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Published February 23, 2013

EVE players are old. Well, not very old, but as far as gamers go we're up there. The average age of an EVE player in late 2006 was 27. By last year's CSM election, the average age of a voting player was 32. We're overwhelmingly male, affluent Westerners with at least a passing interest in spaceships and explosions.

It should have been no surprise that when the topic of FreeSpace 2 came up in TMC jabber, we all started, well, jabbering about our shared nostalgia. TIE Fighter, FreeSpace, Homeworld - these are the games that we all seemed to have played as teenagers in the nineties or early aughts. We couldn't stop talking about them.

Although officially billed as 'space combat simulators', calling the FreeSpace games any kind of simulation is a bit of a stretch - the physics are non-Newtonian and lasers behave like chunky projectiles, that sort of thing. Still, it feels right, in much the same way that EVE does after you've sunk years into it. This is a first-person spaceship game where you pilot fighters and bombers, defending the galaxy from various sinister aliens and traitorous humans. I'm dramatically oversimplifying here, of course, for the sake of not spoiling the game for you. The storyline is one of the all-time greats in gaming, with some gun-punching reveals and in FS2, you'll experience one of the best endings to a game I've ever seen.

Gameplay is solid. You dogfight, escort, perform precision strikes, launch bombs, and stand by helplessly as titanic capital ships duke it out with deadly beam cannons. Environments are vibrant and, typically, full of explosions. The gaming press approved, but excellent review scores could not conceal the fact that FS2 was not a financial success. Its commercial failure, together with that of X-Wing Alliance, sounded the death knell of the first-person space combat genre.

It would have, anyways, if it weren't for developer Volition's release in 2002 of the FreeSpace 2 source code. Almost immediately, coders and modders dug in and launched the FreeSpace 2 Source Code Project (SCP), to expand and improve the capabilities of the FS2 engine. The guts of the game were open; since then, development has been continuous for over a decade. This has not only kept the game's graphics reasonably current, but facilitated whole new possibilities and features within the game. A community that was drying up in 2002 now thrives and FS2 is more playable than it has ever been.

This is a game that still looks modern, even beautiful, 14 years after release. 

You should play this. It's available online for $10 from GOG - you have no excuse not to give it a shot. After you've downloaded the game, do check out the SA thread's first post. It'll walk you through all the steps necessary for a great installation of FS2 with the Source Code Project's enhancements.

I should mention, by the by, that this game emphatically does not require a joystick to play. In fact, I've been having much greater success with the old mouse & keyboard, thanks to the clever mouse script linked in the SA thread. With graphics scaleable between "now" and "1999", if you can play EVE, you can play this.

If you're new to the series, I highly recommend you proceed through the campaigns sequentially and avoid spoilers like the plague. Select the FSPort-STR mod from the launcher to play the original FreeSpace 1 campaign with updated graphics, followed by a totally rebuilt version of the expansion pack, Silent Threat. Then you can load up the MediaVPs and experience FreeSpace 2 with fantastic modern looks.

After that? Well, there are at least a dozen excellent add-on campaigns I could recommend to you, many of quality equal to the commercial releases. I won't go down the list, but do check out Blue Planet and Transcend. Blue Planet, in particular, is a tour de force and an excellent continuation of the FreeSpace canon. If you're looking for a completely different entry point, the revamped FS2 engine has been used as a base for total conversions based on the Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, and Wing Commander universes. 

So: give it a shot. Maybe the next time your fleet op gets blueballed or your corpmates get on your nerves, put yourself in the flight suit of Alpha 1 and save the universe.

 

FreeSpace 2 is available on GOG.com for $10 USD. You can find more information in the SA thread and at Hard Light Productions.

Alikchi
Traitor, hater, ganker, idiot. Managing Editor. Follow me at @alikchialeika.