Every gamer has those games that make them go “wow..”; those games that stick with you, those that make you feel a bit lost when you’ve completed them, or leave you desperate for more.
Some games for me personally, I can’t stop returning to. Even though they may not have aged particularly well, there’s something about them, that “x-factor” that keeps you coming back.
In my opinion, these are the truly successful games, and these are the games I one day hope to be able to create. For me, it’s not about making big bucks. Sure, CoD and the like are all incredibly successful; they sell millions of units and hold value well, but nobody I know has ever said to me “I can’t put it down”, “I cant stop thinking about it”. The stories in these huge blockbuster titles are great, and the multiplayer is world class, but for me, they lack this “x-factor”; this element that grips you and won’t let go.
So here I will explain to you my top choice, my “x-factor” game.
Released in 2003 by Microsoft, Freelancer is that game. I first played Freelancer when I was around 12, and boy did I love it. It was the first game I ever completed the campaign for and the first game I felt a little bit empty after finishing.
Freelancer had its roots in the old Elite game from many years before (what has now been redone into the new Elite and Elite Dangerous). For me it was the father of the space exploration genre, and every game in the genre since to me has been some weaker version.
Why Freelancer? First and foremost is the storyline. If ever you wanted a masterclass in story writing this game is it. The plot at first just seems like another of “those space stories with space pirates” and the like. But it grows, it twists and turns, and I don’t wish to give too much away for anyone out there who hasn’t played it, but the character interaction is fantastic The plot feels organic , you grow to feel like you know the protagonist and rest of the characters as you go with them through the story.
The playability is incredible, although some missions between the main storyline feel a little repetitive, the plot is so deep its enough to spur you on through those tedious side missions. The game felt ahead of its time. Even when I play now, the content doesn’t leave me wanting. It has everything a space explorer could need and does each aspect brilliantly. The variety in ships is there, the choice of ship modding is there. The one thing that these newer games had that Freelancer would have benefited from in my opinion is interactive cut scenes with dialog options to help shape the story, but this was far ahead of Freelancers time, and should a sequel ever be made, i’m sure will be included.
Finally the atmosphere that’s generated in this game is one of the best I’ve ever experienced. The soundtrack fits so well with the feel of the game it immerses you in the universe fantastically. Tense scenes are incredibly tense, and the scope of the galaxy is beautifully captured for an older game.
Of course no game is perfect, and Freelancer is no exception. Sometimes the lack of variation in the interior design detracts from the overall feel, and as mentioned, some of the side missions do become tedious. However these points are overshadowed completely by the positives this game has to offer.
The proof that this game is timeless is in the strong modding base this game still has after 14 years. Complete overhauls of the games graphics and even new storylines have been developed by the modding community to keep the game alive, one of the latest being crossfire 2.0 which is a must use mod for any Freelancer players.
This game was the first game that made me realise how beautifully done games can be when care is given to them. The designers, the artists, the audio tech guys, they all cared, and it showed, and it made me realise; can I do this? I want to learn how this is done, what makes this game the wonder that it is? What keeps players interested enough to spend hundreds of hours of their times modding it to make it even greater?
This is the kind of designer I want to be. This is the kind of game I want to make. For 10 years this game has stuck with me, I have completed it more times than i’ll admit to, and spent hundreds of hours enjoying every aspect of it, and I hope in the not to distant future, I can give other gamers the same joy.