From the same publisher/developer combo who brought you last month's aggressively lousy shooter Terrorist Takedown comes Space Interceptor: Project Freedom, a budget-priced space combat sim. Don't worry, though, because apart from being unfortunately associated with that lousy terrorist fighting game, and having one of the worst titles (and subtitles) of any game this year, Space Interceptor is actually pretty good. Space Interceptor conjures up a lot of pleasant memories of PC space sims past, such as Wing Commander or even 2003's Freelancer. Sadly, it's not nearly up to the level of quality of those games, but in a genre as close to utter desolation as the space combat sim, even a plucky little space shooter with more heart than technical prowess like Space Interceptor can prove to be a breath of fresh air.
What exactly is Space Interceptor all about? Mostly, it's about simplistic, easy-to-play space combat with a very loose plot structure that's incidental at best. You are, of course, an anonymous ace pilot in a squad of space fighters. The side you represent, Project Freedom, is constantly under duress by rival corporations and other assorted bad people who fly their own big spaceships and maintain bases and what have you across the universe. What does that mean to you, the player? Well, this is a space combat game, so, if you follow the proper lines of logic, it means you'll be blowing said spaceships and bases into assorted forms of space dust with the help of your trusty ship and squadmates.
Well, actually, you'll mostly just be doing it with your ship, since Space Interceptor falls into the trap a lot of space sims tend to fall into, and that is that the ships that fly under your banner are largely useless, save for the one or two times one of their random shots just happens to accidentally hit an enemy. But, it doesn't matter, because most times you'll be able to take care of business on your own. Your ship features a few different weapons, including a basic blaster, which is good for busting up smallish enemy fighters. You'll also have a secondary weapon, from which you'll have a variety to choose, including basic air-to-air missiles and big-time plasma bursts. Most times you will find yourself up against enemy squads, but periodically you will have to take on some big, honking battleships or some ground weaponry, such as stationary blasters and rocket launchers, and even some goofy looking mechs. Though the game does charge you with some fairly specific tasks, like protecting allied ships during rescue missions, those objectives often come second to simply flying around and blowing the hell out of everything that comes near your crosshairs, and for that purpose, the game serves pretty well.
This is mostly because the controls in the game are rarely ever problematic. Most all of the default control falls onto the mouse, with the two main mouse buttons set to fire your weapons, and the mouse itself in control of your ship's movement axis. The mousewheel also lets you accelerate by rolling it back and forth, though even turning the acceleration all the way down won't stop you, as your ship is always in forward motion. You can't actually stop or reverse thrust, but despite that limitation, you'll rarely find yourself having much trouble controlling where you want your ship to go. It's very much an arcade-type method of control, but considering that the action itself seems largely arcade-inspired, it works just fine and makes for some fun space-shooting action.
With that said, there are some quirks in the gameplay. For starters, there's no good indication of when you're hitting an enemy ship with anything but the most explosive of weapons. The only way to see is by squinting at the tiny energy meters for the ship in your crosshairs, and that can get annoying quickly. Another issue involves combat against the bigger ships--or, more specifically, the lack thereof. Though rare, when you do find yourself trying to take down a capital ship, all you're really doing is trying to blow up a series of blocked sections (as each individual section has its own energy meter), only a couple of which have the capability of firing back at you. Once you destroy the areas that have guns, you'll just be flying back and forth, shooting each blocked section until a big, charred husk is left behind. It would have been nice if the combat against these ships felt a little more epic.
It's a good thing that Space Interceptor is budget priced, because there really isn't much to this package at all. Sure, the gameplay's fun, but the whole campaign only lasts about five hours at the default difficulty level, and there's little reason to ever go back and play it again once you're done. There's no multiplayer, no unlockable extras...nothing at all. In fact, the only thing the game has besides its 21 single-player missions is a very simple ship upgrade system that actually involves no effort on your part. All you have to do is set a switch before each mission, which will indicate that you want to upgrade your attacks, defense, or speed, and then once you've beaten your latest mission, voila...magic upgrade! If there were just something more to the game--anything at all, really--it would have benefited greatly. It's a shame that there's no multiplayer of any sort either, because the ship combat is legitimately fun, and it would've been fun to compete against other players.
Visually, Space Interceptor isn't the most impressive game you'll ever see, but it's actually kind of impressive for being the budget title that it is. It borrows from just about every form of rudimentary sci-fi out there, but just because it isn't creative doesn't mean it doesn't look good. The ship models are all nicely put together, and the spatial environments definitely capture the feeling of what you'd think it would feel like to fly around in space, with plenty of planets, asteroids, and other such phenomena orbiting about. Of course, it isn't all fine and dandy when it comes to the game's graphics; for instance, many of the weapon effects actually look pretty weak overall. Also, the game's frame rate is fairly erratic at very specific points. Whenever something blows up onscreen, so does the frame rate.
The game's audio has more in common with the frame rate than it does with any of the game's other presentational components. Even though the sound effects run the gamut from effective to vastly underwhelming, you'll find that most of the trouble comes from the voice acting and soundtrack. Voice work comes in the form of radio communication from your assorted comrades and other ships. The acting is merely subpar, but it's the writing that is absolutely terrible, and it actually seems badly translated from some other language. Though most of the actors tend to stay away from literal readings of the lousy dialogue, every once in a while, they'll trip up and actually say something like "Nice shoot!" It's funny once, but considering how annoyingly repetitive the dialogue is, that humor quickly dries up. The actual soundtrack is made up of a scant couple of only marginally different techno tracks that sound roughly like somebody listened to the soundtrack from The Matrix a couple of times and then tried to concoct something vaguely similar. Lousy and repetitive are, again, both terms that sum up these musical scores quite effectively.
What it ultimately comes down to with Space Interceptor is how much you really want to play a good space combat sim. Are you willing to drop $20 on five hours of unspectacular but fun space shooting with the understanding that once those five hours are up, you'll probably never pick it up again? If that's the case, then Space Interceptor is certainly not a bad way to go. And hey, you could always take advantage of publisher Merscom's "fun guarantee" that's plainly displayed on the back of the box. If you don't love it (or, in this case, if you're done with it), they'll replace it with another one of its games! Then again, the company's only other game on the market right now is Terrorist Takedown so, maybe not.