IGF 2002: Freelancer shapes up

Microsoft will show the latest version of its long-awaited space sim at its International Games Festival event.

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Freelancer, which is based on a concept developed by Wing Commander designer Chris Roberts, was announced three years ago almost to the day. The fact that this highly anticipated space combat simulation is still in production is suggestive of how ambitious its original design was. Though Roberts left the project when Microsoft acquired his company, Digital Anvil, in December of 2000, Freelancer has remained in development and is scheduled to finally ship later this year. Though very little of the game has been shown in the last year, Microsoft is finally getting ready to reveal how Freelancer has come along during its International Games Festival event in Las Vegas.

Microsoft has stated that it will scale back some of the broader elements of Freelancer's original design. That doesn't mean the game will lose its focus as an open-ended gaming experience. Players will still be able to adventure in the science-fiction world of Freelancer and choose their own fates, building their own reputations by making decisions about what to do, who to help, and more as they grow in fame and prestige by completing various missions and assignments. A complete commodity trading system, as well as the ability to choose the life of a trader, a pirate, a bounty hunter, or an explorer, will be available.

Freelancer will feature an overarching storyline, and it will include more than two hours of cinematic cutscenes using the game engine, which should help make the game's politically charged world seem interesting and vivid. More importantly, Freelancer will still supposedly feature a purely mouse-driven interface, making space combat and exploration simpler than ever before. Freelancer will also offer multiplayer support, though specific details on its persistent-world multiplayer mode are still unavailable.

Freelancer is scheduled for release this fall. We'll have a hands-on report on the game later this week.

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