WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This article may reveal major plot points, especially considering the game had either been released recently or not in specific countries yet.
Descent: FreeSpace - The Great War & FreeSpace 2 (The first game is also known as Conflict: FreeSpace - The Great War) are space shooter flight simulations developed by Volition and published by Interplay Productions. The first game was released on June 15, 1998 and the second was released on September 30, 1999. An expansion to the original FreeSpace called Silent Threat was released in 1998 at an unknown date. They both released on Microsoft Windows to positive reception, but the second suffered from poor sales. An Amiga version of the original released on December 2001. In 2002, Volition released the source code for FreeSpace 2 online for non-commercial license.
Warning: The "Plot" section contains spoilers on the stories of thee two games in the series. Skip to the "Why It Rocks" section if you don't want to be spoiled on the series plot points.
In the year 2335, it is the fourteenth war between the Terrans and the Vasudans. During a point in the conflict, a squadron of Terran fighters are destroyed by an unknown enemy, with only one pilot surviving. He tries to inform allies in the system about the attack, but is killed. Unable to find solid evidence about a new threat, the Galactic Terran Alliance, or GTA, try to cover it up as best as possible, and the war continues between the Terrans and the Vasudans.
However, more evidence of a new threat appears during the war, eventually leading the new enemy to attack both Terrans and Vasudans and devastating both sides. A ceasefire is issued between the Terrans and Vasudans as they form together to fight this new race, dubbed the Shivans. Unfortunately, the Shivans are a much bigger threat than anticipated, as they can't be tracked by current radar systems and their craft have a shielding system around them. To even the odds, the GTA and the PVE manage a strike against Shivan cargo depots to gain their weaponry and shielding, as well as data to help combat them.
Soon after the ceasefire is issued, a Vasudan cult known as "The Hammer of Light" rises up. They are a group who worship the Shivans and begin to start attacks on both the GTA and PVE. While dealing with the Hammer of Light, the alliance uses their newly developed shield technology to their craft and capture a Shivan cruiser. However, after its capture, the Shivan dreadnought Lucifer is sent and destroys the captured ship and many of the alliances ships as well. It is soon discovered the Lucifer is possessed with powerful shield technology that can't be penetrated by current weaponry.
Using the Lucifer to their advantage, the Shivans begin a strike on the Terran and Vasudan homeworlds, starting with Vasuda Prime. The alliance begins a defensive against the forces, but are interfered by Hammer of Light forces. During the defensive, the Terrans manage to destroy a Shivan destroyer, but lose one of their flagships, the Galatea. Destroying all opposition, the Lucifer begins a bombing on Vasuda Prime. After the strike, the alliance begins to escort Vasudan refugees to nearby worlds. The Shivans then begin preparations for their strike for Sol.
As the Shivans begin their plans for assault on Sol, the alliance receives news of a discovery on the Altair system. They learn of a race known as the Ancients who had made a galactic empire thousands of years ago, but where wiped out by the Shivans. Prior to their annihilation, they had made a technology that could track ships in subspace and learned Shivan shielding technology doesn't work in subspace, which the Lucifer uses. Upon learning this, the alliance begins an assault on the Lucifer while it's in subspace to the Sol system. The strike team manages to destroy the Lucifer while it just enters Sol, but its destruction destroys the Sol jump node, isolating Sol from the alliance. This ends the "Great War".
After the destruction of the Lucifer and the end of the Great War, the GTA and the PVE are trying to rebuild their systems while also trying to eliminate the rest of the Shivans. However, their alliance is about to crumble and is in poor state. To prevent this from happening, the GTI (Galactic Terran Intelligence) is ordered to prevent this from happening. They are also assigned to take out the remaining Shivan forces. During engagements, the GTI find a science vessel known as the Einstein that had been recorded as lost in the Great War appear during a Vasudan escort mission.
As engagements between the remaining Shivans continue, the GTI discover that the last of the Shivan forces are disorganized. This leads the alliance to send full-scale strikes on Shivan strongholds, with much success. This leads to the re-population of the systems the strongholds occupied. However, as the last of the Shivan resistance is crushed, the GTI learn that higher officers of the GTI are attempting to cover up plans for a conflict against the GTA by going after the only ship that knows of the plot: the GTA Krios. The pilots sent by the Krios to fight the last of the Shivan threat return early with knowledge of the plot. The GTA learn that many of the members of the GTI have gone rogue. The few loyal GTI members join the GTA battle groups to fight off the rogue GTI forces.
After destroying the headquarters of the GTI, the GTA receive word that a Vasudan destroyer known as the Hope was crippled by a new GTI dreadnought known as the Hades. Evidence shows that the GTI had known about the Shivans much earlier than the rumors of a new threat began. They declared the Einstein destroyed so the vessel could investigate the Shivans instead. Furthermore, the Hades was also planned to be used in the Vasudan War until the ceasefire was announced. During the Great War, they even took Shivan supplies to enhance the Hades. Their rebellion was planned so that they could one day overthrow the GTA and dissolve the ceasefire. The GTI also assaulted the Krios because they learned a pilot learned of the plot from officers on the Einstein. Learning this, the alliance send a massive assault on the Hades and destroy the vessel, and the alliance continue to rebuild their systems.
32 years after the collapse of the Terra jump-node, much has changed. The Galactic Terran Alliance and the Parliamentary Vasudan Empire have joined together to form the GTVA, the Galactic Terran Vasudan Alliance. Despite the alliance, there is still opposition on the Terran side, and those rebels have come to form the NTF, the Neo-Terran Front. Hoping to end the conflict, the GTVA set up a campaign against the NTF and find that one of the most decorated of the GTVA's leaders, Admiral Bosch, is leading the front. The effort to stop him ends badly, and the GTVA begins more strikes against the NTF. However, before they can commence, they discover the Shivans returned, along with a strange artificial jump-node. Scientists believe that if they can harness the node, they may be able to find away to open up a gate back to Terra. Once they secure the node, they discover a nebula crawling with Shivans, along with an NTF crusiser known as the Trinity. However, efforts to capture the Trinity are futile and it is destroyed by the Shivans.
Stopping the Shivans soon becomes the focus of the GTVA, but eventually, the efforts of NTF become high-priority once again. Eventually, the GTVA begins an attack on a large NTF space station with their biggest super weapon, the GTVA Colossus, the largest and most powerful battleship ever created. The attack is successful, and a major part of the NTF resistance has been destroyed.
After the victory against the NTF, war efforts are again focused on the Shivans in the nebula. This begins the opportunity to test out many new weapons against the Shivan offensive. Using the new tech, the GTVA manages to destroy one of the Shivan's Ravana-class ships. Later, Bosch launches an assault on the artificial jump-node. While the NTF loses many ships, Bosch gets away into the nebula. While chasing him, the GTVA discovers the Shivans are working on their own super weapon, the Sathanas class dreadnought. The dreadnought soon enters Terran-Vasudan space, but after a desperate offensive, the Sathanas proves no match for the Colossus. However, heavy losses are amounted on both sides.
As the GTVA resumes conflict on the NTF, but soon discover Bosch has been contacting the Shivans. The GTVA realize that the artificial jump-gate was created by Bosch, who had been taking artifacts from archaeological sites looking into the Ancients, and hoped to contact the Shivans and present them with the artifacts. The Shivans reply to his message. They take Bosch and destroy his cruiser. The GTVA manages to save some of the crew and pursue the transport carrying Bosch, and discover a second artificial jump-node. They attempt to secure it, but their efforts are stopped by another Sathanas-class ship. The GTVA is forced to retreat from the nebula.
The GTVA creates a plan to stop the Shivan invasion while they evacuate civilians from the nearby sectors. They decide if they can try to create a meson explosion inside the two jump-nodes by detonating old Great-War era vessels, they can collapse the nodes and stop the invasion. The plan works, but with heavy losses. The GTVA loses the Colossus, and the remaining forces try to defend the evacuation while the ships detonate. However, the remaining forces detect many Sathanas-class dreadnoughts, which then detonate the system's star. This causes it to go supernova, destroying all friendly and enemy forces in the system. The player can chose to escape the system, or die protecting the evacuation. In the end, the player's commanding officer, Admiral Petrarch, discusses everything the GTVA lost in the conflict. However, he ends by saying the GTVA is now able to create their own subspace gates, which may lead to being able to get back to Terra.
In both games, players control fighter craft and go on missions in the campaign. Each mission have primary, secondary, and possibly bonus objectives to complete. Before a mission, players can customize their weaponry and ship type for their mission, along with the ships and gunnery of their wingmen. During a mission, the players progress through the level following their objectives, eventually leading to completion or failure of the level. Players will participate in dogfights in every mission, where they square of against enemy forces using their weaponry. They can command their wingmen to do different tasks such as attacking the player's target and defending another ship. Players can also swap the power between each of their three main subsystems. During the campaign, there will occasionally be a report of the game world that progresses the story. Players will also gain new ships and weaponry to use throughout the story.
Why They Rock
- Beautiful graphics that hold up well, even today. All of the spaceships look detailed, even the smallest ships have their own visible emblems and plating effects. The explosions in particular, especially from the biggest ships, are amazing to watch, and have their own particle and wave effects from them. Finally, the varied space backdrops look detailed and are nice to look at.
- Unlike most other space combat games, where the action revolves around the player, the gameplay revolves around the player being a small part of a larger battle in most missions, such as fighting enemy squadrons alongside large cap ships fighting against each other.
- Large amount of level variety between both games. Some of the missions range from simple, such as protecting a cap ship or exploring a nebula. However, later missions are more complex and can affect later levels, such as destroying the beam cannons of a large cap ship in one mission to help a friendly cap ships chances of survival in the next.
- Well designed AI. Not only do the enemies do whatever they can to get on your tail or head you off in normal fights, they also adapt to the larger space battles, such as trying to send the player crashing into capital ships.
- Many different types of ships to fly, from quick and easily maneuverable light fighters to heavy and slow bombers that can carry tons of missiles. Even some ships from the original game return, with some minor differences.
- Large amounts of cannons, missiles, and bombs to customize your fighter with. Each of the guns have their own different stats, such as rapid firing heavy guns or well rounded lasers. The missiles and bombs also have their own abilities, such as powerful non-tracking missiles and accurate bombs that disable subsystems. Besides ship customization, you can even customize your wingmen's fighters and weaponry.
- When in space flight, you have many different control options when flying your ship. Some of these options are basic, like targeting a craft in front of you or switching and firing your guns. Then there are the more advanced options, such as diverting power between your three subsystems and communicating with your wingmen. In fact, there are so many options, the many different controls take up almost the entire keyboard.
- Speaking of which, the power division system is really complex and is fun to use. You can divert power between your Gun, Shield, and Engine systems (Guns and Engines in the early missions of the original). Changing power in Guns varies your laser recharge, altering power in Shields changes shield recharge rate, and changing Engine power determines your afterburner recharge rate. You can change the levels of these systems around to create combinations to fit the mission.
- Well designed tutorial levels do a good job of explaining the most commonly used systems in the game, as they have a slower pace that makes the information easy to take in. They can also be skipped entirely if you are already familiar with the game's controls.
- The large cap ship battles are amazing to watch and are made even better by the looks of the graphics. You watch the ships fire missiles and lasers at each other and even spectacular beam cannons that cut through the ships like butter.
- The communication system is really deep and intricate. You can communicate with all of your wingmen to do different options such as attacking your target or subsystem. You can also call in for reinforcements and even a craft that can restock your missiles, but it will leave you vulnerable.
- Unlike other combat flight simulators, where you can just destroy the enemies, you can also target the subsystems of any enemy craft. You can disable them to do different effects on them in battle. For example, you can disable an enemy's engine subsystem to prevent them from recharging their shields. You can do the same with the large cap ships, but you can also destroy or disable their turrets. Be careful though, as your foes can also disable your subsystems if you aren't careful.
- In addition to targeting the subsystems of enemy craft, you can also target and destroy the turret defenses of the enemy cap ships.
- Many levels in both of the games. In addition, a lot of the missions are very memorable, including:
- Playing Judas (FreeSpace) - Sneak into Shivan territory using a captured Dragon-class ship. Your goal is to scan all Shivan vessels that enter the area without being detected.
- Good Luck (FreeSpace) - The final level of the original FreeSpace. Take out the Lucifer's generators before the time limit while protecting your bomber wing. To make it even harder, your shields are disabled.
- Feint! Parry! Riposte! (FreeSpace 2) - Attack two NTF cruisers, hoping to lure the NTF admiral's flagship in the open.
- ...But Hate the Traitor (FreeSpace 2) - Part of the three mission "SOC Loop 1", your cover as a spy is blown halfway through the mission. It's now a pure dogfight.
- Endgame (FreeSpace 2) - Fend off the NTF's blockade until the arrival of the GTVA Colossus.
- High Noon (FreeSpace 2) - The epic confrontation between the Colossus and the Sathanas. Performance from the previous mission affect which version of the level you get.
- Clash of the Titans II (FreeSpace 2) - Escort the Bastion to the jump node before it's destroyed. Homage to the Clash of the Titans mission from the first game.
- A great story that is amazing in both entries. FreeSpace's story is well written and introduces the main enemy in a the clever way of being literally unstoppable early in the game. The second game's story is even better, with an unclear ending and the interesting NTF side-plot.
- In addition to the great stories, the in-game cinematics look and feel awesome. The opening title screen cinematic of FreeSpace 2 in particular is amazing to watch, which shows and epic space battle against the GTA and the Shivans, with an exciting chase scene between two fighter craft.
- Based on your performance in the missions, you may be awarded with medals and increase in your rank. These are gained by following mission objectives perfectly or by completing a secret objective. You also gain Ace pins for destroying a large amount of enemies. While these medals don't really serve any purpose, they are a nice and fun way to show your skill.
- The presentation of the game menus is very nice, mostly in the main game menu. You select your campaign menu, quit the game, and look at game information in a menu that resembles the interior of a starship. The way the menu is presented even changes based on where your player has been assigned to in the campaign.
- Outside of the missions, there is a database where you can read about the lore of the games. You can read about the culture and anatomy of the aliens, look over the stats and designs of the ships, and re-watch the cutscenes.
- The voice acting, while not perfect, is very well done and effectively puts the weight of your mission on your shoulders.
- Well balanced difficulty, allowing both games to be easy to get into for newcomers, while also providing a fair challenge for veterans of the genre. In addition, there are five difficulty modes, making it easy for anyone can play the games.
- An amazing soundtrack that gets the blood pumping. It ranges from ambient tones to intense and rapid beats.
- In addition, the soundtrack is dynamic, meaning the score changes based on what is going on in the mission, similar to Wing Commander.
- Just like the player ships, there are a lot of variety in the enemy ships. These range from the Shivan bomber craft to the pirate versions of the Hercules fighters from the original game. In addition, the enemies even have access to weaponry that is not accessible to the player, such as the all-powerful Shivan Heavy Laser.
- Unique ship designs in both games. All of the fighters, bombers, and cap ships are memorable and no two ships look alike. The alien characters also look unique, especially the Shivan's spider-like design.
- Fun multiplayer modes. You can play with other players using LAN or over the internet to do PvP deathmatches, or cooperate in multiplayer missions, such a team trying to destroy the opposing team's cap ship. You can even join matches that are already in progress. Finally, there are also leaderboards to track your stats. And, similar to the single-player missions, you can select any ship and weapons for the match.
- The games even come with a level creator called FRED, allowing you to create your own levels and campaigns with the in-game assets. It's not a simple level creator either. You can create missions that have the same complexity as the levels in the main game, with allowing you to create event triggers, set AI levels, and even add your own voice-overs to your custom mission briefing.
- While it is a little generic, the credits scenes are nice to look at, with still in-game pictures and some concept art for the game's ships and creatures.
- Back-to-back missions. In these missions, when you complete one mission, and then you are sent to the next mission immediately with all remaining damage and missiles. These are good for keeping you on your toes and working to play the best you can in case one of these pop up.
- There are also alternate versions of missions in the game that add or remove objectives or affect the status of ships. For example, if you don't keep your wingman alive in the first mission, you won't have a chance to confront the ace in mission two.
- While the campaign is decent, the Silent Threat expansion adds more content to the original game, including 40 new levels, a new campaign, fan-made levels, and new ship and weapons types.
- The game improves all of the previous game's systems, as well as fixing some of its flaws, such as updating the graphics and making the multiplayer more stable.
- The nebula missions. Unlike the standard space missions, the nebula missions are scout and exploration missions that take advantage of the nebula environment's defining feature: the limited visibility and radar detection.
- Lots of modding support for the game, despite being over 20 years old. The game has even been given unofficial fan updates over the years such as the FS2Open mod, which enhances the game's graphics and sound, gives you a few extra campaigns, and even puts the original FreeSpace in FreeSpace 2's engine.
- A few new gameplay mechanics are included in the game, such as the "Engine Wash" system, in which you constantly take damage and jerk around while flying behind a large cap ship, but have the trade off of being at the cap ship's weak spot.
- Because the game is a flight simulator and therefore being built around playing with a joystick, it can be hard to play without a peripheral of some kind.
- Due to the way the game is designed, it can take a long time to take down capital ships with your wingmen.
- The many different control options can be overwhelming.
- There are no level checkpoints. If you fail a level, you have to start the whole mission over again which can be annoying for some players. Some missions can even take over ten minutes to complete.
- The online multiplayer is very buggy. There is a lot of lag in the games and the stat tracker can be inaccurate.
- While they are well designed, the back-to-back missions can be very hard to complete if you had taken a lot of damage in the last mission. Sometimes, they can even be game-ending to less experienced players.
- Some very difficult missions in the main campaign that can be difficult to finish, such as the excellent but frustrating "Playing Judas" mission, where you must scan enemy vessels without being detected.
- The graphics haven't aged as well as the second game's. The textures are a lot more blurry and the backgrounds aren't as well detailed.
- The missions are not very memorable and are mostly just the same escort and assault type missions.
- Emotionless voice acting during the mission briefings that doesn't absorb you into the world or put weight on you shoulders.
- No cutscenes to progress the story, unlike the main campaign.
- The story isn't as strong as the main campaign and feels more like a rehash of the main campaign's story.
- Some of the fan-made levels have glaring typos and are poorly designed, with the exception of The Destiny of Peace.
- Even though the story is really excellent, the main story of the game is still the "defeat the evil alien that's going to wipe out humanity" trope that's common with most of these games.
The original FreeSpace received positive reception upon release. It currently has a 82% on GameRankings. The game sold over 100,000 copies. The re-release on GOG.com and Steam have user review scores of 4.7/5 and 7/10 respectively. Reception to Silent Threat, however, was less positive. It was considered decent, but not inspiring.
FreeSpace 2 received critical acclaim from critics and gamers alike. Unfortunately, despite the acclaim, the game was a commercial failure. The game has a score of 91/100 and 92% on Metacritic and GameRankings respectively. Sales totaled 26,983 copies by the end of 1999 in the U.S. The game currently has a 7/10 and 4.8/5 on Steam and GOG.com respectively.
Over the years, the games would develop a strong cult following and are popular games for modding.
- Whenever you are in an escort level, the Shivans will usually send both bombers and fighters against your forces. Always go for the bombers, as they will do the most damage to what you are protecting. Then send your wingmen to attack the fighters.
- If you are in a normal fighter, it may not be a good idea to attack a cap ship, as standard fighters don't have enough power to destroy a capital ship. However, they can be useful for picking off their cannons and subsystems to help your teammates take out the cap ship easier.
- There are two different main types of ships: fighters and bombers. The fighter type ships should be used the most. Only use the bombers when you are doing strike missions against very large ships, like the attack against the Eva in the original game.
- Try not to attack an enemy fighter head on, as you will sustain a heavy amount of damage. It's best to stay a little far away from the enemy when they are flying toward you, and then swing behind them once they fly past you. This will allow to to be on their tail and easily destroy an enemy without risking damage.
- When following a target from behind, match speed so you won't collide and take damage.
- Despite the original being called Descent: FreeSpace - The Great War, the game actually isn't related to the Descent series in any way. It was given that heading to avoid trademark issues with Mijenix Corporation's "FreeSpace", a disk compression utility.
- On December 14, 1999, Hyperion Entertainment acquired the license to port FreeSpace to Amiga. Hyperion stated that they would port over Silent Threat to Amiga as well if the FreeSpace port sold well. However, FreeSpace didn't sell well on Amiga and Silent Threat still hasn't been ported to Amiga.
- The second game took less than a year to develop.
- FreeSpace 2 was originally supposed to have some atmospheric battles in the campaign, but the idea was dropped due to time constraints, along with some weapon types.
- Unlike the previous game in the series, there was barely any marketing for FreeSpace 2, as there were no press releases or contests to help promote the game, which may have contributed to its financial failure.
- A FreeSpace 3 was going to be developed, but was cancelled, leaving the rest of the storyline unfinished.
- In addition, Volition was interested in creating expansions to FreeSpace 2, but their publisher Interplay rejected the idea.
Notable FreeSpace 2 Mods
- Beyond the Red Line and Diaspora: Shattered Armistice: two Battlestar Galactica themed mods.
- Wing Commander Saga: a fan-made total conversion extension the Wing Commander games.
- Star Fox: Event Horizon, a fan extension to the Star Fox game series.
- FreeSpace: Blue Planet, a total conversion mod and a fan made sequel to FreeSpace 2.