Freelancer was one of those cult hits that never really went anywhere. Released in 2003, it was loved by critics, by fans and by a still-enduring modding scene, but it didn’t sell well enough to keep the studio afloat. For those who never played the original game, it billed itself as a space-combat sandbox with a hefty single-player campaign. At first glance, it looks more like Elite than anything, but any in-depth play reveals that it had more than a little in common with action-RPGs such as Diablo, with simple mouse-friendly combat, plentiful loot and shield/hull restoration ‘potions’ to chug your way through in every fight. Addictive stuff for many.
Crossfire is almost certainly the largest Freelancer mod to date. Unpacked, it weighs in at over 4gb of new content. Considering that the game itself is only around 800mb when fully installed, that’s a rather mindboggling figure. Currently at Version 1.9, there’s a looming ‘V2.0′ release planned which will conclude the new storyline, and officially change the title to ‘Freelancer 2: Crossfire‘. Yep, it’s a full-blown fan-sequel in the making. While that final, massive release is still a while off, version 1.9 contains no shortage of stuff to get your teeth into, and it’s almost certain that the handily included auto-updater should patch up the mod once the final build lands.
At first, it’s not hard to see where all that data went. The game has been given a serious lick of paint. In addition to native widescreen support, the rendering engine has been given a pretty major overhaul. The game now boasts full dynamic lighting and various shader effects such as HDR lighting, bloom effects and all those other things that we take for granted now, but the game would look rather flat and lifeless without. Almost every single texture in the game has been replaced with much higher-resolution equivalents. Our luckless protagonist now has clothes so detailed, you can count the individual cracks in his long-worn leather jacket. In short, it just looks nicer. Still not quite modern, but it could pass for a higher-budget indie title these days.
All the original content of the game is still intact and functioning the same as ever, although slightly smarter enemy AI and better equipment on enemy craft means that there’s a bit more challenge to be found. There’s also a lot more activity in the universe in general, and more randomly generated side-missions to undertake in search of cash for more gear. Still, there’s a lot of new stuff added on top of the original game. The universe itself has greatly expanded, and there’s over 160 new stations and planets to visit, owned by various new factions and races. There’s over 290 new ship types, and I believe all of them can be earned, bought and flown by you, including massive cruisers bristling with turrets.
There’s a lot of new story content, although I’ve not had a chance to dig into it, due to the sheer amount of updated older missions I’ve yet to complete. It sounds like there’s a massive amount of it already, though, with it picking up where the original campaign’s story ends. The V2.0 update is apparently bringing a final 10 missions which will conclude the story via one of several possible endings, likely depending on which factions and races you end up backing. It sounds like they’re going all-in, and trying to earn that ‘unofficial sequel’ title by whatever means necessary. I wish them all the luck in the world. It’s not often we see a mod of this scale of both quality and quantity.
It’s not just single-player content either. Far from it. As with most other major Freelancer mods, there’s a fairly active persistent world multiplayer server attached. While it isn’t as popular as online stalwart Discovery (which usually has at least a hundred players online in the same universe at any given time), it does seem to be consistently active, and capable of supporting a good 100+ players at peak hours. Online play naturally ditches the story focus, but has a more dynamic, malleable world and more opportunities to fight, trade or backstab your way to riches and bigger ships.
While the difficulty is a bit higher than ‘vanilla’, this is one of those mods that I can recommend to even newcomers to the game, as the graphical overhaul and widescreen support really go a long way to making the game feel more modern, and the smarter enemies help keep the dogfighting fresh. You can pick a copy of Freelancer up off Amazon or Ebay these days for a handfull of your Earth-dollars, and nab Crossfire off of ModDB now.