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Freedom Fighters Review
developer: IO Interactive
PIII-733, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 650MB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Oct 01, 03 (released)
|» All About Freedom Fighters on ActionTrip|
One doesn't have to think for too long to come up with the name of the world's only remaining superpower. (Besides Microsoft, that is) But what if the history took a slightly different course? Supposing JFK didn't have the guts to stand his ground during the Bay of Pigs crisis. Could history have taken a different turn? Could the Soviets have gone on to rule the world? The story of Freedom Fighters toys with this very idea. Had it been released during the McCarthy era, this game would've probably been declared a threat to national security, and everyone who created, purchased, or played the game would have been persecuted, tarred, feathered, and burned at the stake. As it stands today, it's just a very fun and original title that toys with history by making the Soviet Union the only remaining superpower in the world.
OK, boys. I repeat this is not an ice skating championship!
He's got a bad case of cold ... I think.
In the alternate universe that is Freedom Fighters, the Soviet Union won the Cold War, and lo and behold; the "Russkies" have invaded the Big Apple! The game begins with a huge Soviet submarine emerging from the waters around Ellis Island, just in front of the Statue of Liberty. Under the pretense of "liberating the American Continent from its invaders," and backed up by wacky theories that the people of the USSR are related to Native Americans, The Soviet Union has launched a full scale occupation of the United States. They're out to destroy the American way of life. Instead of eating at the drive-thru New Yorkers will be waiting in long bread lines and organizing "youth festivals" for their great leaders. The Statue of Liberty will be painted red! Dogs and Cats living together - total chaos! McCarthy's worst dreams will come true ... unless you can stop them.
Taking on the role of (plumber) Christopher Stone, players evolve from an average New Yorker into a fearless patriot who recruits and leads an army of freedom fighters in the streets of New York City. It will be your duty to liberate New York from the Soviet invaders and restore freedom to the ruined city.
On the surface Freedom Fighters is all about arcadish and simplistic console-friendly gameplay (this is a multi-platform title), but to anyone who knows anything about gaming it will be apparent there is more to it than that. True enough; the main premise behind the game is its focus on the simplicity and smoothness of the interface and gameplay mechanics in general, but that's like saying cars are simple because you only have to put your foot on the gas pedal and steer a bit. It's what's under the hood that counts. In Freedom Fighters the straightforward action gameplay where you run around the streets of New York City, leading your squad mates against the Soviet oppressors is backed up by some of the most amazing AI work and intelligent game design solutions I've seen in an action game.
The game lets you lead up to twelve freedom fighters and you do that with the press of three simple buttons. One stands for "regroup," two for "scout/attack" and three for "guard." Aside from the regular WASD setup there are basically three more keys that you'll use and that's it. By pressing the right mouse button the view switches from a third-person perspective to a semi-first-person perspective a la Splinter Cell. The great part about this secondary perspective is that you can simply point your gun at any location you like and order your troops to scout or defend that area. Quickly tapping on the order keys selects individual freedom fighters, whereas holding the order keys for a second longer will issue the order to your whole team. The concept may sound a bit more involving when I put it on paper like this, but believe me when I tell you that it's as seamless as they get. The gameplay mechanics are so fluid you'll rarely think about how it all works. Instead, your attention will be focused solely on the mission objectives and the Soviet forces. The game starts out rather slow, in a sense that you'll lead no more than two or three fighters at any given time, but as you progress further your charisma levels will increase and you'll get to lead more and more of them. The number of charisma points you get is directly proportional to the number of secondary objectives you can achieve in the game, the time it takes you to finish the mission or the number of quick saves you've used.
What's very important to stress here is that, although Freedom Fighters may appear mostly linear at first, closer observation of the game will reveal certain nonlinear qualities to it. The campaign is divided into chapters. These chapters usually consist of several missions each. For one, you can pick and choose which missions you want to take. Secondly, by using the game's sewer system (used for quick saving missions and getting back to the main base), you are allowed to finish secondary objectives in a particular mission and then go back to the rebel base to select a different mission to play. The benefit of this is that the accomplished secondary objective from the mission you have exited can have a bearing on the newly selected mission. In practice, this means that you'll be able to destroy a helipad in one mission (which would be the secondary objective in that mission), only to go back to the rebel base and take on a different mission where you won't have to deal with Soviet choppers anymore (as you've destroyed the helipad in the mission you left unfinished). Usually it's best to select missions in certain order so that the toughest mission in the chapter has fewer obstacles to deal with, but it's really up to you to decide how you want to do this.
Let it rip, fellas!
They're dropping down like flies!
Further enhancing the front of nonlinearity some of the maps are designed in such a way that they give you the freedom to explore different paths to victory. You might want go straight down the main street and meet the Soviet forces head-on, or you may climb up a ruined building, get to the rooftop, take out the enemy sniper and use his rifle to take out the soldiers mounting the sentry guns in the street. The beautiful thing about this game is that you can do this while you order your troops to advance down the main street, thus gaining a strategic advantage and providing cover fire for them as they advance. This is where the amazing team AI kicks in. Your freedom fighters will be more than capable of looking after themselves. What totally blew me away was the fact that they can go anywhere you can! They can follow you everywhere and reach all the same platforms you can. When they advance, they advance with their livelihood in mind, meaning that they won't simply charge like rabid war baboons into the fray. (Rabid what?! - Ed) They will take cover and regroup if the situation calls for it. In few of the missions, your squad will face the daunting challenge of avoiding the deadly Soviet attack helicopters. I was certain they were going to get killed, all of them, but instead many of them survived by finding the best possible cover (under an overpass, etc.). For the first time since HALO, I was truly inspired by the work on the team AI. The great thing about it is that YOU control them. You can tell them where to go and when, and you do so seamlessly, without disrupting the flow of the gameplay. The enemy AI is environmentally aware, of course, and will provide an adequate challenge on the harder levels of difficulty. Sure enough, there were some AI glitches here and there - a few of the Soviets were unaware of my presence even though they should've been, and a few of the freedom fighters would end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, but those incidents were too few and far apart.
The game's difficulty setting is well balanced. The starting missions have fewer enemies and they're not as tough, but as the action heats up, the Soviets will send armored vehicles like APCs, tanks and, of course, attack choppers against you. The number of well-fortified enemies will gradually increase providing for some very intense and challenging gameplay that only increases the game's addictiveness.
There are a few things that bothered me about the game design however. First and foremost, the level design was fairly inconsistent. While some maps would give you the sense that you're fighting in authentic and coherent urban environments, others felt claustrophobic and railed, hampered with the addition of invisible walls and similar cheap design solutions. Those particular maps also seemed a lot more linear and contributed to the overall feeling that the game (even with all of its nonlinear aspects) isn't as open-ended in terms of level design as it could've been. The other thing I didn't like about Freedom Fighters is the occasional repetitiveness of the gameplay. There are several factors that possibly contribute to this issue. The entire game is set in more or less similar environments. The weather effects may change, and your character's looks might differ slightly, but for the most part, the game is set in fairly alike city settings. In addition, there's only like three or four freedom fighter models, and not too many varieties of Soviet bad guys. A greater selection of weapons would've helped in those regards, too. Maybe some US weapons to counter the prevailing Soviet arsenal. Aside from the Colt sidearm there isn't any other US made weapons that I could notice. Finally, the action itself can slip into a routine, but luckily that won't last for very long, which is why I said that Freedom Fighters suffers from OCCASIONAL repetitiveness of the gameplay. The designers managed to make a few nice breaks with solo assassination missions a la Hitman, where our hero would have to infiltrate an enemy compound and take out a VIP. On the other hand, the folks at IO Interactive could've further diversified the gameplay by letting the Americans take the fight to the Soviets - set a few covert missions in the deserts of Kazakhstan for example. Regardless really, these are still just minor gripes. Generally speaking, the action will be intense and challenging enough to keep you glued to your seats. The story unfolds well enough to further immerse the players into the game world. Finally, the game's addictiveness will be expanded even more as you become more skilled at commanding your troops. From where I stand, this was quite sufficient to keep me playing for something like five or six hours straight on Sunday. You know a game is good when it hold your attention for so long.
In terms of graphics Freedom Fighters is hardly what you'd call groundbreaking. The game uses the modified version of the Hitman 2 code, which is showing its age. The models need more polys and the lighting and shadows are not exactly next-generation stuff. Still, the improved particle effects and a few other tricks will be sufficient for most eye-candy junkies. The one area where this updated Hitman 2 code shows great improvements is in the rag doll physics model. My only objection to it is that, sometimes, the player models seem a bit too much like rag dolls when they're flying through the air or falling to the ground.
The musical soundtrack was specifically composed for this game and it's nothing short of breathtaking. Simply put it raises the game's ambient to another level with its epic tunes reminiscent of the glory days of the Soviet Union. When the onscreen action demands it, the music will masterfully change its tempo/feel, blending in perfectly with the events in the game. The voice acting is just as good. It's professional, emotional and authentic enough to perfectly convey the storyline.
Finally, it remains to be said that the PC version of Freedom Fighters doesn't have multiplayer support. I guess it got lost along the way, amidst IO's efforts to release the game on several different platforms. Certainly this is quite a blow to the game's replay value, as we're left to ponder just how interesting it could've been to play FF in multiplayer. However, the single-player does have some redeeming qualities to it in that sense. I could easily see myself coming back for another go at it on the harder level of difficulty, especially now when I'm fairly proficient at commanding my squad mates.
It is this reviewer's opinion that the game was original and fun enough to warrant a purchase from anyone looking for some intense and addictive action gaming. Hell, someone needs to save the good tradition of strawberry cheesecake, greasy pizza, Yankees and Calvin Klein from the "Russkies!"
8.6 Very Good
Original, addictive and fluid action, awesome interface, nonlinear elements, excellent AI code, musical score and voice acting;
Moments of railed and claustrophobic level design, gameplay occasionally gets repetitive, no multiplayer mode, single-player mode provides about ten hours of gaming.
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