no visibility and suddenly enemy capital ships appear right the hell in front of you, it's pretty awesome.”
The atmosphere in these sections of the game was unparalleled, and it made the main “problem” of the game, commented on below by Angry_Jedi and Bowley, much less of an issue because it became more about “being in the moment”.
“My only trouble with a lot of modern space sims is that they lack "character" between missions. Say what you like about the Wing Commander series, one of the things that kept it interesting for me were the persistent characters and their personalities. Sure, the radio chatter between the different wingmen in this is cool but they're all anonymous. I used to love the banter between the characters in the Commander games - both in a mission and when you chatted to them between missions. More recent space sims don't seem to bother with this any more, which is a shame, as it lends a more "personal" edge to the story. Freespace's between mission interface is drab and boring, and I find that font that everything's written in very hard to read. Minor niggles in an otherwise great experience so far though.
I guess you could argue that games like Freespace are more "space sims" rather than "space operas" in a Wing Commander style. Mind you, Freelancer managed to pull off the balance quite well, though thinking about it that's a bit more "arcadey" when it comes to combat. That's also festering in my pile, if anyone's interested at any point - and what is it with great space games with "Free-" in the title?”
“I'll second that sentiment. The down time between missions in the Wing Commander series was just as good if not better than the fighting & flying itself (although I still had a blast with the flying). The last one I played was WC IV: The Price of Freedom. Although it looks really cheesy now, they had those live full motion cut-scenes with real actors (like John Rhys-Davies!) and dialogue choices. I loved that part of the game. You know...relaxing with the crew after a particularly rough mission is good thing for the player too.
For this reason I couldn't stand EVE Online. You're stuck in a pod inside a ship in the fetal position. You can't walk around a spacestation...or stroll along the deck of your own ship. Infinite, limitless, space and you can't even stretch your legs. That's just a tad claustrophobic for me.”
Despite this, the game held everyone’s interest. Beige dove into the game headlong with great enthusiasm after spending a long time downloading the complete game package, complete with all the Source Code Project addons:
“Seriously. As soon as that crazy old "Inside the ship, select your area" screen popped up, sliding doors, elevators - the works... it was NOSTALGIA CITY, population Beige. I don't know how many times I've booted up some crazy space sim and been presented with this selfsame interface. I had totally forgotten how awesome this feeling is... Gothdaimn!
And don't even get me started on the flight sim thing. As soon as I settled back into my chair for a rousing 2 hours of training and dogfighting it all came rushing back to me in a flood of University-Era memories. The radio chatter. The rolling and swerving... the whole "configuring energy systems / shields" paradigm. When was the last time I pushed C to bring up a Communication menu with my wingmen? I can't remember... but the feeling of siccing my wingmen on that helpless beam turret subsystem with the "Disable that target!" command and watching my homeboys rocket forward with a purpose brought a lump to my throat. WHY DID THEY STOP MAKING THESE????... it's so rediculously fun and chaotic. Missiles multi-exploding all over the place. Fingers frantically searching for that "configure all guns to fire at one... no.. I said all guns! All of them!" command is sheer bliss. I can't wait until I'm trying to hold a vector for 30 seconds just to lock on a huge capital-ship destroying torpedo or something.
Sorry if I'm waxing, but it's like going back to an old friend I haven't seen in a decade.”
Pishu encountered some difficulties playing on a laptop, but also had a few things to say about the characterization in the game - or lack thereof:
“I've been trying to play this game with the mouse and keyboard so far, which has kind of been an exercise in futility. Nothing says "Futuristic Dogfight" like dragging your mouse back and forth ten times every time you want to turn. It would be nice if the mouse functioned like a joystick control and didn't recenter itself until you moved to the original position.
So, I'm playing the thing on my Powerbook G4, and I get to the second series of tutorials (I love that they break them up). The guy in the other Herc tells me "Okay, now press the insert button to adjust your energy levels!". I look down. My keyboard doesnt have that button. So now I have to either completely remap my laptop keys or go out and buy a usb keyboard, in addition to a joystick.
That said though, I love the NPC chatter in the top-left hand corner. There is a part in one of the missions before the secondary tutorials when you are sent on a fool's errand, and one of your NPC wingmen gets into a violent argument with another one of your wingmen about what command did to them. It's stuff like this that reminds me of GRAW, because it makes you really feel like you are part of a military orginization. Also like GRAW; The fact that you are merely Alpha 1, the most generic character since Vanillia McWonderbread, doesn't seem to weaken the plot at all.”
Pishu also had some opinions to offer on the death of the flight sim genre as a whole, after Beige’s impassioned cry of “WHY DID THEY STOP MAKING THESE????”, noting that flight sims were something of an “exclusive” experience (or perceived as such) because they required a joystick peripheral to play effectively, and also that PC gaming hit a bit of a lull for a while following Freespace 2’s release. He posed the question as to whether or not it would “work” on a 360, even going so far as to offer some potential button layouts:
“You could do what GRAW is doing and have the team command menu mapped to the D pad, while the primary and secondary fire is mapped to either triggers. You could also do what racing games like PGR and Gran Turismo have been doing for a while: making the game initially aproachable with a standard controller, and then have a Joystick peripheral for the people that are really serious about it.
Also, Imagine how this experience would transfer over Xbox Live. Imagine this game with online Co-op: Floating through a nebula with your best friend over Live and then watching, to your horror, as a Vesudan Cruiser hopped out of subspace and started effing shit up. Hell, imagine the online dogfights! I know I keep beating the drum of Allegience (which, again, is also free and completely worth checking out: freeallegiance.org), but I'm doing it with good reason: that game crystalizes what you can do with online flight sims, and fits perfectly with the online architecture that Microsoft has set up. It's just a shame that that game was so ahead of it's time, beacuse I think that the minor, underground success of Chomehounds shows us that there is a big market for these kinds of games on the consoles.”
This led onto an interesting discussion of PC vs. console gaming, which was a little off-topic, but what the hey. Angry_Jedi commented:
“PC gaming and console gaming are always going to be fundamentally different I think, because both consumers and publishers (rightly?) think they are two different markets. You could argue that the expense of getting together a decent PC gaming rig would "sort the wheat from the chaff", as it were, but having a PC in a house is so ubiquitous now that it becomes almost irrelevant, and getting one that is suitable for middle-of-the-range gaming is probably not that much more than a 360 or a PS3 now - the relative pricing has become a lot closer in recent years.
Anyway, my point is that the demographics of PC vs. console gaming do mean that the different audiences get different games. PC gamers often turn their noses up at games which are also available on console because they think they are "beneath them". And in a way, they're right, for some of the reasons Beige mentioned. With a PC, you have an enormous amount of scope to do lots of different things. The reason flight simulators were so exciting and stimulating to many people was the sheer amount of different commands you had to remember in order to be able to progress. Once you had mastered the various controls of your plane/ship/whatever, you felt powerful, you felt clever and you felt like a "professional". I'll agree that there's no substitute for wrestling with a joystick in a space sim - twitching your thumb on a joypad just isn't as involving.
PC games which did make their way to consoles often became rather cumbersome as a result. Did anyone play Diablo on PS1? What a mess. While it was nice to be able to play it split-screen, the resulting tiny window you got to wander around in made play impractical, and the interface was enormously fiddly without a mouse. Ditto the Command and Conquer series - consoles, arguably, weren't built for that sort of game.
The trade-off you get for having more complex, arguably more involving games on PC is that it's easier to play and set up console games on a massive screen. Big monitors for PC are expensive and not always practical, whereas everyone loves a big telly. Imagine FS2 on a whopping screen in hi-def but still with the PC's depth and complexity. Mmmm.”
Feenwager also contributed to this discussion, backing up one of Angry_Jedi’s points:
“I'm a former hard-core PC gamer, who is almost exclusively console at this point. I feel it's due to two things. First, console games have caught up visually, sonically, and design-wise. The second is my couch, surround sound, and HDTV. It's just more comfortable to console game at this point. It takes very specific games to get me to sit in front of the PC at this point. Neverwinter 2 will probably be the next game that does it.”
It was clear throughout all the discussions that everyone who was playing Freespace 2 was enjoying it greatly - and many for different reasons. Bowley and Papapishu both highlighted the amount of depth that had been put into the “backstory” behind the races involved in the game’s conflicts. Both Angry_Jedi and Papapishu also commented an excellent and innovative feature in the game’s campaign - the fact that you can fail an objective without having to repeat the whole mission. Pishu wrote:
“The entire plot branches from plot point to plot point depending on how well you fly throughout the game. How cool is that? I mean, we hear a lot about choose-your-own-adventure games and games where the player's actions ultimately weigh-in on how the plot evolves, but usually the only time that ever enters the discussion is when you talk about games like Indigo Prophecy, Oblivion or (in a much more limited capacity) Metal Gear. You never hear about it in games like this, and I think that that's a god damned shame.
What's really important about this aspect of the game is ultimately how it affects my perception of the game as a whole. When I play a flight sim where I can fail; where I can be faced with overwhelming odds and have to retreat as the cruiser I was designated to protect explodes into the nebulous ether, or where giant Shivan cruisers can slip into subspace just before I can deliver my 50 megaton payload, then game succeeds in reminding me that my actions do have consequences and that I'm actually a part of an evolving story, as opposed to playing a game with only one way of doing things right.
Simply put, the capacity to fail and move on in the context of a game is the difference between a real story and a simulation. The sooner people get that balance right, the sooner we will see play experiences evolve.”
Let’s close, then, with some lengthy final thoughts from Bowley:
“Freespace 2 was a hell of a rollercoaster ride, that is for sure. In the space of 35 missions you fight two seemingly different wars (that end up being connected) with varying "ups" and "downs" scattered within. The beginning has you quelling a Neo Terran Front rebellion led by a very philosphical man with a penchant for making excuses. Excuses he uses to justify carrying on an 18 month bloodbath. Then, you find yourself on the winning end of this engagement. Victory is sweet. Your people's will cannot be stopped. At the zenith the GTVA Flagship Colossus is deployed. A six kilometer long state of the art super destroyer of awesomeness +2.
"Once deployed the Colossus will be able to end these conflicts swiftly and decisively. If ever the Shivans return to threaten our worlds we will be ready to face the challenge, securing peace for today and for generations to come."
Soon thereafter this confidence and technological superiority you think you have is slowly sucked from you as you're thrown into the depth of despair fleeing from the second coming of an old enemy. They are the Shivans, or "The Destroyers, whom you believe are out to destroy everything and everyone you hold dear. Not an uncommon view of an enemy, in my estimation.
As with System Shock 2, I had a blast (no pun intended). The difference this time being the genre. Returning to the Flight Sim genre, for me, has long, long been overdue. Beige was professing this a few pages back, but jumping back into the sights, the smells, and the convention of this kind of game was like reconnecting with an old buddy.
There are a few points of interest I want to get off my chest before I let this aged Man-o-war slip beneath the pink nebulous cloud of my memory...
1. I-L-O-V-E C-A-P-I-T-O-L S-H-I-P-S - I don't know if I could accurately describe how excited I get at the whole prospect of the manuevering of and battles between great big horribley beweaponed, manned by thousands, floating metal fortresses. And all of the wording used therein. They "challenge" eachother, they travel in "battlegroups", It's why I love Homeworld, Last: Exile, Starwars, Star Trek, the new BSG, even Master & Commander with cannon balls and broadsides. I'd have to inject it into you for you to understand. Freespace 2 is FULL of this stuff, right down to having the ship name spray painted on the side in a sweet military font.There's something awesome about flying by THE AQUITANE for several seconds in the nebula missions. /geek rant
One of the more interesting clashes is between the Colossus and the Sathanas. Up until the actual duel, it was a sort of a "Sink The Bismarck" situation (there you go, WWII, Davison) where you had a lone powerful battleship that had gotten the better of several alliance cruisers. Eventually it gets crippled by small fighters until the big guns are brought to bear. Good stuff.
2. Escort Hell - If you don't like Escort Missions, you WILL NOT LIKE this game. Almost every mission in Freespace 2 has you protecting some sort of ship while trying to do something else. Especially when it comes down to the wire, all you're doing is destroying wave after wave of bombers. I expected nothing less, this is one of the rolls of a fighter squadron afterall. I would have liked more offensive sorties against Cap ships. Oh well. I'm not saying the missions weren't varied, quite the opposite. They definitely held my attention.
3. Where are the Characters? - A bunch of us have gone over how we're not happy with the lack of characters in this game. As Beige put it, it's as if your pilot sleeps in his cockpit and doesn't mingle. Freespace 2 doesn't have much in the way of characters, neither did Tie Fighter. You just know the name of your enemies leaders and your immediate superiors / admirals. There is a lot to say about being able to interact with the crew in between missions and chilling out on your home ship. It certainly makes the death of a wingman or the destruction of your ship a big deal emotionally. Freespace 2 just wasn't aimed in that Wing Commander-like direction.
4. Aken Bosch - (Voiced wonderfully by Ronnie Cox) I haven't quite figured this guy out yet. His monologue cutscenes were very telling and well written, but I'm still not sure how it all worked out. He used the NTF as a diversion for discovering and activating the Knossos portal. Then he used a technology from the Great War to communicate with the Shivans, but what purpose did that serve? Was he trying to communicate with the Shivans to ally with them and stop from being annihilated? I guess that didn't work so well. As far as I know he either died when he tried to board the shuttle or he's living happily with the Shivans for some reason. Kind of a loose thread there.
5. The Mysterious, Bittersweet Ending - I love how philosphical a great space game can get. Space just boggles the mind and forces you to think, even if you don't want to. The great mystery in Freespace 2 is the Shivans. The Shivans are a total faceless mystery all the way to the end of the game and beyond. Volition only gives you speculation from several characters as to their intentions. Bosch seems to think they are born out of the universe specifically to destroy and stop races from getting too advanced. GTVA Admiral Petrach (excellently voiced by Robert Loggia) thinks that they are a vagabond race that is just trying to get home (there's that we need to find home idea again). He thinks the destruction of the Capella sun was their way of getting back to whatever dimension or universe they came from. In fact you do see them jumping out as the sun goes nova. But why were they so hostile? Why did they destroy the Vasudan homeworld and make a run on Earth in Freespace 1? Was it all just some big misunderstanding? Like when they first met did the Shivans say, "We come in peace" and the Terrans heard, "Your mother is a ho and we want to anally rape you!"? I myself am still thinking of the possibilities.
"As the old poet once said, "There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy"
The ending, as Angry_Jedi mentioned earlier, was indeed bittersweet. The GTVA fleet is decimated, the Colossus is scrap, the Capella system is, for all intents and purposes, gone, millions of people are dead, even your character could be history if you didn't make it to the jump node in time. Unfortunately mine didn't. Out of all of this shit though, there is hope, which is very important for the people left alive, and for us the players... A way back to Earth. It wasn't all for nothing.
"From our odyssey into hell, we return with a gift. The ancient technology to build a portal between Delta Serpentis and Sol. To restore our link to planet Earth. To return home after all these years."
I'm going to miss the Freespace 2 universe and the Aquitane.
Long live the Pile of Shame.”
And some from Beige:
“So I'm sitting here, reflecting on the Ending of Freespace 2. Bowls, thanks for your little quote there at the end of your post... OUR copy of Freespace 2 was buggy (or something) and did NOT play the final ending movie, despite me finishing the mission TWICE (the game just stopped after Capella exploded). I was able to see it by going into the directory itself and playing the .avi file... but I would never have known (and never had closure) without that little note.
Anyway. Wow, so... I was thinking, as the last few missions played their way to the limping bittersweet end... what an odd feeling from a video game. For me, there was a real sense of the world ending with a Whimper as opposed to a Bang. As you said, the highs... the lows... from the fist-pumping "We came, we saw, we kicked its ASS..." moment of the Colossus' victory, to the frightened, desperate rout that was humanity's last stand. In the end, the Shivans let us go... or left us alone. - for reasons unknown or unfathomable to our way of thinking. That's it.
As we've mentioned, a good war game should guage its worth not by how many nazis you frag, but how the whole experience makes you feel as it goes down. Those last few missions in particular had a feeling that you just don't get with something like Starcraft... a 'real war' feeling with all its inherent horrors and inhumanity. Listening to transports full of civilians explode and die on all sides of my tiny ineffectual fighter was heartbreaking... and unlike most games I lacked a magic bullet by which I could have saved them, or turned out as a Superhero. The Shivans blew up the sun and we all ran for our very lives. That's it. That's all there is. I think in my particular mythos Beige managed to hit the burners and jump through the node just as everything went up in flames... but it's a matter of personal taste. I know there's a whole field of lambda-class space dust burning back there in the graveyard holocaust of the Capella system.
The closest analogy I can make is to playing Freespace is playing something like Band of Brothers or Call of Duty... games which take the canvas of War as an experience which is grave, vast, and largely unknowable from the eye level of the trenches. At no point in Freespace did I ever have a real sense of what was going on around me, save that it was big... bigger than me, and bigger than the 70th Blue Lions. What was ETAK? Bosch?... all the intelligence that I gathered? What was it all for? As Col. Snipes said - that intelligence was classified beyond my level of clearance. It always is.
The overarching feeling of the last quarter of Freespace was helplessness. There was bravery, sure. (The colossus making its final gallant stand was fucking great...) but most of the time you just felt like you were trying to catch handfuls of sand in your fingers. No matter how hard you worked, it was never, never enough. Each mission I looked over at that graphic of the Capella sun and watched the Sathanas class juggernauts gathering, ominously. There was nothing to be done. Jumping into a system to be greeted by a quartet of sad, bloodied, half-dead vessels whose first words were "I thought command had forgotten about us..." That's hardcore shit, my friends.
I would never have expected that the Freespace project would have lent such a strong voice to the whole "Narrative as more than just Rescuing the Princess" argument. If asked to summarize the plot, I probably wouldn't be able to say much. You fly some missions.. there's a big war going on. Do you do anything special or amazing? Not really. What's memorable was the experience... the gestalt of having lived through it... Cinematic without cutscenes, thought-provoking... while really just being nothing more than a console HUD and a few sound files. Every game that claims that things like atmosphere or storyline are "secondary" to their product should be sat down in front of Freespace. You don't need Squaresoft quality FMVs to make a memorable experience... you just need to care enough to make the experience of sitting down in a cockpit and blasting targets mean something a little greater than the sum of its parts.
Beige out. Indeed - Long live the Pile of Shame.”