Freelancer's story, shown in two hours worth of in-game cut scenes, only exists in single-player mode.The story is linear without any branches and can only be advanced when the player takes on key missions one at a time. There are no time limits to complete these missions, and the player can ignore and "pause" the story to take on side missions instead. To prevent the player from amassing too much wealth and equipment on the side and making the key missions too easy, the current key mission must be completed before the player is allowed to advance a level.
The opening scene when starting the single-player mode shows the destruction of space station Freeport 7 by unknown forces. The player assumes control of one of the survivors, Edison Trent, who is now without money or a ship on the planet Manhattan. Trent takes up employment with the Liberty Security Force while waiting for associate to wake up from a coma in the hospital. His contact in the LSF is Commander Jun'ko Zane, who provides him with a small basic starfighter. The main story involves Trent discovering a conspiracy and a cover up concerning what really happened on Freeport 7 and why it was destroyed. Trent quickly discovers that all of the survivors from the station begin to vanish or are found dead and has to do what ever is necessary to make sure he does not meet the same fate.
The player has several options in regards to how he or she builds wealth and power in the Freelancer galaxy. One can be a fighter pilot for hire, a space pirate, a bounty hunter or the captain of a cargo vessel. Different jobs are accepted by conversing with NPCs or checking out the job board at planetary bars. Every mission, regardless of type, takes place in space. The player may also purchase more advanced ships as the game progresses. Each ship has different attributes which may or may not be useful to the player.
Freelancer's flight mechanics were made to be novice-friendly and thus controls over the facing of the ship are controlled by the cursor while engine direction outputs are controlled by the typical W-S-A-D keyboard layout; however joystick control is also supported.
The player gathers credits by completing missions given by NPCs. Missions that provide less assistance from other A.I. ships and with more enemies will provide a better payout.
Trading is also available as an option for earning credits through the universe's markets, although the economic system in Freelancer is very basic. The markets are always steady and can not fluctuate because of the player's actions. The price of an item in on one planet may be higher on another. Therefore it is in the players best interest to shop around before buying or selling goods.
Mining is also another way of creating an income however it is not the most efficient; the player will have to go to a marked mining field on the navmap and shoot at debris floating by the ship. Earth minerals and other strange alien minerals can be mined from the debris and the player can tractor these materials into their cargo hold.
With the credits, players can buy equipment, ship parts, ships, weapons and ammunition.
In Freelancer, the player can pilot single person ships only; there is no option to pilot capital ships. Also, the player is limited to owning only a single ship. Each ship has a certain number of hard points for upgrading the ship. Each ship has a limited number of spaces for weapon hard points, and each type of weapon has a class assigned to it. Depending on the class, some ships can not use the higher class weapons. There are also hard points for engine improvements, and for shields. In Freelancer, there are different varieties of shields that have strengths and weaknesses to different types of weapons. There are also different classes of ships, such as bombers, which are slower, heavily shielded and heavily armed. Bombers are ideal for taking out capital ships and stations. Fighters are more suited to fighting bombers and other fighters. Freighters are ideal for the player who likes to trade commodities to earn cash. There are variants of these classes, such as heavy fighters, light bombers, etc.
Navigating on the map is a very easy task, as the player will only need to click on a location he would like to go and click on a waypoint button to plot out the most efficient way of getting to their destination. Each vessel is equipped with autopilot to make long voyages easier on the player. The player can also manually pilot their ship to any location in the three dimensional world. All ships are also equipped with cruise engines which are faster than standard maneuvering thrusters. When cruise engines are engaged, weapons are not available due to extreme power requirements. Ships can also fire missiles that can temporarily disable a ships cruise engines.
Players travel from location to location through trading routes which accelerate the player's ship to near light speed, thus eliminating long space voyages.
Official jump gates are man-made, allowing easy and fast transit between solar systems. These are usually guarded by the local police force or military. Some of the jump gates are off limits to players until they have acquired the access codes to the gates. There are three types of jump gates in Freelancer. There are system to system gates for interplanetary travel, region gates for traveling between vast distances, and there are also natural jump gates found in the galaxy, usually in dust clouds and other places. These can only be found through either exploration or through buying the information from NPCs at bars when they are willing to help you.
In all there are 7 regions of space to explore in the Sirius Sector, which are:
- Bretonia, a British-themed cluster
- Liberty, a North American-themed cluster
- Rheinland, a German-themed cluster
- Kusari , a Japanese-themed cluster
- Independent Worlds
- Border Worlds
- Edge Worlds
One of the most touted features of Freelancer before its release was its numerous factions and their interactions with one another. For example, fighting with the Blood Dragons might please the Golden Chrysanthemums and the Corsairs, you'll anger the Kusari Police and the Hogosha. While these complex faction interactions are in the game, the rough territory of where each faction can be found does not ever change, despite how many raids the player may run. This renders some factions, such as the Xenos, almost nonexistent in terms of gameplay.
Better relations with factions can be bought through bribes. As well as buying cargo, weapons and ships from a faction which can increase your standing with them. This often leads to traders being very friendly with corporations and police while hostile with pirates. Factions will also not sell you items or even talk to you in the bar areas if you do not have enough standing with them.
When Freelancer was released, Microsoft maintained several official servers for players to use. All of the features in the single player game were present in multiplayer, though some story-specific regions of the game were locked off. All servers were persistent, maintaining a player's stats and progress on that server only. Clans were also common, often setting up on a particular server where they would compete with other groups. Custom servers were also present, with small server-side modifications to allow the player to have access to story-specific regions, start off with more credits, and usually more accommodating to clan activities. Many of the major mods of Freelancer also ran their own servers, which were often more frequented than official servers. Such servers often put a greater emphasis on role-play and/or combat and usually had a parallel forum or site where players could interact with one another.
On April 8th, 2008, in accordance with the completion of its five year commitment to the title, Microsoft ended official support for the game and shut down the master server list, though some communities continue to maintain their own servers.
Development and Reception
Freelancer was developed by Digital Anvil as a sequel to Starlancer. While sharing the same story background as Starlancer, Freelancer was to be a free roaming space simulator, as opposed to the more linear, mission-based structure of Freelancer. Like Starlancer, Freelancer was notable for the involvement of Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame. Roberts envisioned many bold features for Freelancer, notably a persistent and dynamic world and economy which would react to the player's choices. The game was formally announced in 1999 with a tentative release date of Fall 2000, though was later pushed back to the end of 2001 due to the game not nearing completion. In June of 2000, Microsoft acquired Digital Anvil and Chris Roberts left the studio as well as his leading role in developing Freelancer, though stayed on as a special consultant. Microsoft then instructed Digital Anvil to scale back the scope of the project and finish on releasing the game in a stable state.
For the following months, Freelancer was largely under the radar, and was believed by some game sites to have become vaporware. In October of 2002, Digital Anvil finished development of the game, opening up beta testing and fixing remaining bugs, finally being released on March 4th, 2003. The game's only patch was later released the following June, and afterwards much of the game's support was handled by Microsoft Game Studios.
The game was received well by the gaming press, but most critics noted that the game fell short of the ambitious promises made by Chris Roberts when it was first announced, particularly the game's static economy as opposed to the promised dynamic world. Others criticized its uninspired plot and the lack of diverse voice actors beyond the main single-player characters. Despite its dated graphics engine, praise was given for the game's visuals, especially in space. On Metacritic, Freelancer holds a favorable 85/100 rating, calculated from 39 reviews.
Freelancer was very modder friendly, resulting in a vibrant modding scene that lasted well beyond the game's initial release. Mods ranged from smaller tweaks to the game's features to large scale changes to the gameplay and addition of new sectors, factions, and ships, sometimes from other science fiction properties like Star Wars. Larger and more ambitious mods focused on making the multiplayer end of the game more dynamic and player driven, attempting to reach the original vision of Freelancer. Some of these features included things like player-owned stations and capital ships, a server-side dynamic economy, and enhanced combat.
A popular demand by modders is that Freelancer's source code be released in order to allow for more flexible modding, though Microsoft has given no indication that Freelancer's code will ever be released.
Freelancer's original soundtrack was composed by James Hannigan & Andrew Sega.
Liberty Space Suite
Bretonia Space Suite
Rheinland Space Suite
Kusari Space Suite
Omega Space Suite
Omicron Space Suite
Sigma Space Suite
Tau Space Suite
Ind. Worlds Space Suite