The Weekend Hangover is Too Much Gaming's Monday rumination of the games or game we played over the weekend. Sometimes there is alcohol involved in the hangover we’re nursing, but most other times there’s just too much gaming.
Selling at just 30,000 copies in six months in an era when 100,000 copies was the break even number, Freespace 2 was the floating derelict that warned developers away from the commercial risks of space combat games. This is despite the fact that the game received near universal critical praise.
Anyone hip deep in waters of PC culture will recognize Freespace 2 as, next to Half-Life 2, the rallying point for endless bounds of creativity. FS2_Open, the open source version of the game has allowed fans to build projects like The Wing Commander Saga, Blue Planet and The Babylon Project. And while none of those enjoy the same cultural recognition as Garry’s Mod or Dear Esther, these projects serve as a reminder that on PC, great games can spawn decades long creative movements.
That being said, Freespace 2 remains a stunning videogame out of the box – or rather, when downloaded straight off of GOG.com, which is what I did this weekend. While barely a year had passed between it and its predecessor, the awkwardly named Descent: Freespace – The Great War, many improvements were added to the game such as support for capital ships 300 times larger than your own starfighter. Beam weapons allowed these capital ships to engage in conflict with one another, greatly increasing the scale of dogfights and sorties.
The first thing that hit me on firing up Freespace 2 again was the storytelling and stakes. While the Wing Commander games are famous for their Star Wars meets Top Gun tales of hotshot pilots in a war against a vicious alien empire, Freespace 2 focuses on the fraught stakes of a conflict larger than you can comprehend, mostly because you rarely had the clearance to know everything about it. Wingmen were nameless and expendable, but that doesn’t stop them from endless in-flight chatter in which they fuel each other’s paranoia and distrust.
What Freespace 2 did better than any other space combat game – and I’ve played many, dear reader – is immerse you in an epic series of dogfights against ominous foes, whether it’s the relentless Shivans or the inscrutable Neo-Terran Front and its leader, the iconoclastic Admiral Aken Bosch. The weapons are spectacular, the fights frenetic and the stakes so desperate, it remains the closest we’ve come to a transcendental space combat experience, even unmodded. Even in an age of procedurally generated galaxies and pitch perfect controllers, Freespace 2 remains unchallenged.