Hey, I’m a fan of those odd or classical gaming genres, so naturally when I heard that a sequel to the famed X: Beyond the Frontier was being produced, I was stoked. Finally, this was a chance for an in-depth and up to date space simulation on the market, this was a chance for something story driven, somewhat of an RPG, and at the least, something enjoyable. At least, that’s what I thought I’d encounter, however, it appears X2 is more of a space oddity than a great simulator, facing a series of small problems, flaws along the diamond if you will, that detract just enough from it’s overall value to prevent it from making any kind of serious dent in the industry.
X2 boasts seventy flyable ships, varying from cargo haulers, to passenger liners, to incredible gun ships, and using these ships, a player can do virtually anything one would expect of an Elite style simulation. That is, you’ll be able to, fly, fight, scout, pirate, gamble, build, and even command entire fleets, which all serve to lend to the truly epic nature of the game. Of course, considering it is an epic game, you’ll also expect a rather epic storyline to go along with it, especially one that would justify the exclusion of a multiplayer option. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case.
After the opening cut scenes, I found myself playing the same archetypal character I’ve played many times before. Though this time around, his name was Julian, and instead of being a bad ass military officer, or a bad ass convict, he was a bad ass space pirate (Reformed of course). As per the norm, I was given one of the weakest ships in the game, armed with some basic weapons, and modified with basic modifications. Of course, no one but a mega corporation could have sprung such a criminal as I; so, it was no surprise when said corporation asked me to sign on and do several missions for them. At this point I was more than a little bothered with the voice acting and canned storyline, but I was willing to let it go if the oncoming plot twist was of good quality. Once again, I was disappointed, for after a few trade runs, I was “attacked,” by a rapid and very corny plot twist, and despite my repeated attempts to flee I was forced to succumb to incredibly cheesy storytelling.
Call me crazy, but I could have sworn this game was touted as an incredibly expansive and original single player experience, not some hackneyed plot thrown together by a group of writers over Hamburgers and Coke. I’ll admit, I’m being a bit harsh, as it is clear the story does have it’s good moments, but I also speak the truth when I say, the single most entertaining portion of the game, was the ending. In fact, had it not been for the end, the game certainly would have received a much lower score. But after finally finishing the thing, I was free to revel in the vastness of space, and, much like Morrowind is enjoyed long after completion of it’s plot, thankfully, so is X2.
In addition, had I not gone through the game in it’s entirety, I would have missed out on valuable knowledge pertaining to the navigation and economy within it, which would have been near to impossible to learn on my own considering the expansive nature of both subjects. Indeed, I was quite surprised to find that X2 possessed a lot more of the space simulation ideal than it did of the space fighter, and once I was proficient in flying and profiteering, X2 became a horse of a different color. I could now trade across massive areas of space utilizing both my navigational and diplomatic skills, I could now acquire enough capital to build a sizeable fleet, and I could now finally fulfill my dream of launching indiscriminate raids against unprotected cattle stations. X2 had become a sandbox of sorts, allowing the player to create whatever scenario he desired, and certainly, served as a rewarding treat for those few fans who stuck it out till they crested the immense learning curve.
The learning curve isn’t the only thing one must be worried about when purchasing X2, as the graphical requirements seem to be rather steep as well. Frequent slow downs and occasionally fluctuation in frame rate also hurt the game, as fluid motion is very much required in times of combat, and not having it can cause a great deal of costly mistakes. Turning down certain options such as bump mapping helps a little, but significantly detracts from the quality, leaving the player with a game stripped of whatever graphical glory it had. Additionally, character animation is quite plainly, horrible, and frankly should have never been allowed to ship in the condition that it’s in. It is a disgrace to what I am sure is a talented modeling and animation crew, and really detracts from the cut scenes as well as the overall feeling of immersion. The general look of X2 however, screams Sci-Fi, and though it’s not necessarily the type of Science Fiction design I’m fond of, it’s certainly very acceptable in terms of quality and aesthetic beauty.
Beautiful also, are many of the sound effects, and never once in the course of the game did an effect make itself blaringly obvious through annoying screech or overloud report, lending very much to X2’s space environment. Equally good was the musical score, which included some nice melodic tones to accompany you through system, switching immediately to some intense hard beats upon engaging combatants. However, again, a terrible flaw presented itself once I had heard the voice acting, which was fairly rough, unpolished, and occasionally, incorrect. As I understand it, X2 was originally a German game, and therefore, it follows that the voice acting isn’t going to be perfect, so, as much as I’d like to vigorously criticize it, I’m going to have to simply leave it as it is, which is perfectly acceptable to most people anyway.
Overall, X2 is loaded with enough features to keep a serious space simulation nut busy for a long time, however, its steep learning curve and surface dust can cause many a casual gamer to shy away from it, opting out for something along the lines of Freelancer instead. It is true, X2 is a game requiring patience, dedication, and a mind for simulation, but it can also be a very rewarding experience for those who take the time to learn how to enjoy it.