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Freeware Friday: Transcendence

Welcome to Freeware Friday, a weekly column showcasing excellent games that you can play free of charge!

Have I mentioned how much I love rogue-like games? The random aspect, the deep and engaging underlying gameplay systems, and the penchant for creating stories out of thin air really set the sub-genre apart from other games. I've already talked about Dwarf Fortress and Nethack before, and there's plenty more where that came from. However, this week is a little known space-combat rogue-like gem called Transcendence. Imagine if Nethack and Star Control 2 got together and had a top-down illegitimate child that went on to bigger and better things. That's Transcendence in a nutshell.

Where to start? In the case of Transcendence, 2003. The game has been in development for a little over 5 years now and is just now approaching a version 1.0 release. It's been so long in the making because of the author's time being divided between his other projects and Transcendence, but frankly, you won't hear me complain. Each version is absolutely solid in terms of gameplay and content, and when the game is finished it could rival most commercial games in depth of scope and gameplay. It's just that good!

Transcendence has a very nostalgic feel to it. The graphics are good, but old-school: 2D sprites. The sprites, however, are well done and consistent. The game never looks awkward, and keeps the mix of realism and space fantasy together very well. The music is the same way, although it cuts out after a short while. While the music is good, it does get repetitive, so this is a blessing in disguise. Alternatively, you can turn the music off from the get-go if you really wish. As Transcendence has a low memory-imprint and no spoken dialogue, running a music player in the background won't disrupt your game.

You start off in Transcendence by choosing a type of ship. There are three ship types and each influences your decisions throughout the game greatly:

  • Freighter: This ship is slow and unwieldy, but has a ton of space and starts with an omnidirectional laser (translation: it automatically locks on to and fires at nearby enemies). It can't carry a bunch fo weapons, but it does have a larger capacity for devices than the other two ships. A great beginner ship as cargo space is never an issue.
  • Yacht: This ship is the middling ship. It has 1/4th the cargo size of the freighter (upgrades put it at the size of a freighter), but is much better in combat. The speed at which it turns and accelerates can throw newbies off, though, so be careful. It doesn't come with anything special.
  • Gunship: The fighter of the bunch, this ship has the stats to hold its own in a good gunfight. Starting off with some good weapons (including a rocket launcher!) and defenses, and good default stats, it's quite good for fighting. However, unlike the other two ships, it has a max cargo size of 135, not 200, and doesn't have as many device slots.

You then start in a (relatively) unrandomized system. For all intents and purposes, this system is your tutorial. There are no capital ships, the pirates are easy to kill, and you have plenty of stations to repair/refuel at. However, once you leave this system, the game world gets far more interesting. Simply put, after the first system, the game suddenly becomes very randomized. Some sectors have little pirate presence and leave you in peace, and some have pirates that control almost the entire system. All the systems, however, dynamically change as you continue. Pirates begin to take over, or you clear them all out and the system is peaceful and prosperous. This sort of continual change and persistence is really nice and not really seen in many other rogue-likes.

The missions in Transcendence are certainly diverse, and cover a decent range of potential actions. You have protection missions (protect a station or ship) or destruction missions (kill these guys). The most notable missions are the Korolov missions, which ask you to escort a freighter and keep it protected. Korolov keeps track of your missions and pays and promotes you accordingly. Pretty simple, but sometimes the simplest missions are the most fun. There's also missions that aren't labeled as such. For example, if you fly through space and come across a space station under attack, you can help them. If you do, you can loot the enemy ships and get a bonus from the station when you dock. There's also simple plunder and loot, which is best against pirates. Waltz in, smash them and the station to pieces, and loot the derelicts. Awesome!

Combat is Transcendence is pretty simple. Fly around your enemy and shoot them until they explode. Things such as the direction you hit them from, the weapon you are using, and the armor/shield they ave all impact how much damage you do as well. In general, focusing fire on a single part of a ship and hammering it into dust with your weapons is a good method of killing a ship, regardless of resistances. You can also kill friendly ships through accidental or purposeful fire, but this isn't suggested, as it rapidly pisses people off. Upon killing something, if it left a corpse, you can dock with it and loot the derelict, getting some good items to sell. This is especially important to upgrade your ship. Stations do tend to give the best items.

There's few genres I like more the rogue-likes, and when combined with space games, it's like a dream come true. With plenty of replayability as well as the potential for some extremely good mods, Transcendence is a must play for any action-rpg fan. It keeps all the storytelling aspects of rogue-likes while keeping the frustration level to a minimum and action level to a maximum. And that is truly awesome. You can download Transcendence right here on Big Download or from the official site. Sorry Mac and Linux folks, PC only!

For another look at freeware games, take a peek at Joystiq's Free Game Club weekly feature!

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