Blast from the Past

Not too long ago, on a cold winter’s morning, I woke to the fresh brew of Folgers in my cup. It seemed much like any other day. I was still adorned in my PJs, my afro all messed up, and feeling hungry for breakfast – but then something rather unexpected happened. A FedEx truck pulled up outside, though I was not expecting a delivery. “Early Christmas present?” I thought to myself. The FedEx guy duly came to my door, handed me a package, wished me a nice day and left. I did not notice the company name on the package, so this thing could be anything: anthrax, tuberculosis, anything. But I could see no protruding wires, it wasn’t ticking, and so, being as I’m lonely and curious, I opened the package anyway. To my relief and amazement it was a video game, a space simulation called Space Interceptor: Project Freedom. Once I realized what it was I knew I had to review it. So I hope whoever sent me this doesn’t mind me putting my two cents in about Space Interceptor, and if they do?well, too bad, it’s my job.

Developers, City Interactive don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to making great games, but now they seem to be finding their way through their latest space simulation Space Interceptor: Project Freedom. This game is already taking on Star Wars: Rogue Leader-Rogue Squadron II for longest title in a space sim. Not only that, but it also takes us back to a genre of PC gaming long since thought dead.

In Space Interceptor: Project Freedom, you play as a new recruit flying for a mega corporation named Project Freedom. In this particular future there is a huge war being raged between rival corporations as the world is now shaped and molded by money, greed, and a board of manipulative executives (You did say “future”, Brian? – Ed). But who cares? Well, certainly not the developers, especially as the game places no real emphasis on the story, nor do you feel compelled to know more about it. Space Interceptor’s sole motivational objective seems to revolve around blasting at whatever gets in your way. And in that objective it succeeds surprising well.

Although the relative simplicity of the gameplay is definitely a refreshing turn-on, Project Freedom’s lack of depth is directly responsible for placing a potentially good game into the ?simply average at best’ gaming category. The number of usable spaceships in this game reaches a truly outstanding number – one. Yes, you fly only one space interceptor during the whole game. Also, you can only select between three aspects on your ship when you want to focus on upgrading. They are Attack, Speed, and Defense; and they’re not exactly groundbreaking options. Before each mission you have the choice of selecting one of these three aspects for upgrade. At the close of every mission that chosen aspect will evolve until you have a full upgrade. You have no direct control over how your ship looks or the abilities it can sport. Eventually you will max out all 3 aspects and your interceptor will change no further.

The in-game combat can be best described as a temperamental roller coaster. Some parts of the game can seem extremely boring, especially during the first few missions. The A.I. opponents do not display much evasive skill, either; for example, once you get close enough to be in blaster and missile range they are pretty much toast each and every time. In later missions the A.I. does improve, as enemy ships seem able to dodge incoming missiles and form flight formations and attacking and defensive maneuvers. Even with the later A.I. improvement, opposing ships only ever become a minor annoyance. The real difficulty in Space Interceptor arises through the sheer number of enemy bogeys you will eventually have to face. One or two enemies that can dodge missiles and execute flight maneuvers are no problem, but 10, 20, and 30 is altogether a different flavor of enchilada. The same also goes for the ground troops and turrets you will face during missions on planets and other ground-based installations, where you will meet everything from missile turrets to hovercrafts to enemy ?mechs. Although these are much easier to destroy than enemy spacecraft, they are also rather difficult to hit due to the many terrain obstacles the game throws at you. Cliffs, canyons, asteroids, and buildings are all obstructions you will need to avoid while flying at high speeds. But, thankfully, high-speed flight and evasion shouldn’t prove to hard to master, because the flight controls in Space Interceptor are simplistic and tight. Virtually all your control needs can be implemented through the mouse – in short, this may well be the best mouse control system of any PC flight simulation. Conversely, probably the most disappointing aspect of the game is that it offers no multiplayer or LAN play. Even without multi and LAN play, Space Interceptor could have scored considerably more review points if only it had contained a split-screen co-op option and a map editor, both of which are now somewhat of a standard in PC gaming.

The sound in the game is fairly uninspiring, and the voice acting is also weak. Your wingmen indulge more in complimenting your kills and general wisecracking rather than acting as though they are a trained fighter squadron engaged in deadly combat. I’ve heard the phrase “Right between the eyes!” enough times to last me until the rest of my life. The sound effects in Space Interceptor are not the greatest, either. Disappointingly bland explosive effects are only ruined yet further because the developers have reduced the intensity of the blast – because it’s in space. Putting that thoughtful detail into the game was a nice touch, but when your sound effects are not that spectacular to begin with, it really compromises the feeling of authentic combat. The music is not that bad, though. City Interactive chose well by using techno in the game; it perfectly fits the frenetic style of Space Interceptor’s gameplay.

But the bread-and-butter success of Space Interceptor: Project Freedom definitely rests in its graphics. This game is graphically on par with every space sim currently on the market – if not better. Your space interceptor looks sleek and powerful, and looks even better as you progress through the game with upgrades. The environments in the game looks downright beautiful. There are truly gorgeous lighting effects as suns shine against planets or cliffs as you fly swiftly by. Buildings are also lovely to look at – and even more enjoyable to destroy. The game also features an awesome G-force effect when you engage your interceptor’s afterburners; all your surroundings began to blur and you can hardly tell if you are coming or going. Shield and energy effects are also spectacular.

Space Interceptor: Project Freedom may not win any Game of the Year Awards any time soon, but if the series continues, and is improved upon, it could fully realize its obvious potential. The game is fun, but it lacks the true depth needed for extended replay value. It’s hard not to recommend Space Interceptor, especially as it retails for just $19.99USD, and it’s likely to keep space simulation junkies satisfied and craving for more. Modern computer gaming has lost some of the things that put space sims on the map: Tie Fighter, Decent, and Freespace – all now mere memories from the golden days of PC gaming. With Space Interceptor: Project Freedom it’s good to have a game, albeit a flawed one, that brings us back to a time when space simulations ruled the PC.

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