The Best Space Sim Ever Created.
First off, the extremely accessible gameplay must be noted. Due to Microsoft's innovative dumbed-down approach to controls and interactions, Freelancer is, without a doubt, one of the easiest games in its genre to master. The control scheme is intuitive and user-friendly, the menus and NPC interactions are accessible, and the flight and combat mechanics are simplistic with just the right amount of depth to provide an engaging tactical experience. Furthermore, over the years of playing this game, I have encountered but a single bug, easily repaired via the official patch. In short, though it feels much more arcade-like than other space sims, Freelancer will still provide an engaging and altogether fun experience.
As unique as the gameplay is, it may come as a surprise that the singleplayer storyline is anything but unique. A simple tale of of a down-on-his-luck space jockey who is drawn into a complex scheme involving the four superpower Houses and a mysterious alien race...it sounds like half the games in the genre. The difference here, however, is the fact that the story is extremely well paced and very engaging. Voice acting is superb, cutscenes are nicely done with smooth and natural animations, and nearly everything serves to move the story forward. Though the age of the Freelancer engine is quite evident in this time of Unreal and Crytek engines, everything is designed so well that, once you are drawn into the game, you nearly forget that it is eight years old.
Of course, singleplayer is but one aspect of Freelancer, for there is an expansive and enjoyable multiplayer mode as well. Designed more like an MMO, multiplayer will, as in the singleplayer campaign, start you out in the weakest ship on the safest planet. It is up to you to take combat missions, trade, mine, or even pirate to gain credits for the upgrading of your ship and weapons. While this is undoubtedly more tedious than playing through a scripted campaign, many servers support Roleplaying which adds a much-needed layer of depth and intrigue.
Thus far, I have focused on the original or "vanilla" game, but there is one last aspect to Freelancer which, in my opinion, is the crown jewel in the list of Microsoft's achievements here. Modifications, or "mods" as they are called by the modding community, have taken the original Freelancer and expanded upon it, adding new stories, new ships, new locations, new weapons, new equipment, and so on and so forth. I'm told that this is one of the most easily moddable games in existence due to the straightforward and non-proprietary file formats. There are so many mods for Freelancer, in fact, that even eight years worth of playing has not been enough to test them all out. The most fascinating part of this, however, is the fact that (almost) every mod brings something unique to the table. There are so many variations on the continuation of the original story (or completely new and unique stories) that it boggles the mind. This is the true measure of the worth Freelancer, the very fact that, not only have these mods continuously been released for eight years, but that they show no sign of slowing. The devotion of the players of Freelancer cannot be denied, no more than the intangible charm of this game be ignored.
With the upcoming release of such games as Black Prophecy, Jumpgate Evolutions, and Infinity: the Quest for Earth; Freelancer may, at long last, take a back seat among the space sim community, but I have high doubts as to whether it will ever truly disappear into the mists of history. Such is the sheer amount of fun this game presents. I, for one, intend to keep my copy safe for years to come, and I heartily recommend to anyone who seeks a thoroughly enjoyable experience to go out and purchase your own. You will not be disappointed.