**For the record, despite his character's appearance throughout the series, Maniac *always* died in his first mission in Wing Commander I.
Freelancer, published by Microsoft in 2003, is a direct descendant of Privateer. Designed by Chris Roberts, the same man behind the Wing Commander series, you take on the role of a freelancer pilot much like in Privateer. As the game opens, your character is immediately swept up in a plot that threatens to destabilize the entire region, and potentially could threaten all human life in this part of the galaxy. The game walks a balance between forcing you down a plotline (which is well-developed and fun, though basically on rails and can't hold a candle to the story of a game like Mass Effect) and freeing you to explore systems as you go. As you advance through the plot, you frequently encounter roadblocks in which the story will not advance until you amass more experience (which is simply measured via your net worth). The solution? Take bounty hunter missions, transport cargo, and explore.
Nevertheless, this game's successes easily exceed its failures. While finding a copy can be hard (I still somehow have my DVD copy from ages past), the game holds up extremely well today and may still be the best game of its kind published since 2003. Until something else surpasses it, this game will have a permanent place on my hard drive. It is beautifully consumed in anything from 30-minute or 2-3 hour play sessions. 4.5 out of 5 stars.