FreeJack Review - Hop with Style
By Michael Sagoe (mikedot), OnRPG Journalist
Lace up your running shoes, folks because it's time to hit up the urban jungle in FreeJack, a racing game published by GamerKraft that's focused on the underground sport of Parkour AND Free Running (For those that don't know: Yes, there IS a difference between the two!) While FreeJack has nothing to do with a 1992 sci-fi film about bounty hunters transporting some guy's mind into the body of a dead millionaire, it features foot racing in tons of urban environments where you run, jump, dash, dodge and vault your way to victory.
(FYI: The difference between Parkour and Free Running is that Parkour focuses on moving from one point to another as quickly and efficiently as possible, and while similar to parkour, free running focuses on performing tricks while running (sometimes being described as "skateboarding without the board".)
Your career as a free runner in FreeJack begins with one of the four starting characters: Jin, Nadia, GoodSpeed and Tina, and they come complete with wacky back stories that you can't help but smile at, like Nadia's back story of being a free runner by day and a masked vigilante by night. You also have to choose which running club you belong to, but at the moment there doesn't seem to be any importance to them at all. Each character has different stats to start out with and that gives each of them different advantages in certain situations during races, so you may have to choose your first pick wisely, but don't worry too much since later on, you'll be able to purchase the starting characters (and more.) Customization of your character's appearance is pretty basic with only a few faces and clothing options.
From the moment you begin your first tutorial missions, you'll get an idea of how challenging and frustrating FreeJack can be. These tutorial missions can be fairly difficult and even just plan unfair at times as they demand perfection (Perhaps you should consider it as "tough love" for the grueling races ahead.)
Beginner tutorials will teach you the basics like vaulting, dashing, wall-running and more. The first tutorial missions will take about 10 minutes to complete and you can always come back to them later for advanced and expert training.
Once you've gotten the basics down, it's time to spread your wings in New Jack central where you can meet and greet other players or you can just run around like a manic all over the town.
From there, you can also check out MoMo's shop for clothes and accessories, form or join player made running clubs, check rankings and more. Whenever you're not running around in New Jack central, you'll spend some time in your empty and slightly depressing room, which is also your hub for accessing your items and hosting games as a waiting room.
FreeJack's game play is all about getting from point A to B in the fastest way possible. Sounds simple enough, but you'll have to overcome obstacles all over the course such as fences, walls, power boxes, cars and fat people (lots and LOTS of fat people.) Each course has a fair numberof different routes you can take for different situations. Want to dodge traffic without the risk of getting hurt? Take to the rooftops and jump over the traffic! Don't want to hop over the high fence? Then try finding some higher ground and strike jump over it instead.
The free running part of FreeJack comes from the different tricks you can perform while in the air and while vaulting. Performing tricks while in mid-air will earn you some SP for boosting and striking while performing different flairs while vaulting by pressing left or right, before hitting the space bar lets you fill up your item gauges during item mode races. Chaining together your vaults also earns you SP and getting five perfect vaults in a row puts you into MAAAAAAAAAX booster mode that jacks your stats up and makes you nearly invincible. All these features mixed together can make races in FreeJack insanely fun, especially with runners all rubbing elbows with each other, dodging traffic together and racing down to the wire.
Item mode turns FreeJack into a Mario Kart-esque race where you can attack other players with giant footballs, playing cards, CIA agents, Siberian huskies and even afro haired horses with boomboxes. Speed mode the exact opposite, it doesn't have items or any of the wackiness, but is very reliant on stats. Whether you're playing Item or Speed mode, winning races earns you emblems from other players depending on the position you finished in, and with those emblems you can attempt to earn ability cards over at MoMo's Shop and enchant your clothing with them to increase your stats.
I can dig FreeJack's overall style with the Jet Set Radio vibe it has going for it, and not just because the visuals are cel-shaded and the shading style is similar, but because of its music. FreeJack's original soundtrack is filled with Hip-Hop, Electronica and some Rock on the side, just like JSR's OST. Some of the songs in FreeJack's OST even sound like they came from JSR, like the song "Get On Up" where you can hear bits and pieces of audio used in the songs "Let Mom Sleep" and "Boarder 70", both songs composed by Hideki Naganuma who worked on the soundtracks for both Jet Set Radio and Ollie King. While the songs in FreeJack are very nice, dressing up some of the songs makes FreeJack's original soundtrack a bit unoriginal.
Now there may be a lot that I like about FreeJack but there's also a lot I don't like about it. As much as I enjoy item races, the tiers set for obtaining items are terrible. I was expecting item mode races to play out like Mario Kart where you earn items depending on your position in the race, but no matter what your position is during a race in FreeJack, the items you get will be completely random, and no item tiers during races means that you can screw over any player at any given chance, even the guy that's in last place! (But of course no one would ever want to screw over the last place runner since everyone will be too busy wild skidding, almond crushing and crazy shooting the first place runner to holy hell, anyway.)
The MyRoom feature is nice but lacks true customization. The items you can select for your room all have pre-determined spots that cannot be moved, so despite all the different furniture, wallpapers and knickknacks available, every room in FreeJack will look (generally) the same.
Level design seems to be pretty inconsistent as most of the courses lack a realistic touch. On one hand you have courses such as Undercity and Skyscraper that provide a believable running ground, but on the other hand you have courses like Mr. Rollercoaster and Sunny Harbor with level design that makes almost no sense whatsoever in terms of appearance.
There's also balance issues between the importance of the player's skill and the player's stats. Some players claim that winning against players all decked out with ability cards is impossible while others players claim the opposite. Whether this is true or false, one thing for sure is that FreeJack's cash shop allowing players to buy clothing that can stack two ability cards instead of one is not a good sign. Since non-cash shop clothing can only use one ability card at a time, non-paying players are clearly at a disadvantage.
The biggest peeve I have with FreeJack is that the game lacks the motion and fluidity that made real life parkour famous. The flow of gameplay comes to a halt every time you vault over an objects and after-dashing after each vault to pick the flow back up feels awkward (for me, anyway.)
If they could manage to introduce more flowing game play and balance out the use of cash shop and non-cash shop items, FreeJack could easily be the most enjoyable racing MMO out there. While the game clearly has some flaws, FreeJack is a unique, enjoyable experience that shows tons of room for improvement.