I haven’t talked about video games in awhile so I thought I’d mention that I downloaded the demo for Microsoft’s latest sci-fi space epic called Freelancer that they just put out on the web. I’ve been keeping an eye on it because it’s been described by many folks as the spiritual successor to Elite.
I played Elite for hours on my old Commodore 64 and I don’t recall if I ever properly finished it. It did have something like 8000 planets in it you could visit during the course of the game so it had a bit of length to it that someone with ADD, such as myself, would eventually be overwhelmed by. Still, I loved the game and it’s one of the few that I would pull out again and again when I was looking for a little space combat action.
I didn’t get into PCs until well after the whole Wing Commander series had hit it’s peak and the one version of Wing Commander they did for the Amiga sucked eggs hard. So I’ve been looking for a good space sim on the level of Elite for some time now. With a development time of over 4 years Freelancer has the very real potential to be obsolete before it ever hits store shelves, but judging from the demo I’ve been playing it may turn out to be pretty good after all.
What impressed me most about Freelancer was something that I thought was missing from Earth and Beyond when I was beta testing that. Despite being a MMORPG with hundreds of people playing it at the same time E&B felt empty and lifeless. Space traffic was pretty thin while you were traveling unless you were near a popular planet and the only radio chatter were the text messages from other players. Freelancer manages to do a much better job of capturing the feel of the universe being alive mainly because you can hear the constant chatter of other ships coming and going when you’re near a planet or space station. In fact it’s possible to get stuck in line for a few moments when trying to land on a planet due to an NPC or two in the queue ahead of you. Flying around and engaging in combat is relatively easy to pick up and enjoyable and the story-line seems at least somewhat intriguing from what little you’re given in the demo. Needless to say, I think I’ll be picking this title up at some point. I’ll hold off on making any final judgments until I’ve played a bit of the final game, but the demo has me rather enthused. If you’ve got a broadband connection and don’t mind downloading 150 megs to try a game out I suggest giving this one a whirl and see what you think.