In the 90's, the Wing Commander games were taking the PC world by storm and in 93, the series spun off into this game that gives you the ability to play a Han Solo type in search of money and work.
Running alongside the Wing Commander games, your character Grayson Burrows just inherited an old merchant ship and travels to a sector of space to find some work. Landing on an Asteroid Base with only a little money, you take jobs from the mission computer to earn some money and even buy a new ship. You can take missions taking cargo from place to place, bounty hunting missions having you take down a target who is reported in another part of space, patrol missions where you clear navigation points of potential hostiles and even smuggling missions where you can deliver drugs to pirates. Later you can join guilds to make better money by doing better jobs.
Whats really cool is that you can be aligned with the various factions. The militia are the cops that patrol quieter parts of space and can work along with the Confed Navy to hold off hairier threats, like the Kilrathi, the cat like warriors who are at war with Confed. You also have the merchants guild who have big slow ships ripe for the picking of the local piratee, but careful! Getting the peaceful merchants mad at you can get the militia, navy or the bounty hunters on your tail and many of them have nicer ships then you do! Finally, there are the Retros. Retros are a bunch of religous zealots who hate technology, which is why they use it to kill you Yeah. The retros cannot be your friend but at least you can sweet talk the Kilrathi from ripping you apart. Everyone else can be a friend or foe, depending on your actions.
The gameplay is a little on the clunky side but that is due to your ship. You start with an antique merchant ship that can be upgraded a little bit but can move on to one of 3 other ships. The Orion Gunship with a load of armor and engine upgrades but surprisingly few guns, the Galaxy the modern merchant ship with a deliberately inspired Milenium Falcon cockpit and top and bottom turrets and finally the Centurian a sleek mercenary space fighter jet that holds plenty of ammo but little cargo space. The fighter turns tighter but doesn't offer the upgradability of some of the weaker ships at the expense of speed and manuverability. Add ons include different guns, different kinds of missiles, the torpedoes, powerplants, repair bots, tougher armor and more. Save your money for the good stuff as it really adds a lot.
In game, you pilot from your cockpit and fly to your destination and will dogfight with your enemies and on planets and bases, you move around talk to the bartender, get missions and buy upgrades to your ship and in some cases advance the plot missions to discover a secret and potentially save mankind.
Graphics are pretty early 90's PC variety. Nicer then what the home consoles were doing but dated by todays standards. The graphics also have a lot of gray or de-saturated colors to them. Those pretty Green, Blue and White starfighters from the games are replaced with Gray with some striping and none of your ships have any color at all, they are all gunmetal colored and there is no option for recoloring. Music is alright, it's there and it does it's job but nothing memorable. Sounds are quaint and the voices are weird but do they're job. It was the early days of speech, but some of the voices, especially the Retro's voices are corny.
The first true sandbox game I played and as dated as it is, I love it and it's gotta be one of my most favorite games, warts and all. An add on called Righteous Fire got put out later with more add ons, weapons and missions and it's even better, but ends on a slightly sour note but it's still good. If you ever had that hankering to fly that ship around space to make money and have freedom, then this is your best bet. Privateer 2 has broken gameplay and took away what made this game great and Freelancer was a little more obtuse in it's progress at times. There are some other games out there like this but to me, this is the measuring stick of those titles.
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