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Independence War 2: The Edge of Chaos

Score: 75%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Infogrames
Developer: Particle Systems
Media: CD/2
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

The graphics engine in Independence War 2 is, without a doubt, one of the sharpest I've ever seen. Gone are the foolish requirements of a 3Dfx card in the original Independence War; the game plays very well on my GeForce 2 GTS. And boy, does it look gorgeous. The various star systems are fully realized, with massive planets and bright stars that cloud your field of vision if you look directly at them. Nebulae cover the screen with vibrant stripes of colour, and space stations, while smaller than I would have liked, are well-detailed. The same goes for the various ship models--there are lots, and they're all quite well done. When you watch a dogfight between ten or so different ships, you'll know that you've got a good thing going here, and for the most part the game pulls it off without a hitch. There is some stutter at times, when it seems to be pulling data off of the hard drive or CD, but it's minimal and rarely interferes with the gameplay. I really wish Cal weren't so ugly, either, but that's a minor flaw.

Sound is also uniformly excellent. The music is solid, changing from a very nice space-epicy style to a pumping beat whenever you go into combat. Indeed, that's one of the cues that there are hostiles on your radar. The sound effects are good, while not as good as the music, and the voice acting is uniformly excellent. I didn't find myself groaning at any of the accents, and only a few of the lines made me roll my eyes. That's pretty good, considering most games. The incessant 'beep' of an incoming missile is enough to give any veteran gamer goosebumps, and the sound does nothing but add to the charm of the game.


I'll be blunt--this is a very difficult game to score. On one hand, I found myself spending many, many long hours with it. On the other hand, many of these hours were spent because some of the missions were too damned difficult, and the game is still bug-ridden to the point that you'll have saves become invalidated. Losing three hours of playtime is a Bad Thing, and it almost made me want to throw the game into the trash.

But then I climbed into the cockpit one more time . . .

The basic storyline is set one hundred years after the original Independence War. The 'prologue'--a sort of training section and game intro rolled into one--has you as Cal Johnston, a young boy whose father was killed by the head of Maas Industries. By the beginning of the game proper, you've grown up and garnered a number of friends in prison--you'll see why--and revenge is definitely on your list. So you take up pirating, join the revolution against the evil bad guy, and do the sorts of things that are typical in this genre of game.

The sheer scope of this game cannot be faulted. While segments of the game are fairly linear--the first Act, for example--the game often lets you do pretty much whatever you want, especially once you get past the first Act. It'll narrow down again later, but even then you can usually go pirating whenever you like. And the systems have literally hundreds of locations to explore, from bases to asteroids to planets. There's enough stuff going on in the world that your head will spin, and you almost get the feeling that you're really participating in a universe. Unfortunately, the ship names repeat a little more than they should, which can break the illusion.

While at first blush Independence War 2 may seem like most games of the genre, there are some definite peculiarities that you have to get used to before you'll be any good at the game. For one, the ships you pilot are generally on a much larger scale than the ships you use in most space sims. A tug simply doesn't handle like a little fighter, and getting used to that takes some doing. The use of inertia in the game makes dogfighting a decidedly different affair, closer to Terminus than anything else. You can load out your ship with a number of different weapons and the like, or let the game load it out for you.

Because of the game's core linearity, you won't be upgrading your ship unless the plot dictates it. But you can still tool around, pirating to your heart's content. Just make sure you don't do it in the middle of a mission, unless you like to reload the game after a bug.

The game supports multiplayer as well, although I find that with this strong of a single-player offering, the multiplayer just isn't a real draw for the game. It's entertaining, to be sure, but better multiplayer combat sims are out there.

Along with many, many hours of fun, Independence War 2 offers many hours of frustration. The difficulty level is quite simply too high, and the number of game-wrecking bugs in the game is downright frightening. These sort of things usually make me slam a game in disgust, but the core quality of Independence War 2 is such that I can't bring myself to do it.


That won't keep me from mentioning the problems, though. The game is way too hard. Indeed, the very first combat mission took me about ten tries, until I learned that you have to strafe to get out of the way of the first salvo. As you play the game, you'll come across a number of these puzzle missions that require you to do things exactly the way the team wanted you to do them. Failure means death. One of the most frustrating of these comes early in the game, where you have to recover a crate of fighters from a base. I dare you to beat it without looking up the solution. Besides this, controlling the ship can be a bear, especially if you don't have a good controller set. The game could definitely use some toning down. I tried one mission--I kid you not--at least thirty times before I beat it. It says something about the addictiveness of the game that I kept coming back, but that's still entirely too high.

Game Mechanics:

It could also use a good configuration tool. As it is, the only way to configure the game is to edit some configuration files by hand, which is frustrating. It's even moreso because you pretty much have to play it with a flightstick; the keyboard controls simply aren't responsive enough. I used my Saitek X45, and it worked fine, but I had to spend a good hour setting up the control scheme and then entering the configuration into the config file.

Besides that, there are the bugs. I already mentioned the one that made me lose three hours of gameplay because it munged my ability to progress in the game. This, unfortunately, isn't an isolated event; a quick look at the message boards shows a number of people finding problems with the missions. There's a patch coming out soon, but from the list of what it fixes I don't see one for the particular mission I had a problem with. And this is simply inexcusable. No one should be required to do something like this.

I had another major issue as well, although I believe it had to do with DirectX 8.0 and not the game itself. Independence War 2 would lock up randomly, and I could barely complete a mission without it freezing my computer. The solution was moving the port that my sound card was plugged into. If you're having this problem, try it and see if it solves it. Frustrating, but I don't think it's Particle's fault.

There's a lot to love about Independence War 2--the setting, the fun of pirating, the variety of locations to explore. But there's a lot to dislike, too--the extreme difficulty and the bugs. If it weren't for the problems, this game would be near-perfect; if it weren't for the addictiveness, it would be tripe. As such, it's somewhere in the middle. When Particle Systems and Infogrames release a patch that fix some of the outstanding bugs, and perhaps tone down the difficulty a bit, I can give a more wholehearted recommendation, but at the moment I believe that Independence War 2 is only for those who don't mind fighting with the sort of bugs we hoped we'd never see after Frontier: First Encounters. It's a fantastic game, but it's also fantastically frustrating. Let the buyer beware.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

K6-2 350 / P2 300, 6MB RAM, 16MB 3D video card, sound card, 4x CD-ROM, 600MB HD space

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising Windows Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated