+11-12 Years: Starcraft 2 Versus Freespace 2

I half worry that my 1999 self would be disappointed. We’re living in the last of the great sci-fi-sounding years, and he’d have been hoping I’d be playing some kind of ludicrously intricate immersive-sim derivative. But if he asked, I’d be forced to confess that I’m playing Starcraft and Freespace. He’d have been disappointed. But fuck him. He always was a snot. I’m back with two of the best games of the late 90s. And what interests me is that in two games that were relatively contemporary with one another can walk such radically opposing paths and still end up in the same place…

Starcraft was released at the end of March in 1998. It received rapturous reviews and was immediately embraced by the public. By half way through the next year, they’d shifted 3 million – and a million in Korea alone. Its enormous and continuing success has lead to it being patched ever since, becoming ever more balanced. It’s the E-Sports RTS of choice. Since then, Blizzard have gone on to become arguably the most successful developer in the world, ruling the world. Or, at least, the World of Warcraft.

Freespace 2 was released at the end of September in 1999. It received rapturous reviews and was immediately ignored by the public. The sales figures in the US were reported at less than 30K on release. Its last patch was before the end of the year and creators Volition went on to spend the next five years making middling, at best, games, before their recent creative Renaissance with Saints Row and Red Faction: Guerrilla.

These games couldn’t have more divergent paths. Yet today, I sit down and play two acceptably modern looking games which are fundamentally the same as those I was playing back at the close of the 20th century.

With Freespace 2, it’s came from the actual engine being released as open source. Since then, the Freespace 2 Source Code Project has been updating the game, both graphically and adding functionality. While to play the original game requires the original game, there’s total conversions which can stand alone, such as The Babylon Project. From upgraded polygon models to Pixel Shader 3.0 effects to detailed animation, it’s been stretched in every way. You can simply buy Freespace 2 from Good Old games, run the Source Code Project installer and play simply the finest space-combat game the world has ever seen.

Nerf the bad guy, buff my guys, Blizzard. You heard!

With Starcraft 2, its come from the resources of an enormously profitable company. With Starcraft 2, however, they’re just as curatorial as the Freespace 2 folks. At least from what’s been shown in the Beta, this isn’t about making a new game. This is about making an old game acceptably playable to modern tastes, without fundamentally changing anything. In practice, enormous success has paralysed the chance for radical development in Starcraft 2 as much as utter failure paralysed Freespace. The latter has no money to do anything else. The former makes too much money to think of doing anything else.

In our Word War Three articles, some people have rightly commented that this sounds just like Starcraft. Why aren’t you concentrating on the differences? Because the differences are minor compared to what remains the same. 12 years ago, our most precocious of readers wouldn’t have even be alive when it came out. What we want to do is give a portrait of what it’s like to play… and the Beta shows the game as Starcraft 2, but modern.

Which is good, because Starcraft is totally unplayable to people who’ve played any even vaguely recent RTS. It wasn’t actually one of my games at the time, only having played a handful games. My real encounter was a couple of years back, when I was writing a comic set in the Starcraft universe for Tokyopop and was doing research. Lots of it was interesting – the everyone’s-a-hero structure, the proto-Firefly space-cowboy-setting. It was also totally unplayable. The graphics were a minor thing, but interface issues choked any interest I had in playing. When I group select some marines and click up the stairs, I expect the game to be able to find their way up the stairs. Hell, if I group select a group, I expect to be able to group select whatever I’ve selected instead of the twelve Starcraft limited you to. No wonder micro was so important. It was impossible to do anything else but micro to play it. Unless you had a pressing reason to overcome this – either nostalgia, desire to play the world’s most competitive RTS or whatever – it was fundamentally dead. A decade has rendered it a relic.

Starcraft is a brilliant game. Starcraft 2 is about making sure it remains a brilliant game, attempting those secondary issues don’t stop people being able to get to the absolutely compulsive core. And so the most important changes in Starcraft 2 aren’t unit abilities. They’re the basic user-interface, the player-matchmaking and all that. What’s important about it is making it a game people could actually play.

I'm going to fuck you up with guns.

There’s more irony that the task for the Freespace Open Source project guys is arguably easier – and with obviously infinitely less resources, it has to be. They don’t actually need to update the actual mechanics of the game. Freespace 2 remains at the top of the genre after all these years, because its genre – the realistic space-combat “simulation” – died with its release, with Starlancer a dead-cat’s-bouce a few months later. No-one’s done it better, prefering to chase after Elite’s vapour trails. No-one’s made improvements to interfaces which we miss when we play. While everyone talks about the greatness of Starcraft’s campaign, it’s far easier to sink into the serious-sci-fi universe that Volition crafted. The moment when a Shivan Dreadnought emerges from the nebulae mists remain – thanks to the hard graphical work of the Open Source chaps – as stirring as ever. And the energy beams… well, I’m going to save this for a Freespace 2 post down the line. It’s a hell of a game.

In short, there’s no reason not to play Freespace 2 now. It’s as good as ever.

And, in short, if you can get in, there’s no reason not to play the Starcraft 2 beta now. It’s as good as ever.

And that two games could end up in oddly similar positions through such radically different routes was enough to make me stop, think, and write this. And realise that… well, the poles show exactly why I’m interested in the PC. And one of the many reasons why this site exists.


  1. MrBRAD! says:

    I have never played Freespace. Should I be ashamed of myself?

    • Mr_Day says:

      “No-one’s made improvements to interfaces which we miss when we play.”

      That is a statement that made me go away and think about these games. I thought about the now (fr space combat) ubiquitous energy/shield/laser system, and wondered what else there had been.

      The only interface change that I wish were in other space combat games would be the I War contact list, and the use of the hat switch to navigate it – but the wish dies out pretty quickly when I play other games, simply because none of them really need it. I War missions were at their best a touch like adventure games, and keeping track of a lot of contacts was damn near essential – but for everything else, the most complicated it gets is trying to keep bombers away from mission critical craft, and Freespace 2 already had an interface for that.

    • Mr_Day says:

      Er, that shouldn’t have been a reply. Sorry about that.

    • Zyrxil says:

      I have never played Freespace. Should I be ashamed of myself?

      Yes, yes you should. Freespace 2 was and is the pinnacle of the Space ‘Sim’ genre. Not only for the action, but its storytelling, writing, mission pacing, and voice acting.

    • Blackberries says:

      Listen to Zyrxil. It’s still an absolutely sublime experience. Thrilling, engaging and with very few duff beats. Go, play now!

    • DMJ says:

      @MrBRAD!: It’s not too late for you to redeem yourself from the shame you know you should be feeling.

      Buy it from GoG. Install the source code project packages. Then spread the word, brother.

  2. Mr_Day says:

    I am a huge space combat junkie – it was space combat games that got me into PC gaming in the first place. I often find myself replaying the Freespace, X Wing and Privateer games.

    I noticed that both Freespace 2 and the original I War have got missions that have objectives similar to that of the No Russian mission in Modern Warfare 2. The Freespace one was particularly memorable, because I ended up replaying it to see what would happen if I had killed the civilians to try and stay in the NTF good books. Hint – you are court martialled afterwards. And with good reason.

  3. Wednesday says:

    Babylon 5 mod?


    Time to make some aliens get the hell out of my galaxy.

  4. Rohit says:

    Fuck, I need to play Freespace 1 and 2 again.

    • Blackberries says:

      Yeah this has got me hankering for some space-whizzing. It’s been well over a year since I last blasted some Shivans.

  5. litrock says:

    I’m kind of new to PC gaming, so I’ve never played Freespace 2. Maybe I should give it a shot. People seem to talk about it a lot.

    • mrmud says:

      Its one of the best games ever made.
      Easily the best in the genre and with the open source project it still looks remarkably good.

    • Arathain says:

      Mechanics are what makes a space-sim- the feel of turning, the punchiness of weapons and the relationships between the different ship classes. Freespace 2 nails the mechanics nicely.

      What takes it from a great game to one of the all time greats is what it lays on top of those mechanics. The setting is great, the art design is great, heck even many of the voice-over work is great. The scripting is some of the best in gaming; not the written script, but the way missions can turn on sudden, shocking events. The atmosphere is simply unmatched. The highlights (the first mission, the secret ops missions and oh lord the nebula) are the sorts of levels you’re still talking about a decade or more later.

      So yes, you should give it a go.

    • Blackberries says:

      litrock: FreeSpace 2 sits steadfastly atop my ‘favourite games’ list. Even while other titles tussle it out, vying hard for my affections, nothing ever topples it.

      And fear not that it’s over a decade old: as Kieron and other commenters should have made clear, it’s still eminently playable today. It handles brilliantly, the atmosphere is pitch-perfect.. just a joy.

    • Matt W says:


      @Arathain one bit in particular that more games should take note of is the way that the script treats you in a realistic manner. Best example is in “The Romans Blunder”, where you’re given an interdiction objective that’s clearly impossible given where you arrive in the mission. Your wingmates bitch to Command about this, and Command basically says “shut up and stop asking questions”.

      And that’s the last you hear about it – despite the fact that if you’d caught your target the war would probably have been stopped – because it’s a need-to-know matter and you don’t need to know. That little mystery hangs over the entire campaign, and it really hammers home the conceit that you’re a fighter pilot, not king of the universe.


      Also, there are some absolutely stunning fan campaigns available for FS2 that occasionally surpass the original campaign in many ways. Derelict in particular is a great place to start – forty-odd missions of fully-voiced goodness.

  6. mrmud says:


    • Optimaximal says:

      “We gotta wait fifteen minutes to change our shorts”

    • Blackberries says:

      Ah, those words still evoke a grin and something of a shiver. Thank you.

    • Brian Rubin says:

      One of the best gaming moments ever. Few gaming moments have hit me as hard as that one, and few likely ever will.

      Freespace 2 is still my favorite game ever. Totally love it.

  7. john says:

    I have a feeling that a AAA space sim released now, such as freespace 3 or a new x-wing would be an absolute smash hit if done well, but publishers seem to think that they “know” exactly what the public wants, by which they seem to mean the public wants exactly what they tell them too, and they’ve decided that noone will ever buy a space combat sim again. It’s sad really, because it’s hard to imagine how amazing a space sim could be made with today’s technology; you could have battles with hundreds of ships, sectional damage modelling, particle based explosions, vastly better ai

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      Of course a couple of years ago people said that adventure gaming was dead.

      Then we had Telltale’s Sam and Max, Monkey Island et al. as well as other new adventure games.

      Don’t give up hope!

      After all, Elite 5 has to be finished sooner or later… doesn’t it?

    • bill says:

      I don’t know. I was talking about this with some other guys with respect to a new version of Interstate 76 being needed.

      While I’d love one, I get the feeling that the whole sim interface has disappeared from gaming, and I’m not sure how modern gamers would react to it. Everything is much more immediate and “user friendly” these days.. can you imagine many modern gamers fiddling with a dozen targetting buttons, or different energy configurations?

      But if you take those out then you essentially end up with something like Starfighter or Interstate82, which just doesn’t have the same feel.

      There’s also the Joystick issue. Playing these games on gamepads totally kills the feel – there’s no feedback, and no feeling of mass and weight. But joysticks require hard surfaces, which means desks…. and we all know that games aren’t suited to the intimate surroundings of a desk these days…

  8. Ffitz says:

    I GoG’ed Freespace last year but never really got in to it. Couldn’t shake the “it’s not X-Wing or Tie Fighter” feeling.

    Perhaps I’ll give it another chance. After all, there’s a real games drought at the moment. What am I to play?

    Ignores half-completed Portal re-run, half-completed Blood Bowl campaign, and the ticking clock counting down to the BF:BC2 unlock

    • terry says:

      Same story here – I tried the Freespace revamp a year ago and having not played it before was a big hurdle, because I wasn’t immediately charmed by how clunky and unintuitive it seemed. If there’s a tutorial or documentation that isn’t a hundred pages long now I’ll give it a shot.

      Oh and Valve updated Portal today – perhaps another re-run is in order ;-)

    • Colin says:

      From a story perspective I prefer Freespace over Freespace 2 (the pacing is better), but FS2 is the high water mark in terms of space dogfight gameplay and having a sexy sexy engine. I haven’t tried this out but it is possible to play FS1 missions using the FS2/FSO engine using this mod.

    • Adam Whitehead says:

      I loved the X-WING and TIE FIGHTER games. Thought they were all great games and doubted anything would come along that was better. Thoroughly enjoyed FREESPACE 1 but wasn’t blown away by it.

      FS2 was really something else, on a completely different level to FS1 (which is basically THE HOBBIT to FS2’s LORD OF THE RINGS) and trumped the rest of the genre. It also killed it stone dead by perfecting the genre. There was nowhere else for it to go. Bad marketing meant poor sales, but I also think the genre had kind of had its day, as every other space combat game from around the same time also died (including X-WING ALLIANCE, STARLANCER, the Bruce Campbell-voiced TACHYON: BEYOND THE FRINGE etc).

      It’s hard to put my finger on what makes FS2 one of the greatest single games ever made. The atmosphere, music and intensity of combat had something to do with it, but I think mostly it was the ‘moments’. Like the mission into Shivan space, or chasing the rogue Admiral’s command ship, or trying to blow one of the jump points with a bomb against the clock. The final 10 missions or so are just jam-packed with cool set-pieces, jaw-dropping plot twists and unexpected reversals of fate. The game is pretty pitiless and ruthless with character lives as well. No-one and nothing is safe, and the final mission is one of the best missions of any game I’ve ever played, simply because it goes ballistically insane at the end with little forewarning.

      Interestingly, whilst FS2 killed the space combat genre, it was released almost simultaneously with the gorgeous HOMEWORLD, which created the space-based RTS genre which has gone on to greater success more recently. FS3 and HOMEWORLD 3 being announced for the near future would be fantastic.

  9. Mr Pink says:

    Great piece. This is indeed why the PC is great.

  10. Hides-His-Eyes says:

    That Freespace screenshot when you have to take out the guns on that huge ship is as far as i ever got in that game. :s

  11. Nexxus Nine says:

    We’re living in the last of the great sci-fi-sounding years, and he’d have been hoping I’d be playing some kind of ludicrously intricate immersive-sim derivative.

    Well at least we have Dwarf Fortress covering the ludicrously intricate part… using the UI of a game from 1980 or so. Imagine if your 1999 self knew about that!

    I remember playing the Freespace 2 demo when the game came out. I really enjoyed it, but I never got around to buying the game. Reading this makes me want to give it another shot.

  12. LegendaryTeeth says:

    I want Freespace 3 :'(

    I would pay good money for Volition to go make it!

  13. sigma83 says:

    ‘What were you doing out here, Roemig?’ is a quote my brother and I use, frequently, to question each other’s questionable activities.

  14. Smokingkipper says:

    Thank you KG, for introducing me to FS2, and to GoG; what a genually nice website :o) They have my money.

  15. Jad says:

    …interface issues choked any interest I had in playing. When I group select some marines and click up the stairs, I expect the game to be able to find their way up the stairs. Hell, if I group select a group, I expect to be able to group select whatever I’ve selected instead of the twelve Starcraft limited you to.

    Good lord yes. My first real play through of Starcraft 1 was two years ago, and I couldn’t get past the Zerg campaign. The interface was maddening. And you don’t even have to have played any recent RTSes to know that — Starcraft’s interface was outdated when it was released. I’m glad that Starcraft 2 is finally updating that stuff.

    For Freespace 2: is it playable with mouse and keyboard, or do you need a joystick? If the latter, would an Xbox 360 controller be an acceptable compromise? I have no interest in buying a joystick.

    • Optimaximal says:

      It’s certainly playable – was how I rolled when addicted to it back in 2000.

      It uses the number pad by default so there’s a good deal of estate for your hands unless you have baby fingers. No clustering around the cursor keys/WASD here, although there can be a little bit of keyboard spaghetti during busy moments as you dance around warzones, picking targets, ordering wingmen and monitoring escort/important targets. Thank god for auto-speed matching.

      Not sure if the SCP has updated the controls to support dual analogues as the original release wasn’t too friendly on multiple axis if I remember correctly.

    • mrmud says:

      A joystick certainly helps. I dont know If I would want to try playing it without one.

      My old joystick was trash so I bought a new Saitek x52 flightstick partly because I wanted to replay FS2.

    • Vandelay says:

      I tried replaying Freespace 2 a couple of years ago, but had give up quite quickly. It was just unplayable on a pad. Have to admit, I didn’t try using the keyboard, but I imagined that playing it with a joystick is the only way to truly experience the game.

      I do have very fond memories of it though.

    • Fumarole says:

      I’m currently playing Freespace 2 using a dual analog pad. Both sticks work fine. I use one for pitch/yaw and the other for throttle/roll.

  16. Down Rodeo says:

    I bought Freespace 2 from GoG after being reminded what it was by this very site! Funnily enough both Starcraft and Freespace were games I played back then, when I was… ooh, just under 10, maybe slightly younger. I was never very good at Starcraft actually. I used the cheats all the time. And Freespace I had borrowed from a friend so I eventually said “goodbye” but instantly purchased it when given the opportunity.

    I had forgotten about the various limitations of Starcraft, like the number of units you could select… when I played it, all that time ago, it was so immersive for me. I’ve actually brought it to Uni with me to show a flatmate who is interested in RTS (very speedy RTS) but I can see it not really being that great, now. Perhaps I shouldn’t try it.

  17. Optimaximal says:

    Looking at the Sathanas in the picture makes me realise that BioWare must surely have riffed off the Shivan design when running the Reapers from Mass Effect through the concept stage.

  18. JamesOf83 says:

    Ahh, Freespace 2. Easily the best space shooter ever. I loved that at the start of the game you realise the huge, unstoppable ship from the first game was actually just the Shivan’s scout ship!

    A real shame they never made a third to finish off the storyline. I still ponder why the Shivans blew up that sun.

    @Mr_Day, glad there are people out there that remember I-War. I have great memories of that, the only space game I can think of that has Newtonian physics and not just a ‘slide’ key ala Starlancer. I loved that you could speed up, disengage the ship’s auto correction thrusters and strafe at high speed past enemy ships, keeping your weapons tracked on them. I also loved how the ship felt versatile. One mission you’re doing the standard shooty thing, then you’re remotely piloting a fighter and the next using the physics to get cargo containers through a hopper. I-War 2 was good fun but I thought the story was lacking and the pirating side of it felt tacked on.

    Anyway, come on Voilition get going and surprise us with Freespace 3 :)

    • Arathain says:

      I War also had one of the best visual interfaces I can remember. The HUD displayed an astonishing amount of information in an intuitive and easy to read format. In particular, the wireframe trails each ship left across your screen allowed you to read the flow of a fight with ease.

  19. Alexej says:

    I played Freespace 2 about 4 years ago, got a boxed copy from ebay for 25 euros.
    This friggin’ game gave me some intense moments and the feeling of being an ant running around with a whole family of elephants on dope. Watching the Colossus being sliced in two by those damned Sathanas-class capital ships was a gaming moment I cannot forget.

    But i never finished it. I got stuck at one of the latest missions. I will replay it from the beginning when i get a decent joystick.

    And yes, i would pay good money too at day one if Volition ever releases FS3.

  20. Elusiv3Pastry says:

    At last, Freespace 2 gets some much-deserved publicity. I played FS1 and 2 over and over again when they first came out and I still play them today when I’m in the mood for a sci fi combat sim. I still think to myself “goddamn this is a good game!” Better than even X-Wing and Tie Fighter, and I played those to death, too.

    It’s quite sad that Volition never made it big thanks to FS2. The story and mechanics of the engine are flawless, and the graphics are still gorgeous. The music, sound, and voice acting are still inspiring. I wonder perhaps the reason why there are no more space sims is because companies think people don’t want to shell out money for a joystick (except for true flight sim junkies, but they think that crowd aren’t interested in sci fi), so they make space combat games to be controlled with a mouse, which sucks. Freelancer bored me to death because of it and it was met with tepid reviews. But then people are using Xbox controllers on their PCs now, so why should this still be a problem?

    Perhaps the sci fi genre might rise again with the Mechwarrior reboot.

    • Corporate Dog says:

      Well, I SUPPOSE you could use an Xbox controller to play a space combat sim. But then, that makes you the guy at the Japanese restaurant who signals premature defeat by reaching for the fork instead of the chopsticks.

    • Elusiv3Pastry says:

      Hahah, nice! Yes, I agree that playing any kind of flight sim without a true joystick is a travesty, but some people don’t know any better :P

    • Jimmy says:

      Hmm. I have just ordered a wireless xbox 360 controller for platform gaming and retro gaming on the PC, and I suspect it should be just fine for simple flight/space sims. Looking in shops, I can only find ridiculous-looking sticks, for the 12-15 yrs bracket (who don’t care for them), and not many simple and plain ones. I think using an Xbox controller for a PC is kind of cool…

    • Elusiv3Pastry says:

      If you’re looking for a good joystick allow me to present the holy grail:

      link to amazon.com

      Microsoft’s Sidewinder Pro has to be the most perfect piece of hardware ever. Solid enough to kill someone with and still remain functional, comfortable ergonomic grip, and enough buttons in all the right places to ensure you don’t need to keep one hand on the keyboard.

    • Blackberries says:

      Fah! You needn’t have a joystick to play FreeSpace, nor a mouse. Give me a numberpad any day <3.

    • Sucram says:

      @Elusiv3Pastry I had a Microsoft joystick and loved it. Used to play though Freespace + various mods every year, but the joystick used gameport and I’ve never replaced it.

      Freespace on a pad just doesn’t map very well.

  21. HoldTight says:

    Freespace 2 is a game I find myself replaying every few years. It’s just fantastic, and the work done by the community to spruce it up and whatnot is just amazing. Everyone should play this! There’s kids today who won’t even know what space combat is ffs!

  22. ChampionHyena says:

    I can live with being a pawn if the game makes sense.

    • FhnuZoag says:

      If command needs your opinion they’ll promote you to admiral. Now shut up and focus.

  23. Corporate Dog says:

    ‘Spose it’s time to whip out the joystick, and enjoy some private time with Freespace 2 again.

    Perhaps it will fill the void left by S.W.O.R.D’s cancellation. Perhaps.

  24. Dominic White says:

    Bah. Starcraft? Freespace? New-fangled fineries for you young whippersnappers!

    There’s a major TC/level-pack released for Doom every few weeks. The engine becomes more powerful, and the multiplayer netcode gets better and better. The community is still trucking along, too.

    In fact, here’s something new and relevant AND Doom-related!

    Arcadia Gardens from Bioshock 2, demade into a Doom 2 map by the original designer:
    link to vectorpoem.com

    And an associated article, on why Doom was great, and still continues to be unique/great to this day:
    link to vectorpoem.com

    And on a ‘general fantastic gameplay note’, check out Legacy of Suffering. Doom 3 spliced with the Doom movie, then demade into an atmospheric but high-action campaign:
    link to brdoom.com

    The classics never die.

    • Neosubu says:

      @ Dominic White
      That youtube video on Legacy of Suffering sounds like Christian Bale in American Psycho haha.

    • Thants says:

      Marathon was better and is still better! And it’s also still being updated: Boom!

  25. somnolentsurfer says:

    That ‘ruling the world’ gag is terrible. I thought you were better than that.

  26. Pew says:

    I want a new Freespace and X-Wing/TIE-Fighter game. So. Much.

    But the last time I checked, Laurence Holland of TIE Fighter fame no longer worked at Lucasarts (might be wrong though). Then again, LucasArts did tease us about a new Star Wars space fighting game a while back?

    The main reason why I can’t see it happening properly any time soon, is because every dev who attempts to make a profit off of it will make it console friendly as well. I wouldn’t mind a new Level 5 Rogue Squadron, but that’s not the same. I need 101 hotkeys for energy transfer, missile loadouts and matching speed dammit!

    I vaguely remember Darkstar One and another 2004-2007 space title being pretty decent attempts, if either totally unbalanced or boring halfway through the game.

  27. The Hammer says:

    “And that two games could end up in oddly similar positions through such radically different routes was enough to make me stop, think, and write this. And realise that… well, the poles show exactly why I’m interested in the PC. And one of the many reasons why this site exists.”

    Oh man. This stirred me.

    Great to hear that SC2 is a lot more accessible to get into. When it comes out, Blizzard might get even -more- of my money. Grrr.

  28. Ravenger says:

    I want a new I-War game. But then I’m incredibly biased, as I worked on the originals.

    • Arathain says:

      Since I’m sure you don’t get this very often, I’d like to say thank you to you and your former colleagues for the I War games. They were different, brave and clever, and had some really nice pieces of design. Also they were, you know, really good games.

    • pkt-zer0 says:

      I-War 2 is still my favourite space sim, and the reason I’m not going to ditch WinXP anytime soon. And yes, a sequel would be awesome.

  29. BigJonno says:

    “I half worry that my 1999 self would be disappointed. We’re living in the last of the great sci-fi-sounding years, and he’d have been hoping I’d be playing some kind of ludicrously intricate immersive-sim derivative.”

    That very same thought has been niggling at the back of my mind for the last two or three years. It really hit home while I was playing Uncharted 2; “This is really, really good, but is this it?” There have been some amazing games released in the last couple of years, but they seem so unambitious, so conceivable. How many recent, triple-A releases can you name that couldn’t be quickly explained to your decade-younger self with references to existing games, talk of improved 3D graphics and copious use of the word “cinematic?”

    The last time I can remember being genuinely awed by a game in a “this is going to change my world” manner was when I first played Ultima Online. Before that it was my first go on a Playstation (my most advanced gaming machine prior to that was an Amiga 500+.) Maybe I’m just getting old and jaded, but I remember having my tiny little mind blown every time I picked up a new gaming magazine.

    • simonkaye says:

      Actually, here’s something interesting: my sister was caught in a gaming timewarp. She finished playing Baldur’s Gate 2 (a game we both loved) and didn’t see or hear anything about what was happening with RPGs (or gaming in general) for the intervening years. But her boyfriend now has a PS3 and she ended up playing Dragon Age on it.

      She was completely blown away by Dragon Age, man. She didn’t have any of the context or sense of slow progression that has allowed us to be relatively critical of that game. She totally banged Alistair, which makes my own chummy relationship with him strangely strained these days. My sister actually blushes when she talks about that game.

      So – are we nowhere? Truth is, very few of us are in a position to judge. Freespace may still be at the absolute Pinnacle (perhaps the GVD Pinnacle?) of the space sim, but I think that my sister’s reaction speaks volumes about how far things are coming along.

    • Clovis says:

      Not a popular title, but if my younger, Sim City 2000 playing self was told about Dwarf Fortress my head would have exploded. That’s my reaction to it now too though.

    • BigJonno says:


      That’s an interesting perspective and probably a pretty unique one, I can’t imagine many people who completed BG2 aren’t in the business of following CRPG developments. However I’m still pretty sure that if, on the completion of BG2, I was asked what I thought Bioware would be doing in a decade, it would be something a lot bigger, deeper and more intricate than DA

  30. simonkaye says:

    Perhaps a comparison should be made between Starcraft and the original Conflict: (or ‘Descent:’, if you live in the land of the free) Freespace.

    Freespace 2 has a more interesting plot, more colourful and better graphics, and beam weapons. But otherwise it isn’t that much of an improvement on Freespace 1. Crucially, the technical side of the game – how it performs and the ultimate gaming experience – is sublime in the original as well, and didn’t get much ‘fixing’. In fact, it’s hard to imagine what a contemporary Space Sim would do differently. Volition managed to get it right on the first try.

    Strategy games, on the other hand, really have come a long way since the late 90s. They’re infinitely more sophisticated and accessible beasts now. Starcraft set some kind of a standard and captured a lot of imagination – but enormous Games Workshop intellectual property theft will do that for you.

    I still play Freespace 2 – with or without its mod updates – to this day. Starcraft I haven’t really looked at twice since I first finished its main campaigns and add-ons.

  31. Tim James says:

    FYI to everyone that the first game is all right, but FS2 is where they really push things into the next galaxy.

    • Blackberries says:

      The first game is still rock-solid and the second-best space sim ever made. The mechanics, the actual business of flying were changed very little for the sequel, and the first game is its match in atmosphere (telling of the story, voice acting, etc).

      It’s a testament to Volition that they both managed to make such an incredible game the first time, but then go and make it even better next time around, jetting FS2 into the stratosphere of gaming perfection.

  32. Selendor says:

    In related news, Freespace / Wing Commander inspired MMO Black Prophecy has announced a publisher today and revealed that it will be based on the free to play model. Closed Beta starts in April.

  33. Brant says:

    Moments like that one are exactly why Freespace 2 will forever have a place in my heart. The game was full of them, and you were always thinking “Oh crap, what next?!”

  34. The E says:

    It should be noted that, while the scp.indiegames.us site is valid, it is also not updated regularly. The Hard Light Productions forums (which scp.indiegames.us links to) are much more up to date.

  35. Flimgoblin says:

    How does Freespace 2 compare to (say) X-3? though I guess X-3 is an elite-chaser with all that trading and station building…

    Being an avid amiga gamer, then a MUDder on sparc5s at uni, I wasn’t a PC gamer till 2000 (apart from starcraft in the uni PC labs with some friends for couuntless hours a day for a good few months…) so missed Freespace, shall have to get it off of GoG and carve out some free time to play it (on to the pile ye go!).

    • Arathain says:

      I don’t think it really does at all, other than being in space and having lasers. FS2 is a linear series of scripted missions, in which you’re a fighter pilot. It’s all about intense, heavily pyrotechnic dogfights. Not the non-linear, choose your profession Elite style of thing at all. That’s more about making your own place in a huge galaxy with lots of choices.

  36. AlwaysAsked says:

    Is Freespace 2 playable with Keyboard/Mouse? I remember Tie Fighter was serviceable via lifting up the mouse and re-dragging it a lot.

    I know ideally it should be played with a flightstick, but my wallet’s not interested in owning one.

    • Blackberries says:

      It is my most beloved game of all time and I can’t remember the last time I played it with a joystick; it plays very well using just a keyboard, for me anyway. The numberpad controls the orientation of the ship, while the other keys do things like adjust speed, control weapons, give orders to squadmates, etc.

      However I can’t tell you how much of that is down to me having played it this way since very early on and just having got used to it.

    • Arathain says:

      Gah. I remember trying to dogfight in TIE Fighter using a mouse. Horrible. Doable, but horrible, and very tiring (liftdragliftdragliftdrag…). It was handy for picking off turrets on capital ships though. Nothing beats mouse accuracy.

      I think (I’m not 100% sure) that Freespace uses a system copied by Freelancer later, where the mouse controls a little cursor on the HUD, and the ship turns to follow the cursor. That would make it perfectly playable with a mouse. There really is nothing like yanking on a stick and punching the thumb trigger for afterburn of course.

  37. airtekh says:

    Question for you space-sim veterans.

    The only space sim I’ve played is Freelancer (which I thoroughly enjoyed).

    How does FS2 compare to FL? And is it necessary to have a joystick to play it? (FL played fine with mouse + keyboard, which is one of the reasons I bought it).

    • Arathain says:

      I hated Freelancers combat, because this spoiled it for me. You’ll love it.

  38. Lambchops says:

    i’ll add my voice do those declaring love for Freespace 2.

    ti was one of those games which you played and wondered why it’s interface wasn’t in every space sim ever. It just worked fantastically well.

    The only thing Freespace 2 was beaten on by another space sim was that Starlancer’s other pilots had more personality than the ones in Freespace 2 but apart from that Freespace 2 trumps everything.

    If there was ever a sequel I owuld gladly dust off my joystick (which I only bought 4 years ago or so anyway for the express purpose of playing Starlancer and Freespace 2, both of which I’d bought off ebay).

    Freespace 2 also has the honour of being the last PC game I bought which game in a massive, chunky cardboard box. Those were the days!

    • Blackberries says:

      One of the versions I owned (I managed to snap the disc in half, prompting a desperate scouring of ebay) also came with a little cardboard mock-up of a keyboard, annotated to show the controls and with a flap allowing you to stand it beside you as you played. Wonderful.

  39. dan. says:

    Man, I keep getting Freespace and Freelancer confused.

    Freelancer was quite the enjoyable romp, and the mouse control was pretty nifty too.

  40. w says:

    Hey, hey, don’t forget X3: Reunion and X3: Terran Conflict. Also awesome space-sim games with a new dimension to them. I loved FS2 and I love X3.

    BUT! Obviously no sound in gaming history will ever be as awesome as the phaser sound from Freespace 2. Oh the joy.

    wshhhhhhh………. BZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzapppp

  41. Walsh says:

    I’d give a kidney for a modern space sim. Especially if it incorporated, everything awesome about I-War 1/2, Freespace 2 fighters, and had the feel of Battlestar Galactica’s fighter combat, swooping sliding newtonian awesomeness.

    Also I’d give a kidney for a for a Silent Hunter style starship command game.

    So who wants two kidneys…

    • Blackberries says:

      Battlestar Galacticarian combat dynamics in a space-sim would be ace.

  42. Walsh says:

    Whatever happened to that russian space sim game that someone posted about awhile ago? IIRC they had posted a movie of it.

  43. Iain says:


    If you compare X3 to Freespace 2, X3 is on the rather clinical side. X3 is riffing off from Elite far more than Freespace or X-Wing/TIE Fighter.

    X3 is staggeringly beautiful (for a game set in the bleakness of space), but I found it a lot less accessible than the Freespace games, but then I stuck hundreds of hours into TIE Fighter and X-Wing back in the day. Also, the ship-to-ship combat in X3 isn’t nearly so well done. Freespace 2 has much tighter mission design and a really nicely paced story, too.

    Freespace 2 was the game I bought a £90 Saitek Cyborg 3D Force Feedback joystick for. I never regretted it. The rumble effect when you kick on the afterburners still gives me a pleasurable shiver.

    • Iain says:

      Also: Freespace 2 has one of the best intro movies to a game, ever. It simultaneously makes me feel triumphant, hopeful and want to cry at the same time. A masterful piece of emotional string-pulling.

    • Matt W says:

      Oh gods SO MUCH THIS. The FS2 intro literally* makes me shiver every time I watch it. It’s sublime.

      * Correct usage

  44. EyeMessiah says:

    Mayday, mayday. This is Kappa 3 of the 107th Ravens GTD Aquitane. Command, do you copy???

  45. Choca says:

    Freespace 2 > pretty much anything.

  46. Lightbulb says:

    No, you should download it plug in the joystick (go and buy one if you don’t own one) and enjoy one of the best games ever made.

  47. lafinass says:

    Thanks for writing this up. I had somehow missed out on all this open source goodness being applied to one of my favorite games of all time.

  48. PHeMoX says:

    You’re forgetting the X games, X2 and X3 both have been excellent at what they did. Freespace wasn’t the only game out there that knew how to do a space sim correctly. :)

    As for Starcraft 2, I fear it will indeed add nothing substantially, but there’s no question about how that’s actually NOT such a good thing at all.

  49. Bahumat says:

    This, a thousand times this. An epic clusterfuck of a mission, in the best possible space fighter pilot way.

  50. amanda says:

    Always shocked at your typos. Shame on you!