Our fighter squadron has just completely destroyed a Shivan force inside a massive, dense nebula and are moving in to make sure the newly discovered subspace portal is under our control. The massive Vasuan destroyer Psamtik is on station to provide fire support and its fighter wings will also relieve us of duty. This is really where it all goes wrong. A second Shivan juggernaut of the Sathanas class jumps through the portal and in one fell swoop completely annihilates the Psamtik. Shock. Desperation. Get the hell out are all the things that I can think of at this moment because I remember the enormous effort required to stop the first Sathanas.
If Simcity 4 is the pinnacle of city building games, then Freespace 2 is the pinnacle of space combat simulation games. Even though space is largely empty, the game never makes you feel like it is. That’s because most of the time, you’re flying a teeny tiny fighter charged with defending and attacking capital ships that are over one kilometre in length. Oh, and they’re all armed with huge beam cannons. I mean, come on, huge beam cannons that make things explode spectacularly. As if that element alone doesn’t make this the best game ever!
For all the heady highs and emotional lows that the truly immersive and well executed single player campaign gives you, it’s sad that the franchise has been thrown to the aether since the bankruptcy of Interplay, the massive publishing house that owned the rights to the game. It’s even worse that no other space simulation has picked up on the fantastic elements that make Freespace 2 great, the visceral experience of flying against enormous ships that appear to be completely invincible due to their sheer size. You feel like you’re just a tiny cog in an enormous machine that has a truly unknown purpose to the little guy.
Thankfully, Volition released the source code to the entire game for free and a great community has built up around it. Some fantastic user made campaigns and mods from universes such as Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica have been built and released and even the core game has seen graphical upgrades to allow ship models to gain far more detail and little things like lens flares and shadows are absolutely welcome additions.
It’s a pity that since its release in 1999, the genre of space simulations has largely become a niche genre. Sure, there are still bright torches burning for those of us who love these kinds of games. The games from the X-Universe are such an example and feature massive freeform universes, but sadly terrible (or nonsensical) storylines. The only thing really that any space simulation needs to do is to capture the scale and level of frenetic insanity of battles that is the hallmark of Freespace 2 and I’d be sold. Also, big beam cannons in space would DEFINITELY help. Just saying.