Independence War II: Edge of Chaos
This veritable successor to Elite won’t give you an easy ride through space.
Independence War II, otherwise known as I-War 2, is one of those games that you love one second and loathe the next. It can dazzle you with pure visual and acoustic excellence then make you curse the day you’ve installed it on your computer. Granted, whether you’ll love or hate I-War 2 completely depends on how much time you’re willing to put into it – similar to its prequel, this isn’t something you’ll come to grips with in one afternoon, nor was it designed to last a single weekend.
It takes some manual combing and lots of practice, particularly when the surprisingly brutal combat comes into play. Likewise, learning to maneuver while countering zero-G physics (a trick analogous to ice-skating in space) isn’t easy by any stretch, but woo you with multi-colored special effects and heavenly music the game will, and through that you’ll find one of the most frustrating space sims you’ll ever love.
The game is amazing because it simultaneously tries to do all things that space sim fans want – be it the realistic gameplay pioneered by Elite, the space trading concept put forth by Privateer or the story-centric mission structure of Wing Commander. It offers all the tight plotting, detailed characterization, and hand-crafted gameplay of a linear game such as Wing Commander and combines it with the dynamic feel of an open-ended Privateer. To some extent that freedom is illusory and the game is more linear than one might initially believe, but the game pulls off so many tricks at once that you can’t help but be impressed.
Further awe-inspiring is the sheer size of the universe you operate in. Rather than mincing combat zones into individual levels and providing cutscenes between them like so many other games before, the world of I-War 2 is built according to realistic cosmic scales, easily providing what could be the largest game universe ever conceived.
Distances between points of interest are so vast that your ship has to travel much faster than the speed of light to reach them – and as you star trek between various solar systems you can look around and marvel at how planets whiz by and distant stars and nebulae drift in complacent serenity. It’s times like this that you can appreciate how gorgeous and giant the game really is.
The tone of the game is much less mature this time around, and your character, an occasionally whinny and Pugsley-esque kid by the name of Cal Johnston, makes a less-than-likeable protagonist initially. Should you persevere and accept the challenge, I-War 2 hands you the chance of planning and executing voluntary pirate raids on the local shipping lanes alongside a great deal of scripted story missions, with the help of Commonwealth Navy captain Jefferson Clay’s digitized personality (and if that made you raise an eyebrow, you should probably play the first game). The setting is a cluster of stars on the edge of civilized space, and you really can go anywhere you want (although the game wisely uses plot devices to limit your choices early on). The story is less open-ended, though the designers have obviously gone to great lengths to make it feel otherwise.
A Few Rough Edges
Overall we get some fantastic game design, from graphics to sound to a more streamlined interface, but sometimes the execution leaves to be desired. The hoops that you have to jump through in order to complete the story missions are surprisingly specific, and the game often does a bad job explaining what those hoops are. The missions you’ll undertake are strenuously difficult at times – an optional ‘Easy’ mode would have been nice. The savegame feature is only available when docking at your home station, meaning that if you fail a mission and die you’ll have to do some tedious inter-stellar traveling yet again.
But the experience is often compelling enough to keep you playing anyway, and given the level of frustration you must endure to do so, that’s quite an achievement. Edge of Chaos is the best space sim to come along in a very long time, and although the game cuts little slack to quick-fix space shooter junkies, it’s nonetheless enjoyable in the long run.
System Requirements: PII 400 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 12 MB Video, 120 MB HDD, Win98
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