Despite a number of flaws I consider Freelancer to be the very best space trading and combat game I've played.
The mouse flight control feels wonderful, and after years of getting to grips with rotation, pitch, yaw and a dozen other commands, the handling of the spacecraft is actually the most fun part of the game. Gliding carefully through a debris field or circling round a huge battleship really brings home the intuitive nature of the control scheme, and simply clicking a mouse button gives access to all the menus in the game while still in flight.
Unfortunately, the combat suffers from this scheme in that it's simply a case of FPS strafe-and-shoot, most encounters coming down to who has the most powerful guns and the best shields. Still, there's no denying the excitement and dynamism of the battles, especially when there are allies involved.
The main feature of Freelancer that appeals so much to me is the sense of place it creates. Each solar system feels genuinely busy and realistic. With various ships going to and fro, radio chatter crackling all the time, police and military going about their business taking out pirates and insurgents. When I'm just sitting in space watching things go by it feels so solid and so believable.
It's aged a little in the graphics department, but that only means that I'm able to run it at full whack on my PC - and despite that I still think it has a special beauty of its own. Just the range of colours across the skies is captivating.
Freelancer has a lot to offer, and for a fan of the genre it's almost infinitely playable. It's simple enough to pick up and play without worrying about every little detail, but vast enough to have a grand adventure in.