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No Dice

July 27, 2010

“Freelancer” – a personal view.

Having been an S.F. Fan from before I was born (I inherited the gene from my father) … any Space Related Game always tempts me. Put a rocket ship on it and generally you have a sale! However being a computer gaming klutz who still gets beaten by Pong, I have always steered clear of first person shoot em ups: Lacking the killer instinct and lightning fast keyboard skills required for this sort of thing. Hunting and pecking on the keyboard even for WASD is not a viable way to survive in a combat zone. “Q” where’s “Q?” Thus I have tended to stick to the strategy games. However a friend (Thanks DT;) lent me his copy and suggested I have a go. And I did for about four days of hardcore testing. Pushing the boundaries of the mechanics. And the limits of my patience.

The game won.

So in order to get something positive out of the experience. Here is a review. Wholly personal. Largely negative!

As an initial nitpick (see below) …I would have called the game: “Teetotaler” for, despite almost all the out of combat action taking place in a Bar, Trent never gets a drink! Except an inital freebie when he arrives onto the scene. Personally knowing what I know now I would have hired on as a hand on the first transport back to my home system…

My experience can be summed up in three ‘uns’ : Uncomforting. Unconsistant. Unsatisfying. (With apologies to the Queen’s English!)

Uncomforting

The setting is relentlessly distopian (may contain spoilers) escaping endless wars on Earth the losers settle the Sirius system [1]… Where they go about continuing the process!
The singular character “Trent” arrives in the Liberty Systems settled by Americans [2]. The regime: a relentless police state where all the planets are run and owned by the Liberty Police Inc which is at liberty to create its own laws and seemingly designer drugs! Within about an hour of game play this Freelancer wanted to kill all the ‘good guys’ and join the motley crew of Rogues, Junkers, Xenos, Lane Hackers and Outcasts to bring the whole rotten regime down. Indeed the introductory sequence of  missions would seem to indicate three occasions where a singular actor can turn on their benefactor and turn the tide in favour of the opposition. Thus unlocking an entrée into the counter-culture. Alas despite pounding away at my wingman [Mission 1] I was curiously unable to kill him and pounding away at the prison ship I was supposed to protect [Mission 2]; merely produced a “Mission Failure: You fired on a friendly object.” Along with Captain Nemo I don’t regard prison ships as “friendly objects!”
And there you have it. Freelancer is predicated on the genocidal destruction of ‘terrorists’ (vide freedom fighters) and your only option is to freelance for the IDF! Whilst one can compromise by going for non lethal ‘kills’. I.e. destroying the ship and tractoring in the Escape Pod; the main method of making money is assassination and/ or mass murder[3]. Having designed real game settings for some forty odd years, I could have made any number of suggestions to make the setting more palatable. Indeed the provision of names and screams of the dying are a distinct personal turn off. You know that these people don’t have an Escape Pod. If you have to kill anything in my book: make it a zombie as it is dead already!

‘Unconsistant’

Despite being a 3D game, which it does in a workmanlike fashion, Freelancer is hopelessly planar. The local star map is flat which is really poor since an additional rotatable 3D display animation would have been well within the programming power at the time. Similarly the pretty planets, space stations, pirate bases, asteroid fields, dark matter clouds and assorted debris fields seemingly float in a flat plane within their individual systems. There are no orbital mechanics of any description. Or gravity. Annoyingly every time you enter a Gate or a Station or any other game node you have to wait for the game to right your ship into the ‘local horizontal’ before you can dock. During this needless process you still get shot at. Thus the setting is too unreal for this space cadet for whom physics comes first. To quote Montgomery Scott: “Ye canna change the laws of physics…” Or I would add: Basic Newtonian mechanics.
A simple remedy would have been to advance the timeline by say: 1000 years; use pocket universes and artifactual systems in gravitationally maintained Kempler Rosettes and other such orbital oddities. Obviously the designers had never read Phillip Jose Farmer or, curiously: Larry Niven!
However the internal inconsistancies are far worse. Apart from the horrendous misuse of particle physics, astronomical terms and almost every SF cliche in the book. My main contention is fundamental. Freelancer is based around the concept of Interstellar Trade Gates and In-System Trade Lanes manufactured and maintained by a Multi-System Corporate State. Both are very ‘whooshy’ and bright and needlessly assault both eyes and ears.

Maybe it’s my age.

However as a ‘real’ transport system they fail. Any Star Trader or mathematician in Euclidian Space will tell you: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And Freelancer is positively Cartesian when it comes to ‘offical’ non-combat orientated travel. The transportation network is a non-starter bearing in mind all the stopping and starting and local horizontaling every time you enter or leave a Trade Lane or a Gate. Not to mention the Lane Hacking and the pirate attacks at each node. Or worse still, close inspection by the Police/Navy… it is quicker and quieter just to go your own way. Have a doze at the con or a can of ‘Liberty Ale’; listening out for any hostile chatter on the open comms. The sound track is also a big giveaway. Outside of both the in game and out of game ‘fuss’ of the Trade Lanes, it’s generally a case of using “Go To” and using the out of game time to read a book; work on another computer or my fave: making a cuppa. If you do get killed you can always replay the bit that went wrong. But this rarely happens as out in deep space all the usual hostiles are neutral. I have formation flown with Rogues with whom, only a few minutes previously, I have been involved in a desperate dogfight! Huh! As Spock would say: “Illogical Captain Trent.”
Mooching around a Pirate Base with a hold full of Gold is a different matter…

Attention people and Game Designers in particular: in the real (3D) universe you can select a huge number of trajectories and thus rarely run into any trouble until you get to your destination. As the old sailor adage has it: the problems get bigger the closer you get to shore! Just as there are multiple courses to a home port, there are any number of transfer orbits to Space Dock. Even Hohmann ones!
It is this fundamental fault in the game concept that finally ‘did it’ for me. Apart from the preceeding battle during which this keybord klutz has died and died and died and…. died! The lead character “Little Miss Trouble” tells us to head for the Badlands. A pleasant purple cloud with pointy obsidian asteroids. And hull rotting radiation? Hint: Set a way point and bug out if the Outcasts get a lock. (I tried to hail and join but they just won’t listen.) But LMT and the game insists on using the Trade Lanes. The obvious route is to turn up the thrust to max, drop every mine & counter measure you have and run for it! IN A STRAIGHT LINE. Jinking to avoid the occasional incoming. But no. You have to use their ridiculous transport system and get killed. Every frakking time. Even the Rogues don’t do that and they are pretty stupid!
But it gets worse. “Freelancer.” It says it on the box. You can keep declining LMT’s ‘Missions’ (to move their hackneyed plot along) but the game mechanic locks you out. Or rather in!
Despite declining her offer again and again and again and… the game still locks you into yet another opportunity to decline. Eventually it doesn’t even allow you that and locks you into the Mission anyway. No matter where you are. I have been en route from an outpost in an entirely different system; only for the game to assume that I am in the system related to LMT’s latest Mission and locked out of all Gates! Presumably they don’t mesh with the program’s ‘reality.’ If that was a glitch then it was bad programming. If it was intentional then that is damning programming by my book. If the designers had any inclination to the stated motivations of their lead character. His second action; after discovering that his previous deal had fallen through would be to make enough cash for a first class ticket back to the civilised Bretonia systems where, somehow, he managed to collect his American accent!

I defy anyone with any SF Roleplaying experience from Traveller to Fading Suns to have done anything else.

Unsatisfying

Despite the promise the trading option is a poor one, a very poor one. There is no factor for long haul. Goods are moved from point to point: flatly, accruing value as they move from source to destination. With no real regard for distance and/ or trouble involved. Commodity pricing does not seem to fluctuate even after massive deliveries. Indeed fuel cost is free, despite being a commodity! Go figure.

Oh and they still shoot at you no matter what cargo you are carrying.

As for the combat: even if I were a teenage kill freak with a yen for blowing people into radioactive debris for no meaningful reason; the game still lacks in the interest department. The dogfight simulator is very good. And the Head Up Display superb. Point & Click Piloting is one of the best I have seen and surprisingly even usable by this keyboard klutz. Which is a first! But after a few they all feel so much the same. There is little variety and as one reviewer has stated: dogfighting ceases to be exciting and becomes a chore. Even worse to get better weapons and out of Liberty, you need to have a higher “Level.” I find this mechanic most objectional. Personally I blame D&D for that kludge. And to gain a Level you need to complete missions that are either personally objectionable or of guaranteed lethality at my level of skill. Thus knowing that no matter how much time I practice, I will never win. And that the game makes no allowances for slow reaction times… Towards the end I would merely blast out into the void and look at the scenery. If trouble found my way usually the game would send its own (LPI/Navy/Bounty Hunters) enforcers to deal. A game where the only thing you want to do is nothing is not worth playing. IMHO.
Nitpicks:
1: As any astronomer will tell you the Sirius system only contains two stars and neither are likely to host planets capable of supporting life. I HATE games that pick on a real astronomical term …and then use it wrongly. No excuse. This is simple disinformation. FAIL.
2: The game is relentlesly voiced by Americans even the Bretonians (English) Rheinlanders (German) and Kusari (Japanese) were all voiced by American accents. Laughably so.
3: The attrition rate is unbelievable even if the Freedom Fighters were using accelerated cloning technology the ‘birth rate’ could never keep up. From the firepower concentrated on them, the genocide would be over in a few years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freelancer_(video_game)

A Trial version is here

http://www.gamershell.com/download_1395.shtml

(The zip file scanned by Avast seems to be O.K. But “Caveat Downloador.” The MS link is busted… typical!)

Freelancer has been extensively Modded:

http://www.strategyinformer.com/pc/mods/freelancer/mod.html

(Maxima Caveat Downloador🙂

Modding Tutorials:

http://uk.pc.ign.com/objects/011/011219.html

My friend paid £1. 99 in Oxfam. I think he was robbed!

However this is what I want for Xmas:

http://www.iceberg-interactive.com/games/armada-2526.html

Fine tune everything and then… Blammo!!! Watch out Universe here I come.

5 comments

  1. I’m with you. I don’t have a game console or joystick setup, so those action games are out. Truth be told, I haven’t played anything since Mario III or Defender (Arcade Machine).

    However, a few days ago I was introduced to Orbiter…

    I’m still trying to figure out how to get the Delta into orbit, but that will come with time and a better understanding of the mechanics involved.

    It’ worth having just for the Earth scenes after you’ve downloaded the high resolution satellite maps.

    Plus, it’s free, and it’s British!!!


    • Have you tried Celestia:
      http://www.shatters.net/celestia/ One of the first reasons I became a Mac Guru was a little program called Orion: a 3D representation of all the major stars out to Betelguese. The Sun was soon lost amoncst all the other dots. The solution was to find Sirius; still pretty bright, despite any distance. Go there and Sol would be the one that wasn’t a multiple system (AlphaCent). The bonus: no-one shot/ shoots at you.
      From the Orbiter Forums I frequent word is that the Phobos landing sim is pretty Gee-Whiz.
      PS Sorry about your Boffin comment it seems to have been disappeared in WordPress’ MiniTru😦


  2. Thank you SO much! I finally got around to downloading Celestia 2 nights ago, and have spent just a little time getting to know the set up. I knew that there were a lot of sizable bodies floating around out there, but my grasp was amazingly paltry.

    So thanks to you, I have had many moments of excitement and discovery and awe. What a great gift. My 4 year old will be exposed to this over the next few years and I can’t imagine having a truly detailed mental picture of our solar system at such a young age.

    Your actions send ripples of effect forward through time, my son included.

    Thanks.


    • Aww shucks!


  3. Hi I am so grateful I found your website, I really found you by accident, while I was researching on Bing
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