Freelancer – Part 5

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My first goal is to head for Leeds to meet up with Tobias, who is a Bretonian ship dealer who raised me as his own. This does beg the question where I got the American accent but I’ll let it pass. Getting to him is problematic with a load of bounty hunters out to get me but I struggle there in the end making a stop on the way.

Tobias, who is unmistakably voiced by John Rhys Davies, gives me some good advice which is to get another ship so I’m not recognised. He even throws some money my way and tells me to head for the ship dealer on New London which I immediately do. I’m not exactly overwhelmed with choice on ships when I get there and choose the Cavalier sticking to the fighting rather than trading route. On a side note, the architecture on all these worlds is really distinctive with this system bringing some of the best so far.

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My new ship is a clear improvement and allows for an extra gun which can never be a bad thing. After flying several missions, Juni invites me over to Cambridge where we pose as potential donors to Professor Quintaine’s research. He’s not an easy guy to fund as no one knows where he is but we do get a lead to an ex-colleague who is doing research in the middle of nowhere. At the last minute we learn that the Rheinlanders were also wanting to make a donation today…

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We quickly fly off to the planet in the middle of nowhere and when we get there some Rheinland ships come out of cloak just early enough to not surprise us. They also stay out of cloak for the entire fight which is losing a trick if you ask me and they are just like any other ship in combat. I always liked fighting Strakha which were more liberal with their use of cloak and I’m surprised not to see it used here. As it is, we soon clear the skies and search around on the planet for the dig site where we expect to find Quintaine’s colleague.

It’s hard not to notice that the plot in this game has definite overtones of other Wing Commander games with newly discovered cloaking technology being one of them. We’ve had some nameless traitors within the LSF but we ought to get someone more high profile before the end of the story if it’s going to be true to form.

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Maybe it will be our new associate although she doesn’t seem the most likely. She is a scientist who has been doing research into the long missing aliens and claims to be close to understanding their language. She is also the one who found our purple egg artefact in the first place but doesn’t seem to know any more about it than we do.

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About this time, more Rheinlanders show up and start bombing the base. We escape in the nick of time and run away to the nearest nebula.

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It may be in a nebula but this next base doesn’t prove to be any safer, which shouldn’t have come as a shock being all of 30 seconds flight away from the planet. We launch once more in the nick of time, this time staying to fight rather than running away. After another successful fracas, we decide to try to get back to Tobias in Leeds which is several systems away. On the route we find a pair of turncoat Rheinlanders who refused to fire on a civilian transport and want to defect. While we have been chasing around looking for alien egg experts, war is slowly breaking out in the system with the apparent cause being our artefact. All exits from the system are allegedly blocked which is why the ex-Rheinlanders need our help but they know of a lightly guarded little known jump point.

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When we get to the jump point, the Rheinland military have already thrown their proverbial towel over it and a battleship is in the way. Our new wingmen may not want to take out civilians but downing one of their own battleships poses no such problem. They cloak, fly to point blank range and then take it out with torpedoes leaving us with just a handful of fighters to deal with. We all make it safely to Leeds where we split up once again pursuing individual leads while I’m left to be the breadwinner.


This means yet more combat missions which do at last start to vary slightly. The first involves taking out a station which admittedly just means shooting it a lot at close range but it’s not a fighter at least. Another mission throws some weapons platforms into the mix, which are kind of like large missile launching mines. It all seems a little basic compared to fighting some of the capships in older games I could mention but there may be bigger and better waiting for later.

Another 10,000 credits or so later, Juni sends me off to the Dublin system to track down someone she thinks may be able to help. She expects him to be on a particular battleship which I fly to and will see if I can find him in the bar next time.

I’m definitely hooked on this game at this point although I’m not sure how long that would last without the story campaign driving me on. The freelancing missions are in dire need of more variety and I’ve only had the barest signs of it coming 8 hours and counting into my playthrough. When it’s only 2 or 3 of these freelancing missions at a time, this isn’t an issue though. The mouse combat has grown on me, and there is a decent level of challenge to the gameplay now without it being too hard. The controls are so radically different from a typical space sim, it has almost changed the genre to something closer to FPS but I’m always up for something a little different as long as it’s still fun. I’m very glad that Star Citizen will have joystick controls though.

Freelancer – Part 4

This will be a short post as I only had about half an hour to spare but I did make it to the end of the next mission.

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From the moment we launch, things don’t go well. The bodies we left behind yesterday have been found and hordes of LSF ships appear from nowhere closing off all the jump points. After a frantic minute trying to stay alive, Walker appears with his missing fleet, takes out the ship blocking the jump point and we run away to a hidden base in the badlands.

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Juni’s associate is all alone on this station monitoring some sort of spatial anomaly. He agrees to help despite the two of us being named Liberty’s most wanted on the news. He starts by analysing our artefact but all he can do is confirm it’s active and point us to an expert in the subject on Cambridge. At this point the LSF who for some reason we didn’t think would come out this far despite us being their most wanted appear. We are to escape via a long disused jump gate.

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We hang around for a while trying to save the base but don’t stand a chance and end up running for the jump gate. We are greeted by a horde of bounty hunters eager for the price on our heads at the other side. The soon apparent truth after getting blown up half a dozen time is that my ship isn’t up to this fight.

After enough attempts I make it through by luck, cowardice and a lot of evasive manoeuvring. It doesn’t hurt that the Lane Hackers decide to come along and help purely on the basis that an enemy of Liberty is their buddy. They take out all the opposition while I’m otherwise occupied trying to get as far away as possible. We even get an invite to their secret base at the end of the fight.

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After that last mission, I take this as my cue to upgrade my ship and the base is well stocked so I treat myself to a new gun, thruster and shield generator. It appears to do the trick as the next stage of the mission is a breeze although there were only a handful of Rheinland fighters to contend with. We jump out of system and I split up with Juni. She goes to Cambridge to find out what our artefact is and just why everyone wants it, while I return home to Leeds to track down an associate and start fundraising again.

Freelancer – Part 3

I’ve spent half the weekend installing Windows 8 on various PC’s for family and myself, which has been relatively painless although my HTPC is currently a blank slate after being upgraded from XP. My usual opinion with new versions of Windows is that I’m going to end up buying it sooner or later so it may as well be sooner while it’s cheap. The good news is that Freelancer and just about everything else I’ve tried works fine. Hypersnap 7 didn’t want to capture screenshots but it appears to be redundant anyway since this functionality is now built-in by pressing Start + Printscreen. That’s one improvement at least. I’m reserving judgement on Metro but I can live with it.

When I left Freelancer on Thursday, I’d completed the first 3 missions and was trying to fundraise to get the next. This required just one more mission before I was called back to Manhattan.

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No sooner do I arrive than I’m accosted once again by the guy that owes me a small fortune. I don’t get my million credits but he does feel he owes me an incoherent warning about a conspiracy of some description. Before I can realise he got the better end of that deal, he runs off warning me not to follow. When I ask at the bar, it turns out Juni isn’t even here and I have to fly out of system to California Minor.

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Another Freeport 7 survivor called Rowlett meets me en-route by the jump gate. I really want to know how do all these people know where I am all the time but before I can ask the military show up and deal with him extremely harshly.

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I’m hoping Juni might have some answers to all this when I arrive. She has word of a traitor in the Liberty Security Forces and wants to lure them out using a convoy of alien artefacts which I’m to escort.

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The conversation is interrupted by a news report about Rowlett who is reported as being the leader of the criminal group known as the Order. All this seems dubious to say the least.

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Dubious or not, we have a convoy to escorted through an icy cloud to a remote station. We are intercepted in the middle which marks the first and only time I’ve died playing this game so far. Freelancer uses a save point system which avoids having to go all the way back to the start again and I reload on the outskirts of the ice cloud. With the times involved flying to places in this game it’s a welcome concession to modern gamers.

Second time around, I know what to expect and put far more effort into staying out of trouble. I really should have upgraded my ship at this point but it’s just about good enough for me to scrape through with a lot of help from Juni.

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We land and repair but the mission isn’t over yet and I’m still stuck with this same ship for the rest of it. The next part is to travel around with Juni trying to find information about the pirate attack. Once in space, she informs me that her commanding officer has been arrested for treason and all her friends at the LSF have disappeared. Something very strange is going on within the LSF. To rub in the bad news, we are attacked on the way by a squad of Rheinland Valkyries, what their interest is in all this has yet to be revealed.

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We meet up with one of Juni’s contacts (Walker) back on California Minor. He doesn’t know much but does agree to help, which is worth more than it sounds with him being Captain of a fleet of cruisers.

We meet up with the fleet in space, who we learn has been mysteriously ordered back to base due to irregularities in the maintenance records. When a distress call from Willard Station comes in they ignore these orders and we all proceed to the station for the biggest fire-fight of the game so far. I get a reasonable number of shots in but I’m far busier just staying alive in this encounter. I’m ordered to take out bombers at one point which I just about manage but it’s a good job I’ve got those cruisers to do my work for me later on in the mission.


Juni leaves me to my own devices once again and I fly all the way back to Manhattan to buy a decent ship. My options are limited but I select the Startracker which allows me to mount some beefier guns. The new ship also turns out to have a much higher recharge rate, to the extent that even my new guns can barely drain the power from maximum. It’s still only a marginal improvement to my last ship but it’s a start.

I have to carry out several missions from here to before I get the next invite from Juni. These are still much the same but I’m enjoying them more for some reason. Maybe it’s the better ship, or perhaps I’m just getting used to the controls now. It could be the steady increase in difficulty either, the targets are no longer sitting ducks and I’m having to put a whole lot more effort into both staying alive and getting hits of my own in.

Now I’ve started to upgrade, that’s providing a strong incentive in its own right and the game is opening out and feeling a lot more like Privateer. I’d still rather be flying with a joystick but Freelancer can offer some intense combat and the unusual control scheme does give it a unique twist. If I was going to complain about anything in this session it would be having near identical conversations with the random people in every bar but these can be skipped.

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A lot of exploded space criminals later, Juni wants to meet up again. Word of my travel schedule has clearly gone before me yet again, as the smoking man decides to introduce himself at long last.

He claims to be the only other Freeport 7 survivor who hasn’t vanished or been killed, and that the reason for all the trouble is his purple egg artefact which he stole. That’s all I learn as just like everyone else I’m meeting these days, he gets shot before he can tell all. I nearly go the same way but Juni arrives in the nick of time, and I pocket the artefact.

I learn from Juni that Walker and all his ships have now vanished, allegedly destroyed 5 years ago according to the records. We clearly need to find out what is going on which will be the next mission when I get around to it.

Freelancer – Part 2

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My first task today is to head to the bar and have a look for jobs. I was curious to see what was on offer but it’s frankly a boring bunch of missions all of which amount to fly somewhere and kill rogues. Hopefully there will be more variation later in the game. I pick the highest paying option and accept it. It then turns out I can’t even fly several missions at once which was always a favourite technique in Privateer to speed up progress.

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Once I launch into space it’s a long flight to the battle. Travelling large distances is handled using cruise engines in this game which take ages to charge but quadruple my ship speed when they are going. I can’t fire in this mode making them more or less useless in combat unless running away.

Even with these switched on, journey times are still lengthy and with it all being done by autopilot there is plenty of time to check email, browse the web, etc… This is clearly a game where it’s a good idea to have something else on the go at the same time.  It took me a while to find where I’d put it but I’ve pulled out the Freelancer official guide which I’ll work my way through in these lulls.

When I get there, the battle is more or less the same as I’ve seen before with an extra ship or two then it’s back to the base where I get a near identical mission from one of the people in the bar. Completing this advances me to level 3 and I’m told to report to Manhattan to meet up with Juni again.

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My next mission, should I choose to accept it, is to capture an artifact smuggler who is transporting contraband alien artifacts of some description.

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On the way to my ship, I run into my injured debtor from the intro sequence who is looking physically better but acting more than a little paranoid. He rants about a government conspiracy behind the Freeport destruction how neither of us are safe. It all sounds unlikely until a couple of goons show up, shoot him in the back and stun me with a futuristic cattle prod.


During all this the mysterious smoking man watches on and this time he is packing a purple egg which is no doubt significant in some way. Once again leaving more questions than answers, he throws away another barely touched cigarette and walks off.

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When I wake up, my friend has vanished along with the 1,000,000 credits he owes me. On the bright side, it would have been a short game if he paid up and I now get to carry on with the original mission tracking down this smuggler. I have to fly to another system through a different type of warp gate, then fight a stack more ships. These missions are definitely getting trickier but I’ve not had any great difficulty in finishing each first time so far and I’m still in the original ship. I’m working on the principle that the longer I can hold off on upgrading the less money I’ll waste so I’ll upgrade when I start losing missions.

I’m getting a better feel for the combat now. Unlike Wing Commander, there are no shield zones in this game so it makes no difference where I hit an opponent. If enemy shields recharge, I can’t say I’ve noticed it so there is no pressing need to take enemies down quickly either. I have noticed that different guns damage shields and armour at wildly varying rates and I’ve settled for a combination of types to try to balance this out.

My own shields recharge quite quickly and it appears to be easy to not get hit provided I’m not trying to score hits of my own. I.e. fly around randomly for a bit if you get damaged. I’ve rarely had to do this so far though and as an extra backup there are also shield batteries which instantly recharge your shield to full but have to be bought from dealers. I’ve not even looked at missiles yet so I’ll deal with them if I feel the need to start using them.

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I’m told to disable the smugglers ship. I don’t have ion cannons, leech missiles or the like so this is just a case of shooting him until he doesn’t quite blow up. At this point, he ejects and I get to tractor him in. We then have to fly all the way to a distant military base, fending off yet another attack on the way but I get him there safely and he presumably gets to be tortured into revealing all by the LSF.

I learned a little more about the alien artifacts from King on the journey back. Alien finds have always been dust and ruins in the past but rumour is that these are functional. What that function is, he doesn’t say but I’m guessing some of them look like purple eggs.


I’m left to fend for myself again after this. I fly a couple more random seek-and-destroy missions but don’t earn enough to advance to the next level.

I’m a little underwhelmed now I’m getting into Freelancer. It’s certainly got more plot to it than Starlancer and is by no means a bad game but I’d rather be playing pretty much any Wing Commander. It’s striking a nice balance between story and freelancing with the way mission availability is based around earnings. My main complaint is that the mouse control just isn’t growing on me and the combat is less engaging because of it. Also the non-story missions have been uninspired so far. I think I’m still being slowly introduced to the game however and there’s still plenty of time for everything to pick up. It never helps that I have to stop and write all this stuff up as I’m basically halving my speed of progress. I’ll aim for more playing and less blogging with the next session.


One random thing I noticed was a bar tender called Erin Roberts on one of the space stations.If Chris makes a cameo, I’ve not seen him yet.

I can’t end without saying well done to Star Citizen and all its backers for already passing the 2 million mark. I don’t know where it will end up but the Project Eternity record is looking well within sight at this point and hopefully a good deal more after that.

Freelancer – Part 1


It’s been an age since I did one of these, but if there was ever a time for a playthrough of Freelancer it has to be now. It’s a Chris Roberts space combat/trading game and was published back in 2003 by Microsoft after many delays. Unknown to me until recently, it appears to still have a sizable following due to a strong modding community and its multiplayer aspects. I’ll just be looking at the single player campaign though which is my primary interest in this sort of game and I’ll save the multiplayer until Star Citizen arrives.

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The FMV intro sets the scene with 5 huge motherships fleeing the war on Earth between the coalition and the alliance (as portrayed in Starlancer) to find a new home in a distant system. This story is set 800 years after these events.


On starting a game, the cutscenes swap to using the game engine which is just as well since this game came on a single CD. In a scene slightly reminiscent of the start of WC4, Freeport 7 is destroyed by a mysterious group of fighters.


We then cut to a planet where my character (Edison Trent) is just landing in a rescue shuttle having survived the attack but lost his ship in the process. He establishes his hardened freelancer credentials by not showing any concern for the injured co-passenger other than the money he owes him. The camera then pans away to a guy smoking a cigarette for no apparent reason whatsoever. Expect to see him again later whoever he is.

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I finally get control and have a choice of locations to switch between in more or less Privateer style. My primary mission objective, as so often the case in real life, is to find the bar. Once there, I have a quick word with the bartender who suggests I have a chat with Juni on the other side of the room.


Before that I have a look around the bar. I can read news articles which give some plot details as well as suggesting possible lines of trade. The interface here is nowhere near as appealing as Privateer 2 but does the job. There are numerous characters sat around the bar who will give me gossip if I talk to them. The way this is handled is a bit clunky as there is a cutscene with full speech but the actual rumour is done with text afterwards. The reasons are obvious but I think it would be better without the cutscene.


I talk to Juni who works for the local security forces. As luck would have it she is looking for a Freelancer and offers me an easy escort mission which I’m hardly in a position to turn down.

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We head over to the ship dealer and she even throws in a free ship. It does look pathetically small when I’m launching into space but it’s free and I’m sure I’ll be flying something more impressive in no time.

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The moment I arrive in space, it’s another cutscene as an Admiral arrives for a summit with the planet’s President. Before he makes it, more mystery ships arrive and blow him up. I’ve not even figured out what I’m doing yet but still get to join in the dogfighting.

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This is where it all starts to get a little odd, at least for a space sim vet like myself, as Freelancer has mouse control and is third person. The way I remember it, the idea of having to buy a joystick to play a game at this time was not something most gamers would be prepared to do so this was perhaps the smart option to appeal the majority of potential customers but it does alienate people like myself to a large degree.

There are two flight modes, one where I have mouse steering and just move my mouse around to steer – this is what I’ve been using most of the time. The other uses the keyboard to turn. Since I’m using the mouse to both steer and aim, combat is basically just trying to move a mouse pointer onto a moving target. I’m not really aware of consciously steering the ship, as just following the target always steers me toward it anyway. It works well enough but it does seem like a big compromise on first impressions. However, I’ve only played a couple of missions so it may grow on me as I learn more and things get trickier.


Once space is clear, we have to jump to a new nav point to meet up with the transport we are supposed to be escorting. Jumps in this game work through a series of connected gates which I have to dock with. There is a really cool effect where you speed up and can see distant planets and stations coming rapidly nearer when in these tunnels.


I meet up with the cargo ship, head into the jump lanes again and we are of course intercepted by more pirates and have to fight our way out. I have to say that for a 10 year old game, Freelancer is still looking half decent and hasn’t aged badly at all in the graphics department. There is loads of debris floating around and a lot of colour and detail on all the ships and backgrounds.


With more ships dispatched, we run away in the nick of time and arrive at our destination planet safely. The planets use a similar ring gate system to the jump gates where I have to dock with them to land. The mouse control system here makes all this incredibly easy. I can literally select the gate, click dock and it will fly me all the way there on autopilot. About the only steering I’ve had to do in this game so far is during combat.

When I land I get to meet one of my wingmen (King) who wants me to carry on working for the security forces to hunt down the base the pirates are using which must be nearby. If I learned anything in Privateer, it was never turn down a plot mission so I accept.


I take the chance to upgrade my ship a little first. My options are limited but I buy another gun and a slightly bigger shield. I also tractored in some cargo during the last mission (dropped by some of my opponents while blowing up) which I sell off.


Mission two starts with a detour to protect a transport from another pirate raid. I just about manage this but it’s looking worse for wear by the time we see off the last of them. There is a nice (if unrealistic considering this is space) smoke effect to show the damage on the larger ship.


We get a lead on the pirate base from another pilot and discover it’s in the middle of a dust cloud. This is another chance to show off the engine as the view smoothly transforms from open space to murky dust. We have to see off a couple of weapons platforms while bombers come in and take out the main pirate base. So far the combat has been easy and I manage this without taking too many hits.


With the mission complete I head back to base and am rewarded by the game now being opened up for free play, meaning that I can take on some missions and earn a little money without following the plot. In fact I won’t even get the next mission until I earn enough money.

That’s all I had time for. I wish I could use a joystick but I still like what I’ve seen so far. I’m really curious to see the sorts of missions that will be available but it will have to wait until Thursday.