Freewheeling and open-ended space epics don't come along too often, which is a shame because if there is any setting that screams "open-ended" it is outer space. Games such as the classic Privateer that have tread these waters before have earned a special place in the hearts of many gamers. Freelancer has clearly been inspired by its predecessors in this sub-genre, and for the most part it proves itself a worthy entry in the field.
Freelancer follows the adventures of Edison Trent, a freelance spacefarer who runs into a spot of bad luck in the form of a sabotaged space station that takes a big business deal, and his sizable investment, down with it. As Trent, you must rebuild your wealth while working to find the cause of the disaster. To accomplish this, you must take on a series of missions that will take you through a universe filled with different worlds, systems, stations, and a number of competing factions on both sides of the law.
|In orbit around an Earth-like world.|
So is Trent a merchant or a mercenary? A bounty hunter or a deputy of law enforcement? The answer is: you decide. The missions that make up the game's storyline are only a part of the whole. Freelancer's universe is filled with factions: navy, police, corporations, raiders, smugglers, and many more. Each faction has a relationship, both good and bad, with the other factions in the game. As you can imagine, the police don't get along too well with the smugglers, while the police and navy hold each other in good regard. When you accept and complete a mission for a particular faction, you raise your standing in their eyes. Of course, you'll also earn the ire of any opposing factions in the process. If you maintain a good or neutral reputation with a faction, you'll be able to freely enter their bases and conduct commerce with them. If your reputation is bad, you risk being attacked on sight. So if you run a lot of smuggling missions, you'll become a smuggler and be offered contraband cargo runs while having to dodge the police and navy. Track down fugitives for the police, and you'll become a bounty hunter welcome at police bases everywhere but will suffer constant attack by raiders and other factions on the wrong side of the law. You can even choose to run some missions for everyone, carefully maintaining a neutral reputation. This can be especially profitable since you'll have access to many different planets and bases and the goods sold there, while avoiding attacks along the way.
The game encourages you to go out and explore on your own in several ways. First, you are free to decide when you want to take on your next story-based mission. In theory, you could play the game and build up quite a fortune without ever taking on a story-based mission. Second, the game prevents you from playing the story missions back to back. The next story mission will often be locked until you gain another level. Experience is measured in terms of your net worth, so you need to collect enough money trading cargo or completing missions to advance. You'd also be advised to take on a few extra missions before progressing the story so that you can begin the mission with a large bankroll and a fully-upgraded ship. Finally, Freelancer never ends. You can complete the game's story, but at that point you are still free to continue exploring the game's universe and to take on random missions.