Decade Old Games: FreeSpace 2 (1999)

It’s easy to focus on the newest shiny consoles and games, but there’s plenty of merit in old games too! Decade Old Games will look to dig up and polish up some of these gems to see how they’re holding up!

Having just had its 16th birthday, FreeSpace 2 is still one of the stand out titles in the space-sim genre; a genre which has been monstrously under-represented in the past few years with one notable exception. It’s a sequel to the original Descent: FreeSpace and directly continues the story. The reason for reviewing the second game – rather than the first – is that I think it’s far superior, which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the first also.

How was it received at the time?

Commercially, FreeSpace 2 sold poorly and was something of a flop. Despite receiving critical acclaim for the ambition and scope of the project, it never sold well enough to make a further title in the series a viable option. It was particularly praised for the quality of its graphics as well as its well thought out, acted and executed story.

How does it hold up?FreeSpace 2 boxart

FreeSpace 2 is a fantastic game. First and foremost it’s a space shooter and the mechanics involved in piloting your ship are great. Flying around space feels amazing and this is helped by the fact that the game holds up graphically.

Graphics

In its natural state, FreeSpace 2 looks fine. For a 16 year old game, it’s quite surprising how good everything actually looks and this is helped by the sense of scale which the game achieves. Some of the capital ships are several kilometres long and flying along them takes longer than you might think. When a full scale battle is raging and there are fighters dueling with bombers while capital ships tear into each other with their main beams, it’s easy to forget the true age of this title. This is helped massively by the support of the FreeSpace community. The source code of the game is readily available and there are a number of mods out there to augment the FreeSpace experience. One of the most popular of these is a big boost to the visuals, which really make the game stand out.

Storyline and gameplay

The pacing of the game is great and you have to be one impatient gamer to get bored with this one. As you progress as as pilot, options will open up to you in terms of your career path; do you want to stay with your current squadron or do you want to accept the offer from the elite squadron who have come to you? (answer: yes). After a few missions, new ships and weapons will start to open up to you and you will be able to select the loadout of your ship based on your own preferences and flying style. You will also be given command options, allowing you to instruct your teammates to completely ignore that cruiser you’re supposed to be protecting and allow it to be completely destroyed (mwahahaha).

FreeSpace 2 has been furnished with a great storyline full of intrigue, suspicion and betrayal. Now allied to their previous foes, the Vasudans, the game starts with humanity still coming to terms and ironing out the problems raised in the first game. The arrival of a formidable foe, however, throws something of a spanner in the works.

While the ending is perhaps a little abrupt, the story has enough twists and turns and variety of missions to put it up there with some of the best you get today. Considering you are always confined to the cockpit and never see the face of another pilot (except on the comm channel), the game does a good job of making sure you care about the cold, heartless, metal machines which you are sharing space with. As well as this the aforementioned community made mods which which extend the story, or pitch in with entirely new ones of their own. It really helps the longevity of the game when you know that.

The hanger deck

Where is it now?

Chances were given a small boost in the last couple of years with the news that Interplay have reacquired the IP rights for a packet of peanuts and a half eaten KitKat. It’s interesting, but ultimately unlikely to bear fruit, as – now a very different beast – Interplay haven’t released a game for roughly a million years. Unfortunately, as mentioned, the game did not do well and so a follow up is unlikely. While the idea of a community lead sequel has been kicked about, there is a general agreement that this is unlikely due to the time required and the fact that a consensus on key points like ‘story’ and ‘direction’ would not be reached. Mentioning the idea in one of the numerous FreeSpace forums is in fact likely to get you shouted at and may induce digital nerd rage like you’ve never seen before. Shame.

Flying through space is simply good fun
Flying through space is simply good fun

I want it! Where can I get it?

You should! It’s good.

FreeSpace 2 is, unsurprisingly given its age, very well priced and available at the excellent gog.com for just shy of 10 bucks (that’s about £6.50 in proper money). As with all the games reviewed as part of Decade Old Games, I’m not going to go into minimum specs because, well, you can run it.

James Oliver

I have a keen interest in anything from the original Star Wars trilogy through to the Star Wars Expanded Universe – as well as everything that encompasses. Mostly interested in things which fly or make noise (ideally both), I like playing with new gadgets and buying phones on a whim.

  • Christopher Koch

    And if you decide you like it, don’t forget to head on over to hard-light.net to get the upgrades. We’ve worked really hard on them over the last 15 years and have some great stuff to show off! You’ll want to at least grab FS2_Open, which is the upgraded game engine – it improves the games performance and opens up opportunities for new features, but doesn’t actually add any new graphics or features by itself -, the MediaVPs – which are the upgraded graphics that require the upgraded game engine -, and the wxLauncher – a new launcher for the game that will help you set everything up. There are instructions for installing all these (and more!) on the site I mentioned.

    • Great stuff, thanks @disqus_DIxSjBWbd4:disqus!

  • Hi, FreeSpace Open lead developer here.

    A few more things to mention:
    –While the GOG package is very good, you can also get both FreeSpace games on Steam, generally for about the same price and with the same contents.

    –FreeSpace Open can be used to play the game natively on Linux and MacOS

    –There are quite a few games based on FreeSpace Open that are completely free and do not require purchasing the original games. The standout projects here are “The Babylon Project” (based on Babylon 5), Diaspora (based on the new Battlestar Galactica show) and Wings of Dawn (a completely original work with strong anime influences). All of these deserve a playthrough, and can provide hours of entertainment on their own.

    • Thanks! I’ll make sure I check those out.