FreeSpace - The Great War

Title           FreeSpace - The Great War
Game Type	3D Combat Sim
Players		1 (multiplayer support via Internet)
Compatibility	PPC: 160 MHz 603e/150 MHz 604e with graphics card (3D card
                supported), 64 MB RAM
                68K: 50 Mhz 68060 and Permedia2/Voodoo 3 based 3D-card, 32 MB
                RAM (64 MB if no Virtual Memory running)
HD Installable  Yes
Company		Hyperion Entertainment/Haage & Partner
Submission      Seppo Typpö ( Profiled Reviewer

Ever since I saw TV programs like "Space 1999", "Star Trek" and
"Battlestar Galactica",and movies like "Star Wars" I have been a sucker
for space operas. I love the heroic stories of the battles between good
and evil forces, the gigantic space battles between fighters and mighty
battle cruisers and the awesome design of spaceships like the USS
Enterprise and the Eagle Transporter from Moonbase Alpha. One of the
greatest series is without doubt "Babylon 5" - which managed to mix the
best elements of good Space Opera - a gripping story which contained
strange aliens with their sometimes strange cultures, humans as the
underdogs of the universe and  a terrifying, evil, seemingly unstoppable
enemy unknown.

It was Babylon 5 which first came to my mind once I had loaded Freespace
on my Amiga and played a few missions. There have been a definite shortage
of high quality space games on Amiga since classics like Warhead and Wing
Commander were released. Frontier - Elite II did its best to fill the void
but it sadly had no continuing plot. Thankfully those magnificent dudes at
Hyperion Entertainment remedied the situation by deciding to convert one
of the best PC space games to our beloved Miggy.

Descent: Freespace - The Great War (as the full title of the game goes)
tells a classic story of two nations at war that must put aside their
differences and join forces to overcome a new, much more deadly enemy that
threatens the existence of them both. The truly excellent intro movie sets
up the story and builds the atmosphere - it is one of the few game intros
I never feel like skipping. When starting a Freespace session, watching
through the movie puts me in the right mood. My heart yells for revenge. I
feel determined. I shall stop those bastards, even if it is the last thing
I'll ever do.

The game structure of Freespace is admirable - the player is gently
introduced to the ships and armaments available through a series of
training missions. Even in the later stages of the game when new weapon
systems are obtained, additional training missions become available. The
good old Warhead had a similar structure - you first learnt to fly the
ship and then how to fight back with it. It is recommended that you replay
the training missions until you feel confident - those finely honed battle
skills become extremely handy on later, more demanding missions.

Progressing through the campaign in Freespace is pretty straightforward -
you need to complete one mission to be able to advance to the next one.
One of the minor niggles towards the game is that it does not allow the player
to fail - you need to succeed in completing at least some of the goals in
the missions (preferably the primary one). This can lead to some
frustrating moments as some missions are really difficult to complete and
the player can get stuck in one mission for days.

The missions in the game are varied - there are pure dogfight, escort,
rescue and some dare-devil reconnaissance missions for starters. Each
mission is participated in by several wings of ships from both sides -
sometimes leading into absolutely huge space battles. There are also
several kinds of bigger ships, ranging from feeble transporters to
enormous, deadly battlecruisers. The player starts as a ordinary wingman,
but after managing to complete some missions can command his (or her) own
wing, or later on, even the entire allied forces in certain missions. This
gives the player the feeling that they can actually alter the outcome of
the mission, which gives enormous satisfaction and a feeling of
achievement if everything goes well.

A few words about the computer controlled pilots - in general they behave
in a quite intelligent manner - especially the computer wingmen which are
pretty much the smartest I have seen in an Amiga space sim. While the game
does not bond the player to the wingmen in a similar way to Wing
Commander, for example, you soon learn to appreciate their presence.
They are not invulnerable though so sometimes you need to help them, but
in general they can hold their own and even turn the mission into a
success with their contribution. While flying with these guys (and gals) I
felt genuinely proud - I could trust them, assign them tasks knowing they
were competent enough to complete them if given a chance. "We were mean, we
were cool. We kicked the alien butt." When any of my wingmen was killed in
battle, I felt sorrow. Very few games can raise such feelings towards your
binary brothers in arms (Wings from Cinemaware  and the aforementioned
Wing Commander spring to mind),  happily Freespace takes it place beside
them in this regard.

Freespace is not a very long game - there is a limited amount of missions
and the player with enough perseverance will probably complete the game within
a week. To add replay value Freespace introduces plot branches - in
certain missions the performance of the player can open a different plot
branch with some extra missions. So even if you complete the campaign once
the chances are that there are some missions and movies you have not seen
yet. Each mission, once completed, becomes available through the game's
in-built training simulator, so the player can relive those exciting
missions and maybe try to better his performance in the trickier ones.
There is also the network multi-player mode for those who enjoy battling
against (or with) other humans over the Internet. I have not tried the
last option (mainly because I have a slow net connection and I am not very
keen on net games in general) so I cannot comment how well this works.

If that is not enough,there are sites on the Internet which offer
user-made missions and campaigns which, despite being designed for the PC
version, will in many cases run well with Amiga Freespace too. If
Freespace sells well enough Hyperion plan to convert the official Mission
Pack to Amiga, which will then open another set of user missions and
campaigns to Amiga players.

The Amiga version is shipped without a written manual - a strange omission
from the game's publisher, Haage & Partner. There is comprehensive
documantation built into the game but it is no substitute for the good old
hard copy game manual. Another minor niggle is the save game system the
game uses - there's only one save game slot per campaign which gets
overwritten after each successful mission. It would have been nice to
allow several save games, which would have allowed the player to return to
those "plot branch" missions or otherwise restart the campaigh from a
preferred mission. There is a clone option on the save game screen which
apparently allows the player to clone the player file, a feature which
can be used to work around the problem. The clever player can also copy
and rename the pilot log manually after each mission, but none of these
tricks would be needed if the save game system had been designed with
a little more thought.

Technically, there is little to fault in the Amiga conversion. Hyperion
have waved their magic wand once again and come up with virtually
faultless clone of the PC original, from excellent graphics right down to
moody, atmospheric soundtrack that wonderfully mirrors the happenings
during the missions. The game runs well on 68060 and on PPC - with 3D card
or even without (if you have a PPC). There's hardly a need to use the very
comprehensive detail settings screen - but if the player feels they could
use some extra speed they can tailor the graphics to suit the horsepower
of their Amiga. In most cases the default setting are good enough,
offering fantastic visuals and yet a fast enough frame update.

Freespace follows the path of Warhead and Wing Commander to the "Amiga
Space Opera Hall of Fame" - The excellent slowly unravelling story
accompanied by some of the most glorious space battles ever to grace Amiga
monitor screens make it a definite classic. It is the "Babylon 5" of Amiga
space games, and every wing commander in this Amiga universe should
experience it.

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