Freedom Fighters offers a blend of strategy and action as players fight to reclaim New York City from Soviet invaders. After winning the Cold War, the Soviet Union launched a nuclear missile at Washington, D.C., killing the President. Soldiers then started flooding across Canadian and Mexican borders to establish control in each of the largest U.S. cities.
Cast in the role of a New Yorker whose brother was kidnapped by the Red Army, players must solicit and then lead a group of ragtag freedom fighters to accomplish various objectives. From an underground base in the sewers, players plan out their missions using a turn-based system. Once on the streets, the action takes place in real-time as players fight using such weapons as machine guns, grenades, and Molotov Cocktails.
As players capture key military installations and rescue prisoners, their character's charisma rating will increase, thereby helping the recruiting process. Yet as players send fighters into battle and experience casualties, their charisma rating will diminish. Battles take place within evolving environments marked by rain, snow, billowing smoke, and explosions. Up to eight players can battle it out over the Internet or a LAN.
There was a time in world events when the threat du jour wasn't terrorism, but communism -- the Soviet Union in particular. IO Interactive -- the makers of last year's Hitman 2 -- seem to remember those times, and have made good use of them as a backdrop for its new third-person shooter, Freedom Fighters.
The title is set in an alternate past where the Soviets beat the rest of the world to the nuclear punch and ended World War II by blasting Berlin back to the Stone Age. From there, the Reds marched across all of Europe, Asia, and South America. Back in the present, New Yorker Chris Stone starts his day as a plumber and ends it as a rebel freedom fighter railing against a Soviet invasion.
Through all of Freedom Fighters' missions, your main objective is always to replace the Soviet flag with Old Glory on some high-profile building in New York City. That main goal often requires you to first satisfy secondary objectives, like freeing a few prisoners of war or raiding a munitions dump. Indeed, the main goals are sometimes incredibly difficult without taking out that landing pad to drive off the attack choppers or blowing up a building to rid yourself of a sniper's nest. These groups of missions are loosely structured, so that you can hop back and forth between areas and objectives as you please.
Once you have a mission in mind, you crawl out of the New York sewers and take on the Reds. You have at your disposal many of the armaments you might expect: one gun and one rifle (which can be swapped on the fly as you find replacements on the battlefield), grenades, Molotov cocktails, C-4 explosives, and first aid kits. Fans of deeper shooters like NOLF 2 or Deus Ex shouldn't expect any flexible skills systems or multiple paths to victory. Violence is your only multipurpose tool, and it's all you really need.
The major reason you should be interested in Freedom Fighters, however, is the charisma and followers system. As you meet mission objectives and perform other random acts of honor, an onscreen "charisma gauge" fills up. When it's full, it resets and you gain the ability to control one more follower. Fellow freedom fighters can be recruited by walking up to them on the battlefield, and once under your command they will follow you and fight by your side.
IO did the smart thing and made the control scheme for followers simple but effective. With a tap of a button you can order your squadmates to attack a specific target, stay by your side, or defend a certain area. Once you can command six or eight followers, the game reveals a completely new and thrilling dimension. The latter levels where I led a whole troop of soldiers through wave after wave of entrenched Soviets invaders were, in a word, awesome.
Of course, a game that markets itself as a way to command sidekicks lives or dies by its artificial intelligence. Thankfully, Freedom Fighters is quite healthy in this regard. Whatever commands you give, the computer-controlled teammates act intelligently. They'll take cover behind obstacles, set up crossfire corridors, react to events around them (like gunfire or grenades), make use of stationary machineguns, and navigate the terrain as well as you can. I was continuously impressed by the level of sophistication and effectiveness displayed by my fellow rebels.
It's also worth noting that the opposition's intelligence is similarly sophisticated. The Soviet soldiers are no pushovers, and they have the advantage of superior numbers. Overcoming a pack of soldiers dug in behind concrete barricades and stationary machineguns is a difficult but entertaining endeavor.
The graphics in Freedom Fighters are very well done. Textures and models are splendidly crafted, topped off by a very entertaining ragdoll physics system that lets you see the baddies go flying in amusingly realistic ways. The sound is also very well done, including the voice acting. I was particularly glad to hear the Soviet soldiers yelling to each other in their native language.
This game's premise is also one of its strengths, and the developers do a pretty good job of playing it up. While I would have liked to see more emphasis on Chris as a character and his inner journey from everyday guy to freedom fighter, IO Interactive chose to focus outwardly on Soviet jingoism, propaganda, and the metamorphosis of New York into a Communist stronghold. This is all shown between missions by cutscenes featuring clever CNN-style reports thinly disguised as news and public service announcements. It's good stuff.
Unfortunately the game has shortcomings, the first of which is its disappointing brevity. I sucked down Freedom Fighters in one big gulp -- a seven-hour marathon of Ruskie hunting that was over before I wanted it to be. This is short even by shooter standards, and there are no hidden incentives or secrets to entice you into replaying the game.
The PC version also lacks multiplayer, even though the console iterations possess a "king of the hill" multiplayer mode. Not a huge deal, but I would have welcomed the chance to play through multiplayer Freedom Fighters cooperatively, or even with simple deathmatch rules.
My third major complaint about the game is its save game system. IO elected to leave the system intact from the console versions, which means that you have only limited chances to save by accessing sewer entrances around each level. This leads to many frustrating failures on the harder difficultly levels where you can be ambushed and forced to play a good chunk of the level over again after being snuffed out by a sniper or helicopter rocket.
Those three complaints aside, Freedom Fighters is buckets of fun with a lot of style. The backstory is fascinating and cleverly presented, and the main attraction is a nonstop action scene that showcases some of the best artificial intelligence I've seen in a video game. It's really only its brevity and restrictive save game system that keeps this game from fighting its way to the top of the genre.
People who downloaded Freedom Fighters have also downloaded:
Halo: Combat Evolved, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Evil Dead: Regeneration, Evil Dead: Hail to the King, Delta Force: Black Hawk Down, Spider-Man, James Bond 007: Nightfire
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