Descent: Freespace 2 - Space Flight Sim Perfection
Descent: Freespace 2 came at a bad time in the space flight sim genre’s history. One of the earlier genres to take advantage of the revolution in processing power brought about by the growing ubiquity of the personal PC, Wing Commander and X Wing Versus TIE Fighter came to personify the industry, and push the boundaries of the flight sim genre as a whole. But the emerging market for other, more twitch oriented PC games slowly killed off both the space and terrestrial flight sim genres, and Freespace 2 became one of the last, and certainly greatest, titles in the genre - unmatched in intensity and immersivity in space battles by all but Sins of a Solar Empire, which isn’t even a space flight sim.
The Plot of Freespace 2
Descent: Freespace 2 continues the story told in the first Freespace game, where the battling forces of Humanity and the Vasudan Empire were mutually bushwhacked and crushed by a xenophobic alien species called the Shivans. These creatures used a powerful super-destroyed to wipe all life from the face of the Vasudan homeworld, and were only stopped from delivering the same doom to Earth by the actions of a few pilots who ambushed this vessel - the Lucifer - and destroyed it in subspace - at the cost of cutting Earth off from the rest of the galaxy.
An important plot point in Descent: Freespace 2 is that it takes place several decades later, where the Humans and Vasudans have formed the Galactic Terran Vasudan Alliance, a sort of NATO in space. After the Great War, the GTVA continued to develop technology and military power capable of resisting any reapparance of the Shivan race. Shield technology, advanced ships, and beam weaponry have all been developed to the point that GTVA ships are judged to be superior to those the Shivans once fielded.
But these galactic orphans are wracked by internal strife. A civil war has broken out in several sectors of space - a resistance group calling itself the Neo-Terran Front has seized several star systems and launched a genocidal campaign against the Vasudans…
Freespace 2 Ships and Fighters
Descent: Freespace 2 puts the gamer in the shoes of a pilot fighting with the GTVA against the NTF. Attached to one of the squadrons aboard the Aquitane, a powerful destroyer that functions as an aircraft carrier and battleship, the gamer begins in the nimble Myrmidon space superiority fighter and progresses through several squadrons flying other staples of the Freespace 2 fighter inventory: The Hercules Mk II Assault Fighter, Perseus Interceptor, and a variety of light and heavy bombers whose job it is to smash enemy capital ships.
Not an easy task. Descent: Freespace 2 capital ships range in size from frigates of modest firepower to destroyers dotted with beam weapons, flak cannons, and lasers. Freespace 2 doesn’t play softball with these capital ships. Pilots will be expected to take down destroyers and fighter-swatting corvettes with but a flight of four bombers - often without any support from allied capital ships, and at times without reinforcements.
Descent: Freespace 2 Mission Structure
This willingness of Freespace 2 to throw the pilot up against seemingly impossible odds contrasts with contemporary titles like Starlancer, which always involved some ‘trick’ mission that enabled the pilot to avoid engaging capital ships for the most part. Not so Descent: Freespace 2 - the game makes every effort to provide an experience where the gamer is tasked with missions that have clear military objectives that must be accomplished with sparse resources.
Overall the game pushes a believability into the experience that is quite unlike almost any other game in the genre. Missions rarely feel contrived, and at times you will be fighting a losing battle against superior forces with no help or hope - and not because you made a mistake. Though clearly a game in an imaginary universe, the designers spared no effort in making Descent: Freespace 2 immerse you in a world where you play the role of a fighter pilot engaged in a desperate, often futile struggle. Frankly, as far as immersivity in space games is concerned, perhaps only Homeworld has Freespace 2 beat in its ability to draw a player in.
Freespace 2: Colossus - The Pinnacle of GTVA Technology
The saga of the Colossus in Freespace 2 is a perfect example of the military realism built into the game. Over six kilometers in length and crewed by thirty thousand, the Colossus is the ultimate expression of GTVA technical capabilities and the will to defeat any future Shivan incursion in the world of Freespace 2. Colossus took over twenty years to build, but once completed is more powerful than any known warship.
The Colossus takes center stage in the main campaign of Freespace 2 - Colossus becomes the focal point of the GTVA assault on the NTF as well as the main line of defense against the Shivan incursion into Gamma Draconis that occurs as the NTF is being annihilated. But like the Mothership in Homeworld, Colossus is not invincible - far from it, and its tactical employment requires an able and dedicated supporting fleet of cruisers, corvettes, and combat craft.
Employing the Colossus in Freespace 2
The Colossus is a powerful vessel, but as with any capital ship in Freespace 2 a concerted attack by strike craft can cripple it to the point that major warships have a significant chance of victory. As such, the Colossus is escorted or supported by the player at several points in Freespace 2.
Colossus makes its grand entrance into the GTVA-NTF conflict after an NTF fleet is lured into a major engagement by the player and allied forces. It decimates several NTF ships, and begins the final destruction of these rebels.
However, as in the real world, such a massive vessel requires a significant support infrastructure to keep it supplied and operational. This necessity is quickly recognized by the ever-clever NTF in Freespace 2: Colossus itself may be impossible for the NTF to engage, but its supply lines can be cut. The player is detailed to perform escort missions for ships that carry fuel and stores for the Colossus.
Freespace 2 Colossus Nemesis - the Sathanas Class Juggernaut
While the Colossus was meant to defeat an attack on Terran-Vasudan space by a Lucifer Class Super-Destroyer, it is not a version of the Lucifer that leads the renewed Shivan assault on the GTVA star systems.
Revealed during a routine mission in a nebula and named the Sathanas by the GTVA, the player is immediately detailed to engage this terrifying vessel in a series of missions that feature the use of a prototype stealth fighter on an intel gathering mission, fast bombers that go after a perceived weak point in the Sathanas, and finally mission where the player provides strike support for the Colossus while it goes toe to toe with the Shivan juggernaut - the most powerful vessel to appear in Freespace 2.
Colossus' battles and the efforts the player goes through to give the ship a fighting chance exemplify the attention to detail and military logic that so effectively grounds Freespace 2 in the real world and adds to its immersive nature. This is not a ‘control everything’ game like Supreme Ruler. You are not given, as you might in a less realistic game, an objective to exploit some convenient engineering flaw in the Sathanas and save the galaxy. Instead, you participate as a critical component - but still just a component - of a combined arms effort to defeat a military threat.
Freespace 2: Colossus Support Missions as an Example
The various missions assigned to the player to support the Colossus are excellent examples of the immersive nature of Freespace 2. Colossus may be an ultimate weapon for the GTVA, but as with any engineering project that of the Colossus had its tradeoffs. Freespace 2 is one of those rare games that mimics the real world in its execution, even while offering a window in a possible future yet to come.
In truth, Freespace 2 is closer to a space flight simulation than most of its contemporaries - the focus on realistic (even while futuristic) combat uniquely defines Freespace 2. Colossus, like an aircraft carrier in a terrestrial flight sim, has weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The missions assigned to the player take them into account, and make for a compelling campaign from start to finish. Like no other space flight sim, Freespace 2 truly draws the player into the struggle.