Review: Freedom Fighters

What’s this, you ask—a new review of a game eight years old?  Ah, but this isn’t just any review.  This is part of a series devoted to reviewing games that have been out for some time, intended for people who are pondering picking it up off eBay, or at some local physical building that has old games for sale.  You get a new-to-you system, one that’s been out for a while, and you pick it up for a song.  Then, of course, comes the fun of trying to pick up games for it.  Sure, you can go off reviews written when the game was new—but what was cool as cucumbers then may be trifling better than pre-chewed gum now.  So how’s one to know?  That’s what I’m here for.

So you’re picking through old games at the local shop, or you’re clicking through the bargain pages of a web site.  Either way, you come across Freedom Fighters (this review is primarily for the PS2 and P.C. versions, but it also came out for the GameCube and X-Box), and you’re pondering picking it up.

To start with, it was developed by I.O. Interactive and published by Electronic Arts.  I.O. Interactive may seem familiar, since they also developed the Hitman and Kane and Lynch franchises.  There are hints of Hitman in Freedom Fighters, which we’ll go a little bit more into later.

Alright, let’s break it down:

Game Play
When starting a new game, you’re treated to interesting and informative cut-scenes setting up the “world” of the game and Chris Stone, the player-controlled protagonist, that usher you straight into the tutorial.  Over the course of it, you learn about combat, healing yourself and others, and a few other basics.  Your first few missions are what one could call “semi-tutorials”, where they let you get used to and put into practice what you already learned and at the end teach you something new.

Soon enough you learn about the sewer system, how to complete mission objectives, and recruiting and controlling allies, then you’re more or less let loose to go kick some Russkie tuchus.

First you have to choose a difficulty level.  There are four: “Demonstrator: A Walk in the Park”, “Rebel: Have a Blast”, “Freedom Fighter: You Got what it Takes?”, and “Revolutionary: Against All Odds”.  The various difficulties generally only alter how much damage everyone takes.  Higher difficulties means you take more damage while the enemies take less.  The difficulties don’t seem to affect the numbers of enemies.

Control-wise, it’s all somewhat similar to other third-person shooters you’ll find today or others of that era, so the following shouldn’t be anything too unfamiliar.  If nothing else, you should get used to them very easily.

The controls have some first-person shooter elements (or, perhaps, elements of I.O. Interactive’s Hitman series), in that on the consoles you use the left thumb-stick for movement, and the right thumb-stick for turning and aiming.  It’s not strict, as you can point the left stick down and Chris will turn around and run toward the camera when not actively firing a weapon.  When he is firing a weapon, he’ll jog backwards as one would expect.

Other movement-based controls are crouching, which you can toggle, jumping, and melee attacking with your ranged weapon (E.G., striking an enemy with the butt of your rifle).  The crouch is more helpful than in some other games of the period, but it’s not great.  It will get you past patrolling enemies when crouch-walking along a low wall and you can fire from that position, however if you’re crouching behind a wall and shooting, sometimes you’ll hit the wall instead of the enemies beyond.  When given the choice, it’s usually better to stand behind cover and either pop out now and then for a few shots, or crouch, stand and fire, then crouch again.  Even so, it’s not a bad implementation by any stretch, but it possibly could have been tweaked a little more.

Jumping, I think, is one of the better features of the game, only because of how true-to-life it is—which is to say that it’s pretty useless for anything but small distances.  No multi-story hopping around, here, but I think it’s a great implementation because it helps cement the player into the game; it helps the player immerse themself.  While an “alternate time-line”, it’s still more or less our world, with most of the limitations that come with it.

For weapons, there is a pretty good variety, especially for such an old game.  You start out with your basic pistol and your monkey wrench (or spanner, for any European readers), and over the course of the game you can get a shotgun, a sniper rifle, a heavy machine gun, and more.  Plus, there are other items like Molotov cocktails, grenades, binoculars, and such.  You can also zoom when using firearms, though of course it’s best with the sniper rifle, since the other weapons lose accuracy incredibly quickly the farther away you are.

One thing I can’t see how anyone won’t like is that there isn’t any “wobble” with zooming in, or using the sniper rifle or binoculars.  Though one can see the reason for it, these days it’s almost pointless in some games to even try using, say, a sniper scope since the view moves around so much.  It’s realistic, sure (since your character is generally supposed to be breathing, which does indeed make your sight wobble a little), but that doesn’t mean it’s good game-play.  Thankfully, there’s no such thing, here.  On the other hand, once you start firing, the weapon has a tendency to aim upwards, but that’s something I think you can live with, with the trade being the aforementioned lack of “wobble”.  The main reasons to zoom in or use the sniper rifle scope are to just try and see what you might run up against, or to take a single shot of an enemy, so it shouldn’t be much of an issue.

That you shouldn’t need to zoom in very often is a good thing, since the default controls mean that you’re pressing in the left stick to zoom—the same stick you’re using for movement.  So if you’re trying to zoom in with, say, your assault rifle and want to scoot over a little, your best bet is to release the stick to zoom out and scuffle, as it is very awkward to try and maneuver with the stick pressed in.

When you get to using the cocktails and grenades, you look in the direction you want to throw, and hold down the Fire button.  How long you hold it determines the “strength” of the throw, and the angle you’re using to look determines the angle of the throw.  As such, especially when trying to chuck something at enemies far away, you have to point the camera at the sky.  Also, if you hold the button down, once it reaches maximum strength Chris will automatically chuck the item.  I would rather he simply held onto it, since an enemy may move out of range, or you may decide on a better strategy, but it’s not too bad.

Personally, I found the grenades—not quite useless, but not as useful as grenades should be.  However, this isn’t really a complaint, since the enemy A.I. (artificial intelligence, used in games to cover the scripting of actions and reactions of non-player characters) is good enough that an enemy soldier notices the grenade and runs like heck (my Russian is rusty, but I’m pretty sure I heard a, shall we say, “colorful metaphor” a few times as enemies ran from the grenades, which added to the immersion as well as the humor).  However, I found that around half the time they’re too far before the grenade goes off for it to do any good.  Cocktails, on the other hand, do some nice splash fire damage as soon as they hit, so while they don’t do as much damage as a grenade, you’re more likely (with decent aim) to actually do damage.

On the subject of aiming thrown weapons, the PS2 version (and, again, one assumes the same for the other console versions), you have no indication of where your cocktail or grenade is going to go.  When you first start playing with them, it’ll be mostly trial and error, which is a waste.  On the other hand, you get your hands on the cocktails early enough to afford that waste without it being a detriment.

The P.C. version has a handy reticle in the center of the screen.  It doesn’t seem to give too much aid in aiming, though as a matter of course it will add some.  You still have to point the camera upward for longer throwing distance.  For enemies up close (say a level or more below you and only a few yards in front), on the other hand, it’s very handy indeed.

All of that, regarding the usage of thrown weapons, is more or less on par with what you’ll find in video games these days, so you should feel pretty comfortable with the system, whether the reticle-less versions for the consoles or the reticle-using version for the P.C.

The last weapon of note is C4.  You can get it in a few missions, and you can blow the heck out of certain structures in other missions.  It does what you’d expect C4 to do—you set the timer, then run like heck (and your recruits will run without having to be told).  Once it counts down all the way, a fireball consumes the tanks, or helipad, or what-have-you.  My only real complaint with the C4 is that you can’t use it whenever you want.  You can only use in in certain areas, where you’re given the prompt telling you to hit the relevant button to set the charges.  It certainly would have been handy to be able to set a charge wherever you wanted, especially against tanks or an overwhelming number of enemy soldiers.

Controlling your allies is pretty straightforward.  You have three commands to give them: Attack, Defend, and Follow.  Tap an order, and one recruit will follow your command.  Press it for a moment, and every recruit will follow the command.  Issuing the Attack order will send them straight ahead in the direction you’re facing, or, if you zoom in with a weapon, they will charge to that spot or enemy.  Ordering Defend will make your recruits defend the spot you’re standing in or to a spot selected by zooming in, and Follow will have them trail after you.

None of these orders are followed blindly, or with stupidity.  Whether Attacking, Defending, or Following, your recruits will more or less make use of cover, fanning out a little for maximum effectiveness, and so on.  They will also find their way to the enemy if they’re a sniper that can’t be hit from where they are or well dug-in, or the like.  Further, if there’s a tripod-mounted machine gun in a bunker you just cleared, one of your recruits will usually use it, especially when ordered to Defend.

For all three of the commands, a yellow-ish icon will appear over their heads, showing what they’re doing (which is especially handy if you don’t tell all of them to do something, so you know who’s doing what).  A zig-zag or lightning bolt icon signifies they’re attacking, a shield icon signifies they’re defending, and a downward-pointing arrow signifies that they’re following.  It’s a pretty handy, easy-to-use system.  A glance and you know who’s doing what, plus it’s handy if you’re not entirely sure where your recruits are.  Continue to issue them commands and the icon will stay over their heads, providing a nice way to see where everyone is.

Similarly, in the upper-left corner of the screen, under the bars for health and Fame, there are small circles corresponding to your recruits.  In those circles are the icons representing what everyone’s doing; zig-zag, shield, or arrow.  There’s really no way to discern which recruit goes with which dot, but it’s still somewhat handy for being able to see how many of your recruits are doing whatever task.  On the whole, the system allows for quite a dynamic execution of tactics.

Speaking of tactics, there is actually a good bit of variety here, too, for mostly whatever playing style the player has.  You can sit back and micro-manage by providing cover fire and healing for your teammates, or have them provide cover fire for you, or whatever else.  You can even send one to act as guinea pig and be a target so you can get a better idea of how many enemies are around that next corner.  The beauty of the A.I. is that it allows for so much variation.  If you’re a “runner and gunner”, you can actually do that on some missions.  If you prefer to keep low and methodically work your way around, you can actually do, that, too.

As you can hopefully see, the A.I. of your recruits is actually pretty well-done.  Also, the A.I. governing the enemy soldiers isn’t any worse (or better).  They, too, will take cover, run to man a tripod-mounted machine gun, and so on and so on.  Also, any little hidey-hole you find for yourself, the enemy can find, too.  The reverse, interestingly, is also true.  There is almost nowhere in the game where an enemy is positioned where you can’t go find him.  Further, you shouldn’t ever need to go back and “collect” your recruits; in the numerous times I’ve played through it, I’ve never had to.  At worst, if I’ve fallen somewhere they weren’t willing to go (which does happen now and again), I just had to wait a moment or two while issuing the Follow command and they’d soon show up.

Imagine that, if you will, and try and name a video game published even now that offers that.  I’d be willing to bet good money you could count the titles on one hand and have fingers left over.

For your allies, you can recruit any fighter, providing you have enough Fame.  More on that further down, but suffice to say that your level of Fame determines how many people you can recruit, up to a total of twelve.  Interestingly, you can also recruit certain enemies.  If you find a wounded Soviet soldier sitting on the ground, you can heal him (similar to how you can heal your allies) and if you have the room he’ll automatically join your side.  There’s really not much given in the way of reasoning behind this, which to this day leads to speculation.  Your guess is literally as good as anyone else’s.

Oddly, you don’t get the chance to recruit just any enemy soldier; the ones you can recruit usually look wounded (with bloody bandages around various parts of their bodies), and are again sitting on the ground.  “Normal” enemies, you shoot them and they fall over, dead.  That’s the long and the short of it.  It really comes across more as normal ally scripting with a Russian accent and outfit, but it works well enough.

Also, unlike with Chris, there’s no indication of how much damage a recruit has taken.  The player has a health bar noting how wounded Chris is, but for the recruits, the player really only sees them taking damage, then eventually falling over.  They can also withstand some explosions, but they take a moment to get back to their feet (if they did survive), and they also take a moment for the red cross icon over their heads to appear (if they didn’t survive, and thus need a health pack), so at times you’ll be standing over them wondering if they made it or not.  It’s not a huge detraction, but notifying you either way a little sooner would have been nice.

For pretty much everyone but Chris that actually fights, their deaths are handled via rag doll physics.  Basically, this means that when the enemy dies, they crumple like a rag doll.  In most games, this comes across as cheesy, but it actually works just fine, since enemies just crumple like people actually do in real life when shot, as opposed to going flying back a few yards.  This does, as rag doll physics tends to do, occasionally lead to bodies being in humorously awkward positions, but it’s not as common as in most games.

Most buildings you find can be entered, at least in part, which means that generally buildings within the mission boundaries aren’t just world items that are building-shaped with a graphic overlay slapped on.  Sometimes you’ll find enemies, pick-ups, vantage points to fire at the enemy, and/or recruits in buildings, but sometimes you won’t find anything.  I personally think that’s another wonderful aspect.  It, too, helps with immersion.  Just because there’s nothing “important” in a building doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist.  It helps feel like a real world, to keep it from feeling like everything was designed solely for the player’s use.

Now, to be fair, there are times where you would get such a feeling; they’re not truly often, and they almost all “fit” the world.  For example, say you have a multi-story building with more than one set of stairs going up to the higher floors.  As you work your way up, you’ll find that the set on one end is broken between the second and third floors, so you have to go to the other end—and you find that the set between the third and fourth are broken, so you have to go back to the other end to ascend.  Of course, in the middle are numerous enemies.

On the one hand, that does add a little bit of a “rat in a maze” feeling, but on the other it does make some sense.  For starters, the Soviets are still invading at that very moment.  This isn’t set some years afterward, where there was rebuilding and such.  Therefore, buildings are still in ruins, still half-rubble, and so on.  It does stand to reason that bits would collapse internally, including the stairs.  Secondly, if there’s only one way through, the Soviets have a better chance of stopping Chris.  As you progress through the story, Chris become infamous, and the Soviet general considers you a thorn in his side, so trying to bottleneck him into an area where he can (in theory) be easily killed only makes sense.

It’s not all like that, of course.  As often as not, you can find more than one way to your destination.  Sometimes you’ll have the choice of making your way through the building itself or climbing up the air conditioning ducts outside and climbing through a window upstairs, for example.

There is, however, one area that is very much “rat in a maze”.  For varying reasons, you’ll have to leave a building on an upper floor and head out onto a balcony or roof or the like.  When there isn’t a doorway available, you have to climb through a window.  The thing is, you can’t break windows, yourself.  Like in many, many games past and present, you can hurl rockets at them and you won’t even get a smudge of dirt for your trouble.  This means egressing via a window already broken—which, conveniently, always exists.  If you need to get out to a roof or balcony and there isn’t a door, there will be a broken window somewhere, usually not too terribly far away.  That’s nothing that, by all rights, should really break immersion, but it’s something you might notice.

To step away from allies and such, there’s something like a level-up system, though it’s really rather simplistic, but not in a bad way.  The “experience system” is the aforementioned Fame, gained by completing missions, healing civilians, and other such acts.  You don’t need a huge number of points (tallied in-game as “Charisma”) to reach the next level, and they’re doled pretty generously, so you shouldn’t have much problem.  Also, the number of people you can recruit is the only thing your Fame affects, so you could completely ignore it and not have a thing to worry about.

One interesting thing is the sewer system.  You can find manholes around most outdoor levels, and if you access them (you can take a cover off of one with a small but timed event; the progress bar moves rather quick, and it’s similarly used for opening certain gates, and a few other minor things) you can either go back to your hideout, go to another location, or access the Quick Save function.  Going in reverse order, Quick Saves are pretty much what they sound like.  They don’t “last” if you turn off your machine, but they’re handy if you die; as long as you remember to Quick Save somewhat often, you shouldn’t have to redo very much to get back to where you were.  You do get an Auto Save, which happens when transferring between levels, that writes the latest data to your memory card or hard drive or whatever.

Going to another location is also what it sounds like; you generally have more than one “area” to take back at a time.  For example, near the start of the game, you have to go between the Post Office and the Police Station.  You have to retake both of those for a totally successful mission.  Sometimes, you have to go back and forth just to complete one objective.  One area may need something blown up, but the C4 is in another area.  Or the enemy is launching wave after wave of attack choppers at you, so you sneak around in another area, to blow up their helipad and thus make your life a little easier.

Going back to your hideout—for much of the game, the resistance hideout is in the sewers beneath Brooklyn.  As the game progresses, you’ll see it start out as, well, as decrepit and deserted as one would expect sewers to be, eventually becoming rather populated and nicely furnished.  There, especially later on in the story, you can get weapons or ammunition, which is one of the main reasons to go back there when you’re still trying to complete an objective.

As for the missions themselves, they’re divided up into “chapters”, titled things like, “Soviet Domination”, “In A New York Minute”, “Breaking Free!”, and so on.  Each “chapter” will have missions strewn about a few different areas; for example, the tutorial has two areas, the Police Station and the Post Office.  Your primary objective in each area is to replace the Soviet flag with the United States flag.  There are other usually other missions as well, but some of those are optional.  Interestingly, once you retake an area, the Soviets never try and take it back.  Also, you can’t go back to a retaken area for any reason, so if you missed an optional objective or want to get more supplies, then you’re out of luck.

Now and then, as previously mentioned, you’ll find it wise—or even necessary—to skip between the levels, as obtaining one objective in one area can either make another objective in another area easier, or even possible.  For example, in some areas, helicopters or transport trucks repeatedly fly/drive in to drop off around a dozen soldiers, as well as attack helicopters which, to put it colloquially, bring the pain when they catch you in their sights.  The transport helicopters usually only make their drop in one portion of the area, but that they do it often can become irritating when you have to criss-cross that bit for whatever reason, or they drop the soldiers off at a well-defended and -armed bunker that you just cleared.  The attack helicopters will, to a limited extent, actually follow you around.  You can usually stop the helicopters by going to another area and blowing up a helipad with C4, and you can stop the trucks by blowing up bridges.

That is a decent example of fair difficulty.  Most games (war-based or otherwise) simply throw a million enemies at you and ask that you don’t think too much about how they’re getting to the area.  In Freedom Fighters, there’s a clear “reason” for it, and you can actually stop them from sending more.

The last thing to say in this admittedly rather verbose section is that the game is short—it should only take you four or five hours to complete the story.  That’s not very long, especially for a game as fun as this one, but it’s better to leave players wanting more than having them grow bored.  Further, its short length also comes from how much room on the disc was used for the levels and A.I.  It’s a trade off that can be lived with.

In an alternate time-line, the Soviet Union developed the A-bomb first and bombed Berlin in 1945, thus ending World War II.  Various European countries joined the Soviet Bloc, with Britain being the last, and the Soviet Union sets its sights on the rest of the world.  In 2001, an attempt on the President of the United States of America failed, with an “unnamed foreign power” implicated.  “Yesterday”, the United States government dismissed sightings of low-flying drones from all over the country as weather balloons.  The Soviet Union had invaded.

This beautiful intro leads to another one, with two plumbers, Chris and Troy Stone, Plumbers on Patrol.  It’s just another day, heading to their next job, one Isabella Angelina.  When they arrive to her apartment, her front door is open, but there’s no one there.  Chris and Troy start looking around, with Troy heading to the kitchen while Chris heads to the restroom—and Soviet soldiers bust in.  They take Troy away, while Chris hides behind the restroom door.

That’s just in the opening cut-scenes.  Over the course of the game proper, Chris will go from an “average Joe” to the leader of the resistance.  He’ll become such a thorn in the Soviets’ hind-quarters that they’ll do everything short of nuking Manhattan just to get rid of him.

Over all, the story seems to sit somewhere between parodic and satirical of the nature of war.  After all, as has been noted in real-life by various leaders of various countries, what one person calls a “terrorist” another calls a “freedom fighter”, and the game’s story plays with that dichotomy of perception, if only a little.

All of that is wonderful, it really is—but there’s an equally large downside.  That downside is we never really get into Chris’ perspective until the very last cut scene, and even then we never really find out how he feels about that very journey from nobody to savior.  I won’t give away details, but suffice to say that the only peek we really get into his head is the expected depression at the knowledge that even though the Freedom Fighters technically won, New York is still burning, and the Soviets haven’t been completely turned away from the country as a whole.  While a good and well-done bit of story, it’s not much, and it’s certainly nothing unique to Chris.  Anyone would feel the same watching the city they grew up in burn around them.

One comes away unable to decide if it was just unpolished story-writing, or if the player was supposed to provide their own motivations.  If the latter, I’m surprised they even gave the protagonist a name at all.  There’s a reason Master Chief of the Halo franchise wears a full helmet and doesn’t really speak.  He’s a (more or less) nameless proxy for the player.  While more devoted fans of that series would know this, casual fans might not realize that “Master Chief” is actually his rank (Master Chief Petty Officer if we’re being specific), not his name.

We have so much of Chris’ life laid before us—his brother was kidnapped by the Soviets, he finds himself with a gun and some men under his command and told to go kick tuchus, he sees everything he’s ever known taken over by the Soviets in the name of “rescuing” United States citizens from their corrupt government—but he never really voices his own thoughts on anything.  It feels more like wasted potential than terse brevity.

We also don’t get any insight into the other rebels; they stay generic, ambulatory meat-shields.  The only thing they ever really voice a strong opinion on is whether they’ll follow you or not when you try to recruit them.  Beyond that, it’s the usual exclamations regarding taking fire, acceptance of your commands, and so on.

When you complete the story, you’ll have been given a small taste of a story that could have been, if I may attempt to employ an over-used word in its original depth, epic in scope and breadth.  Yet—it isn’t.  It’s not bad, not by any stretch of the imagination.  Truly, you would find your time well-spent in watching the informative cut-scenes (usually set as news broadcasts).  It’s just that you’re left wanting for more and knowing there could have been more.

Furthermore, undercutting the story is how irrelevant everyone but Chris and certain main characters are.  If one of your followers dies, you can heal them right back, or ignore them and save a health pack by running over a little and recruiting his clone in his place.  Your recruits really are disposable, which doesn’t itself feel like another jab at the nature of war as much as an element for ease of game play, but it’s one I can’t really argue against.  When it comes down to it, the game play should take highest priority.  You can have an interesting story, but if the game play suffers no one will finish it.

Now, all of that said, the story in Freedom Fighters is arguably the best war-related story you’ll find in a game, period.  More and more, war-centered video games focus on real-world wars, with World War II being the most oft-used one by far, and even then the story usually takes a back seat to getting you out and shooting.

One thing you simply have to love about Freedom Fighters is how it turns that on its head.  I can’t think of another game that goes this route, that takes World War II and retells it with such a spectacularly different outcome and the results that span decades.  That, alone, is laudable.  So often have video games gone the normal, expected route, it’s rather old hat.  This story is different, even rather unique.  I dare say you won’t find its like in a game of that era or this one.  It’s told rather well, too, with the only complaint being the aforementioned wanting it to be more fleshed out.  As presented it’s coherent, internally cohesive, imaginative, and simply interesting.

Freedom Fighters doesn’t fail to deliver here, either.  It would be unfair, of course, to compare the game to modern titles, but held alongside its peers, it stands out as a very good-looking game.  Everyone has clothes based on the season, which all look believable.  The autumn clothes look lighter compared to the thick winter clothing, for example.  The world itself is pretty well-designed, with some buildings having a very nice brick image overlay on them.

The models for the characters look decent, though they aren’t quite as true-to-life as characters in modern games.  That’s somewhat to be expected, and for the time the models look very good.  The lip-sync isn’t terrible, but it’s not quite spot-on, either.  There are a few times, such as the rare bit of dialogue from a character you find while on a mission, where their lips don’t even move, but those are few indeed.  It’s still noticeable, though.

Aside from the main characters, there really aren’t a lot of non-player character models.  You can have five or six recruits that all share the exact same model, for example.  There are about three or four male models, and two or three female models.  Not exactly much in the way of variety, and if you have a full compliment but are near a group of other rebels, you may end up wondering why they aren’t following your commands, only to realize that your recruits are somewhere else.

As for the vehicles (of which there is actually a decent variety), the civilian ones such as the trucks, cars, taxis in New York, look—well, they’re not great, but they’re not terrible, either.  Even by the standards of the day, they were a touch lower-resolution than its contemporaries.  The military vehicles are beautiful, if also by the standards of the time.  The only really iffy part is the ground-based transport truck that, in the early levels, comes through every so often to drop off troops.  It moves with a hint of being on rails.  It’s just a hint, so nothing that should detract from the experience.

The game as a whole is, visually speaking, an exercise in “less is more”.  Sometimes you’ll see things that are simplistic, but are crafted in such a way as to be potentially more powerful than if they were redone with today’s technology.  For example, mentioned later, there’s a bonus level you can unlock, and if you go to it you can see Manhattan burning in the distance.  It’s a pretty simple effect, really, with not much detail to the skyscrapers and some fire graphics around and behind them—but it’s powerful.  It works.  It’s evening, and in the distance you see an orange glow surrounding and permeating the city.  In a game of tactical shooting and team management, such a simple visual is enough to remind you why the characters are doing what they’re doing in-story.

That’s a good example of the game as a whole—sure, you can take Chris and hold him up next to, say, the latest video game protagonist you can get your hands on and it will be no contest, the other one will look prettier—but I dare say it won’t look as good.  Even as “simple” as the game’s visuals may be, you can look at Chris from two different sections of the game, and get the story.  Early on his hair is still short, he’s clean-shaven, his clothes are normal but with the addition of a flak jacket; later in the game, he’s wearing bulky, protective clothing, his hair is shoulder-length and unkempt, he has stubble, and over all looks like a haggard leader.

In the area of glitches, there really aren’t many.  There’s no noticeable pop-in or fade-in (games these days tend to create buildings and non-player characters as needed, and there are two ways to draw them, fading the items in or just “blinking” them in, the latter obviously more commonly known as “popping” in), but there is an issue with some non-player characters, mainly your recruits.  They’ll bamf through the corner of an object now and then, primarily.  It’s not common, but it’s noticeable when it does happen.

A small but pleasant thing to note that’s neither a glitch or anything really important is opening manhole covers.  In the upper-right corner of the screen, you have a small box showing what item you’re currently using.  When Chris opens a manhole cover, it switches from your weapon to the monkey wrench as he unfastens the bolts, then switches to a fist (the only time you’ll see that particular one) as he pushes the cover away.  It’s a small thing, it really is, but it’s such a nice touch.

The music is simply beautiful, and very fitting.  Composed and produced by Jesper Kyd, orchestrated by Pierre Foldes, lyrics by Gaelle Obiegly and most tracks performed by The Hungarian Radio Choir, it—is simply beautiful.  It was inspired by actual period-related Russian music, to give it a pronounced feel of the music the Soviet Union might have now events actually played out as shown in the game.  It’s a real and very welcome treat to simply listen to the score.

The voices are all rather good as well.  The main cast includes names that should be familiar to gamers and fans of anime—David Thomas, Drew Massey, Henry Dittman, Brigitte Burdine, Vanessa Marshall, Nicholas Worth, Adam Gregor, and many more.  The dialogue is all pretty solid, though there’s not much that’s unexpected from the story itself.  It’s people trying to figure out how to repel the invaders.  Chris doesn’t speak very much; I believe the opening cut-scenes, a speech somewhere in the middle, and the last cut-scenes are it.  When he does speak, it’s as convincing as the rest of the main characters.

The voices for the non-main non-player characters are pretty good, though you can tell some of them are just trying too hard to sound like native New Yorkers.  And some of their lines can make one pause.  For example, when recruiting one of the female rebels, she may say something like, “Sure! I’d follow you anywhere!” It makes a bit more sense late in the game when Chris is infamous, but somewhat early in the game it’s a bit—curious.  The recruits sound alright, though there doesn’t seem to be a large selection of comment clips.  As such, you’ll occasionally hear the same comments repeated, especially if you’re dug in during a fire-fight.  One thing of note, the Russian accents seem a bit edging more toward stereotypical than anything else, but even then it’s not ever too bad.

The weapons sound somewhat muted; and when there’s a large battle there isn’t the ear-splitting cacophony one would expect.  On the other hand, that’s a pretty good thing, since it would hardly do if the player winced in aural pain every time they got into a battle.

Once you finish the story and save your game, you have the option of reloading your save file and replaying chapters.  This is handy if you missed an objective and want to try and complete the area with it, or if you want to try different tactics, or if you simply like a chapter.  However, you have to play the missions on the same difficulty level as you originally started it at, and for the consoles there’s no way to save more than one game at a time, so if you want a different difficulty you’ll have to start the game over and overwrite your previous save file.

If you beat the game on one of the two highest difficulties, Freedom Fighter or Revolutionary, you get a bonus level, Liberty Island.  The island is in ruins with bits of the Statue of Liberty strewn around, and you go kill Russians; that’s pretty much all the information you have, or need.  It’s a small and chaotic level, but you get a small reward if you manage to get into Lady Liberty’s torch.  One interesting thing about it, though, as mentioned before is you can see Manhattan burning in the distance.  It’s a very somber, powerful visual.

If you’re playing this on the PS2 (and, one assumes, the other consoles) you get multi-player, rebels-versus-Soviets capture-the-flag, which has only three maps.  Up to four people can play, and you can divvy to your taste how many human players are on what side.  The object is to, well, capture the flag.  When one side raises their flag, a countdown starts.  If the other side manages to raise their flag, their own timer counts down.  Whichever side’s timer counts down to zero first wins.  It’s pretty basic, and not one you and your friends will play all day, but it’s a nice little addition.

However, if you’re playing on the P.C., no such luck.  No multi-player.  I tend to believe this was because this was the early-ish days when not many console games had on-line multi-player, and with everything else about this game using up memory, it can hardly be counted too much against it.  (There’s a lot of memory allocation that goes into coding for on-line multi-player, and while it did exist at the time, it wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now, plus the A.I. of the non-player characters is immense.  It just seems like there wouldn’t have been enough room left over.  Also, remember that the P.C. version is a port of the console version, so it would have been overly difficult to re-tweak everything to the level that would allow for on-line multi-player.)

Aside from all that, if one is so inclined, there are cheats one can use.  This review is no forum for the endless debate about whether cheats should or shouldn’t be used and when, but if you do like to use them, there are some nice ones that add to the replayability.  Two particularly fun ones make enemies go flying when they die and stick to walls as if you used some over-powered nail gun.  You also have the standards; infinite this, maximum that, but another fun one is making all non-player characters blind (both enemies and your own recruits).  This leads to positively hilarious moments where the enemy knows you’re there somewhere since they heard you, but since they can’t see you they have no idea where.  Sometimes they’ll even fire blindly and shout to each other.

Aside from the cheats, replaying chapters or the multi-player are really the only things the game has going for it for replayability, but if you’re a fan of the work that goes into the games, the underlying code, you’ll doubtless find more than enough reason to replay this.

Final Recommendation
Eight years is a long time in the world of video games.  To give an idea, eight years ago, the PS2 and X-Box were top of the line consoles, vying for the top slot.  Now we have the X-Box 360 and PS3, each hearty, powerful machines that make their predecessors pale in comparison.  Eight years ago, Halo 2 hadn’t even come out yet, the entry in the series which arguably brought the genre of first-person-shooters to a wider audience.  Now we have games that could run rings around Freedom Fighters in terms of depth and world-size.

Yet, Freedom Fighters holds up quite well next to any game today.  The A.I. is simply beautiful, rarely being anything close to “artificial stupidity” like you still see in far too many games to mention, to this very day.  The level design is nearly unmatched, with levels laid out believably and looking wonderful.

The level of immersion is incredibly good as well; everything makes you really feel like this is how repelling an invading force could really look and act like.  It lightly touches on the definition of “freedom fighter” as opposed to “terrorist”, and no matter what one’s political views may be, it’s still an interesting mental exercise.

Freedom Fighters was also one of, if not, the last games to put a sincere emphasis on game play over visuals.  Most games these days seem to shoot for pretty visuals first and everything else second.  There’s a reason gamers who grew up with Mario in his eight-bit days and Sonic in his sixteen-bit days still enjoy those games, and it’s not (solely) for nostalgia.  Before games could afford to be pretty, they almost had to rely on solid game play, and Freedom Fighters harks back to such a mentality.

It all culminates in a game that, by all rights, should have been more popular than it was; since it was woefully under-promoted, few gamers even heard of it before seeing it on store shelves.  The game really flies in from left field, an unexpected and nearly unknown pleasure to play.

Game Play: 9
It almost doesn’t get better than this.  The only thing that would have really helped is if the Fame concept were fleshed out a bit more, but that aside, the A.I. for all non-player characters is wonderful—no one side automatically outmatches the other, and the enemies don’t always know where you are as soon as you enter the area.  The weapons handle pretty well, and there’s a wonderful ability to turn your experience into as much of a tactics-first or shoot-first style as you want.

What story is shown to the player is interesting and coherent—but there’s just not much of it.  The most egregious missing element is Chris, himself.  Until the very last cut-scene we get no real input, at all, from him.  The story is great, but off-set by the lack of Chris’ side of it.

Graphics: GOOD
Pretty good for the era, nothing that really pushed the console hardware until you get to the explosions.  Those are beautiful and believable, with wonderful physics behind them.

Sound: GOOD
A truly majestic soundtrack that is a real joy to listen to.  The dialogue is spoken rather convincingly, though there’s a notable lack of dialogue from the protagonist save for one cut-scene in the middle and the very end.  Weapons are muted though sound distinct from each other, and the explosions pack a good aural “punch”.

Replayability: AVERAGE
There’s nothing to collect, three maps for capture-the-flag multi-player for the console versions, no multi-player for the P.C. version—on the other hand, the depth of A.I. makes it worth trying different tactics, and the story itself is rather different from nearly any other video game around, so it’s a great title for pulling out now and then to enjoy everything all over again.  It won’t be something you play every day for weeks at a time, but it will definitely be something you bring out and enjoy every so often.  It has a staying power too few games have.

Final: GOOD
It’s an all-around solid title, shining as an example of what more games should be like.  It’s the example other developers should look to when developing their own titles.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: