by Microsoft Game Studios
Ever since the days Elite there has always been something appealing about space based games that allowed combat and trading. Since Elite (and its poorer sequels) there have been other great games such as the Wing Commander series and X-beyond the frontier. Freelancer is the latest title in this genre and it is a game that has been eagerly awaited since it was first announced back in 2000.
The game places you in the role of Edison Trent. You are almost killed at the beginning of the game as Freeport 7, the space station you are situated on, comes under attack and is virtually destroyed. Somehow you manage to survive the attack and soon find work with the LSF (Liberty Security Force), which amongst other things, earns you your first spaceship. The way the game works is that you'll hover in and out of the plot from time to time. In order for the plot to progress you'll need to improve yourself to the next level. To improve yourself you can fly from destination to destination and obtain jobs from the various factions. Successfully completing a mission increases your worth and when a value is reached you'll progress to the next level. After this is done you're given the chance to carry out the next part of the story.
One of the big surprises with Freelancer is that you can't use a joystick, a device that is usually essential for games of this genre. Digital Anvil decided to create a mouse and keyboard control scheme to navigate your spacecraft. Thankfully this works beautifully. Having never owned a good joystick, this control scheme is a blessing for me. It just feels so natural that even those who are initially disappointed by the lack of joystick support will have to admit that the control scheme is very impressive and intuitive.
Digital Anvil have also provided a quick method for you to traverse the giant galaxy they have created. At different locations there are jump gates and trade lanes which act as high speed transport methods and will get you to your destination in no time. If you've played X-beyond the frontier you'll know what a pain it can be to fly from one location to another with no method to speed up the journey and therefore will appreciate the high speed method.
When you're not in your spacecraft, the options are to go to the launch pad (to return to space), go to the bar in order to learn rumours that might prove useful and of course to take up any missions you're interested in, go to the commodity trader in order to purchase or sell goods, go to the equipment dealer in order to upgrade your spacecraft and finally you can go to the ship dealer when you feel the time is right to buy another ship. You don't control you character as such but simply click on the icons in your HUD to go to the places.
Freelancer has the potential to be an absolute classic but one of the letdowns with the game is that the missions are repetitive. Usually you'll be asked to go and destroy a bunch of rogues that are pestering a colony etc. Don't get me wrong the game is quite engrossing but after a while you begin to wish the missions had far more variety to spice things up a little. You can also take part in trading. For some though this might have been handled a little too simplistically. Goods are either a good, OK or bad price. It's simply a case of collecting the goods at a good price and selling them at destinations that pay well in order to boost your funds. It's a shame that auctions don't take place or that the prices don't depend on what your relationship is like with the planet that you are trying to sell the goods on.
You've probably already gathered from the screenshots that the game looks great. There are over 150 places to land on. Of course you don't get to see much of the place that you land on except for the locations that I mentioned two paragraphs ago. The lighting effects and space combat all look fantastic and I was surprised to find that running the game on a Athlon XP2000+ with a GeForce 4 Ti4200 was very smooth at the 1024x768 resolution. Whatever else you may think about the game it certainly is the best looking one in it's genre.
Unfortunately the game isn't kind on deaf gamers. The introduction and cutscenes aren't subtitled. Any conversations that you have whilst in space aren't subtitled either. This leads to loss of information which really takes the shine off the game. Prior to a mission you are shown a text mission objective so you'll have a rough idea of what's going on and if you press the N key you'll often be reminded of what you should do next. When you're at a location all the information such as the commodity prices, lists of jobs etc. are shown in text but the game feels kind of hollow with you not knowing what goes on in the conversations. On the plus side though if you want to play the game online (there is no story in the online mode) chatting is carried out via text so there is no reason why you can't take part.
It's a real shame that Freelancer doesn't really cater for deaf gamers. It is feasible that you could play the game but you'll be unaware of many aspects that is sure to taint your view of the game. We've enquired about the lack of subtitles to see if this issue could be addressed with a patch but we've been told that it isn't possible but may be considered if there's a sequel which means that at no point will Freelancer become deaf gamer friendly.
Overall Game Rating: 5.4/10 Make no mistake about it had the game been subtitled this game would have scored at least an 8 out of 10. Without the subtitles though it just doesn't feel right and the deaf gamer will miss out on the plot from conversations that take place during battles.
Deaf Gamers comment: Briefings, news items and job lists etc. are shown in text but none of the conversations are subtitled and as a result it just doesn't feel the same for deaf gamers.