Reviewed: March 7, 2005
Released: November 15, 2004
It wasnít that long ago when computer owners could explore space and kill hostile aliens with any of numerous software titles. Wing Commander is single-handedly responsible for selling more 386 computers than any other program at the time and X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter put Larry Holland and LucasArts on the map.
Over the years the genre fell victim to the whims of fickle gamers and some fairly uninspired game designs. Wing Commander turned into a series of movies with interactive intermissions before Microsoft bought up Digital Anvil and coughed up Starlancer and Freenlancer in the genreís dying breath.
The first-person shooter has pretty much snuffed the life out of all other PC genres with the exception of a few RPG and RTS titles that manage to persist. But trends always seem to cycle around and like the adventure game, which is on the comeback trail, CITY Interactive is trying to jumpstart the space shooter genre with their latest technological wonder, Space Interceptor: Project Freedom.
Project Freedom doesnít even pretend to mirror those other games that came before it. Light on story, heavy on action, and falling somewhere in the middle on addictive gameplay, this sci-fi shooter takes you on 21 missions of pure adrenaline action where your finger never lets off the primary fire button.
The game opens with a pretty decent cutscene to kick off what little plot is required for you to zip around the cosmos wasting a few thousand aliens and evil corporate scum. After that there are only three or four other small movies to carry the plot with the rest of the thin story being told through game-engine cutscenes and radio chatter with the obligatory portrait of the speaker popping up in the corner.
Even though the game couldnít be simpler to play youíll still want to take a trip through the holo-simulator (tutorial) if for no other reason than to appreciate the Tron-like graphics. Project Freedom can be played almost entirely with the mouse with only a few keys necessary for axis rotation and weapon selection.
I was very much reminded of Freelancer in the way the game played and the ship responded. You can use the wheel to incrementally adjust the speed and when at full speed you can kick in turbo boost for a limited duration followed by a lengthy cool down period before you can reuse it. The left mouse button fires your energy weapon and you can pretty much keep this held down the entire game. The right button fires your secondary weapon, which can be chosen with the number keys. The WADS cluster handles strafing and barrel rolls.
The game offers three difficulty levels that you can choose only when you create your profile. If you get into the game and find it is too hard you will have to start complete over at an easier setting, and the game does get hard about halfway through.
What Project Freedom lacks in AI it makes up for in sheer numbers, and even though you may only have to kill 50-80 targets per mission there will be thousands available. My only regret is that there is no score, reward, or any type of tracking for collateral damage, so you really have no incentive to go after anything other than primary targets except for, perhaps, personal gratification.
The missions are a great mix of space and surface missions. There are a few missions in the obligatory asteroid belt and debris field and even a turret mission near the end of the game where you must defend your capital ship until they can make repairs so you can launch your fighter. The final mission takes place on a gargantuan space station that makes the Death Star look like a ping-pong ball in comparison. And instead of a single three-meter exhaust shaft you have to take down dozens of shield generators before flying inside the station to strike the core.
To mix things up a bit you are given the opportunity before each mission to customize your ship. You can increase your speed, armor and defense, or attack power. This gives the game a limited RPG flair to it, since the more you pick one area the more it develops over time. Personally, I never had a single occasion to use the speed option, and the briefings leave little doubt of which setup you should probably choose.
Admittedly, the game is a bit mindless and the sheer number of enemy targets on-screen at anytime means you can pretty much aim and hit something. The weapons auto-lock on the target box under the reticle when in range, and with guided air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles most shots are fire and forget. Later in the game you will go up against alien ships where you cannot get a lock and you will have to chase them down and kill them with cannon fire.
There is a bit of strategy involved, especially on the planet missions where you need to prioritize your targets. You definitely want to go for the large turrets that shoot swarm missiles followed by radar installation and smaller turrets. You also need to keep turning sharply so pursing ships cannot get an easy lock. The harder missions require you to take out several shield generators before you can even take a shot at the primary goal. And of course, you have plenty of protection missions where you must keep somebody alive through wave after wave of attacks.
Space Interceptor might not win any awards for groundbreaking gameplay but you canít argue this is a guilty pleasure, a total adrenaline rush of nonstop action that will keep you busy for several days.
Like any good space game you have three views to play from; the cockpit view, which is simply stunning with a slight reflective property to the glass and a free-floating cockpit console that might just make you a bit nauseous. You also have a camera view, which removes the cockpit and glass but replaces it with fake scan lines like you are watching through a CRT monitor. The final view is the chase view that puts the camera behind the ship so you can see the exhaust trails and the slick metal sheen of your spacecraft.
No matter which view you choose you have a simple and colorful HUD that gives you instant access to all the necessary information. Overlapping circles and arcs tell you exactly how fast you are going, how much shield and hull damage you have left, your afterburner cool down, and weapon reload, and remaining ammo counts.
There is an optional toggle for a missile camera which it really cool, especially when you fire and turn to fight another target. You can still track your missile and make sure you hit the target in the window insert. Other optional settings add a pleasant glow to the lighting and you can also toggle a bluring effect that works very well.
Considering this is a budget game I was totally blown away by the graphics. They are better than any graphics in any space game to date, even EVE. Some of the space missions take place in orbit with Jupiter dominating the screen and IO somewhere in the middle with all sorts of ships and multi-layer debris fields orbiting the planet.
When you travel to the planet surface you will speed through canyons, skim over bubbling lava, and dodge laser turrets as you take out all sorts of cool enemies. I was very impressed with the layout of these installations. They werenít just randomly placed for your targeting pleasure, but the position of generators and turrets and control towers all made tactical sense.
The enemy designs are also very cool although you will seldom get close enough to appreciate the smaller space fighters. The large capital ships are gorgeous with individual destructive components that change textures to reflect real-time damage. Enemy buildings, towers, greenhouses with forests inside, dune buggies, fuel tanks, generators, and turrets are just a few of the highly detailed models that really hold up under close scrutiny. You can actually see a realistic pitted metal surface with a subtle reflective quality.
Of course all of this visual splendor requires a fairly recent video card. My GeForce 6800 GT was more than up to the task of running this game at 1600x1200 with full detail and only a hiccups in the framerate in the larger debris fields. These debris fields also had a bit of pop-up with some distance pieces of space junk but that is only because there is no fogging being used to mask the draw distance.
I really liked the music in this game even though it did get repetitive by the time I finished the 21st mission. Thankfully, the designers chose a futuristic collection of techno riffs and thumping house beats that you might hear at any contemporary club. Sure, itís mindless and repetitive, almost hypnotic, but so is the gameplay and the two go together perfectly.
The speech is a mix of excellent narration during the movies and pre-flight briefings contrasted with a horribly limited selection of radio chatter during combat. Your wingmen feel compelled to say something EVERYTIME you kill an enemy and they only have three sayings. Since you will kill a few thousand targets before this game is over you do the math.
Space Interceptor released at $20 which is an amazing bargain considering this game will show off even moderate systems with outrageous graphical details. At the time of this review I see you can purchase it for $15, which is a steal. If you have a mouse and a video card made in the last two years you must purchase this game - no questions, just do it.
Each of the 21 missions varies in length but none are longer than 20 minutes. There were a few ground missions that were exceptionally long but you can QuickSave at anytime and pick right up from that point. The game also autosaves after each mission and offers a handy continue option from the main menu.
Space Interceptor: Project Freedom is the sleeper hit of the season. It will likely get lost among the few AAA titles that dominated the holidays and find its way into the bargain bin. But if you are looking for an outstanding visual and visceral action experience then you havenít seen or played anything this cool since that old Incoming game from a few years ago.
You might have to dig around your local software store to find this game or you could just go to the company website and buy it online, again, itís only $15 and I can think of a whole lot worse way to spend $15. If there is any justice in the world, Project Freedom will get bundled with a video card. This is the single-best title of 2004 for showing off your new video hardware and the most fun Iíve had with a space shooter since Freelancer.