Game Review - by James Allen
One of the best uses of computers is to simulate events that would be impossible to emulate in real life. One of these is space travel and combat, long a dream of man and monkey alike. There is something intrinsically romantic about traveling in the far reaches of space, admiring all the beauty, and killing people with lasers and missiles. Independence War 2: Edge of Chaos (the sequel to…uh…I forget for the moment) brings a story driven space adventure, full of interesting characters, exotic locations, and lots of empty space. Will Independence War 2 create a believable setting of the future, or just plain suck like The Phantom Menace?
There are really three flavors of gaming to be found in Independence War 2: the story mode, instant action, and multiplayer. The story mode is the main ingredient of the game, letting you, the gaming public, take the helm as Cal Johnston. I'm usually a big fan of skirmish-type modes of play, but the story mode is just non-linear enough so that you don't feel boxed in. You are presented with missions gradually over time (usually triggered by completing the one before it) and you can choose to undertake them, or not: the alternative is pirating around the universe. You really must complete the missions to advance in the game and get new, cool weapons. The story mode harkens back to Sea Dogs, except that you are slightly more restricted. Thankfully, the story mode is really tasty and should fill any space appetite. The instant action and multiplayer modes of play are some extra add-ons just to expand the game slightly, and will probably be skipped over by most players. In instant action, you blow the crap out of successively more difficult waves of enemies, until you die a spectacular death. Multiplayer is a little more interesting, offering deathmatch (including team), capture the flag, and bomb tag. These are passable offering completely overshadowed by the greatness of the story mode.
The sound creates the spacey atmosphere in a number of ways. First, though, the voice acting can get annoying on occasion, and Jafs seems to not appreciate your pirating efforts if you don't capture "something cool." Mercifully, the remainder of the sound is awesome. The background music is really good, and creates the perfect mood for space travel. In addition, the ship and weapon sounds are top-notch. The combination of the missile warning siren and the ever-increasing volume of the impending doom is especially haunting. In the midst of battle, the jumble of sensory noise sums into a terrific aural experience.
Independence War 2 takes the basic space flight combat premises and morphs them into a very enjoyable package. Surrounding the gameplay envelope is the Newtonian physics engine, which uses the conservation of momentum with authority. This basically results in the fact that you can't stop instantaneously, and it takes quite a while to get used to driving your ships with all this realism. This modeling is not for the faint of heart or the novice pilot. All of the ships you will command are supplied with the same displays, so it's very easy to switch back and forth without totally changing your style. Everything is presented on an easy-to-use heads-up display. Most things are represented with icons, and this cuts down on the clutter greatly. The only problem with the HUD is the contact list, which displays all other objects in order or proximity to your ship. This means, if you or they are moving (or both), things are shuffling around, and it's hard to pick certain objects if they are constantly moving up and down the list. Realistically, there was no way to avoid this, unless a button was provided to "freeze" the contact list in the heat of battle.
One of the gems of Independence War 2 is the command menu, driven by the joystick hat. Almost all of the information you would want or need is found somewhere on this menu system, and using the joystick hat is a really slick and easy way to access all this information. Navigation, Communications, Weapons, and Engineering are all easily reached here. You can alter the power distribution to your shields, weapons, and propulsion, turn on autopilot, call in Jafs for a cargo pick-up, and so much more. Autopilot is something you will become accustomed to, as you can travel in space to a designed waypoint (or any object) with little effort on your part. You can access the entire universe (almost) using the confusing starmap. It's really, really, really difficult to find anything in the starmap, since it's visually listed by location and not alphabetical order. It's the most frustrating part of the game (other than the brutal difficulty), and I wish a better system was in place. Since there are literally billions of kilometers between objects, we are provided with LDS and capsule drives. Your LDS drive speed you up greatly, and capsule drives are used at Lagrange points (an actual physical phenomena) to leap to other L-points in a matter of seconds: they are used like wormholes in Contact. However, you can't use your LDS drive anywhere, as all space stations impose a LDS field and speed limits (although I have yet to be pulled over)! Now that you know how to get around, let's blow some stuff up!
You are given an amazing array of weapons to use on your enemies. And that's a good thing, since the difficulty of the game is very unforgiving, and you can be frustrated early on (as I was). As you get more advanced weaponry and ship systems, you'll start to kick some butt. You use cannons, missiles, rockets, mines, shields, and (everyone's favorite) turret fighters. Once you complete the mission where you steal the T-fighters, you'll never go back. These are mini-ships controlled by other pilots that can be attached to your ship, or detached to fly on their own. This makes your ship an opposing force to be reckoned with. During the game, you can upgrade your weapons and systems by trading for newer items from your base. Your base is the center of operations, and (unfortunately) the only place you can save the game. When Jafs brings back the cargo you have "acquired," you can trade the items to several powers in exchange to ship-related bits and pieces. Or, if you have the blueprints, you can recycle any cargo item into a weapon (like a turret fighter). Neat-o. For the most part, the gameplay of Independence War 2 is fantastic, and should not be missed by any fan of space games.
Wow. I picked the wrong field of study: earthquakes never looked this good. As you travel through the story mode, each planetary system is more striking than the one before it. Everything looks so beautiful in Independence War 2, and it's absolutely apparent that graphics were of high priority in the game. What's even more impressive is that most of it isn't background images. You can travel to all the stars you see, casting their hue throughout the universe. The ship models aren't the best in the world, but it's more than made up for with Independence War 2's space on your screen.
Independence War 2 is a excellent space simulation. Even with the shortcomings of the contact list, game saving, and starmap, the rest of the game is so strong that we end up with one of the best space combat games ever. If you like spacey games, and you can deal with the difficulty, Independence War 2 is astounding. Engage your capsule drive and get a copy now!