Under The Wire: Freedom Force
Neil Kewn (Murxidon) - OnRPG Journalist
In a new column, Neil Kewn trawls the archives for the obscure, underrated and forgotten role-playing games from yesteryear.
It wasn't the recent Batman craze or my interest in in the Marvel universe that attracted me to Freedom Force. My knowledge of comic books can be written on the back of a postage stamp, the majority of it coming from the blockbuster movies that rake in millions at the box office each summer. Spider-Man is my favourite superhero because I thought Toby McGuire was extremely likeable in the role, so I couldn't tell you who the X-Men are or why Christian Bale's Batman impression is so wrong. Freedom Force is a highly original and extremely funny tactical role-playing game. It doesn't licence any of the characters seen in print, so it's up to you to mould your own team of overly powerful physics-defying misfits.
Although fallen by the wayside in recent years, Freedom Force received universal praise for its innovative gameplay and comic book inspired visuals. You take control of up to four superheroes and complete a series of missions in Patriot City, a crime-ridden urban centre infested with thugs and the odd super villain. The further you progress, the more characters you can add to your entourage and the stronger they all grow. Issuing orders to your squad is a breeze, and the game can be paused at any time to dish out orders to individual heroes and to contemplate your next move. It isn't particularly difficult to grasp the main concepts of the game, and you will be more than comfortable controlling your heroes, issuing orders and using abilities less than an hour in.
Stopping Time In Real-Time
Combat happens in real-time, but you will often find yourself paused in order to keep afloat of what is happening. Often, your squad will be split up and pausing the action is a great way to control what each of your heroes is doing. The majority of your powers drain your hero's energy bar. The more often you use powerful and specialist abilities, the quicker your team's effectiveness is reduced in battle. It's a challenge keeping your team alive, well rested and ready for the next wave of bad guys, as a low energy bar leaves your squad vulnerable to more powerful enemies. Cleverly you can set the intensity of powers whenever you use them, giving you complete control over your team's strength, helping you to plot the best course of action to take in any given scenario.
There are a large number of abilities that can be assigned to each of your superheroes, each having a profound effect on how battles pan out. It's up to you to pick a well-rounded team for each scenario, as it's not hard to become overwhelmed with enemies then watch helplessly as each of your heroes is picked off in quick succession. There are powerhouses who can lift cars and sustain large amounts of damage, smaller heroes who can get from point A to point B quickly and members who have specialist abilities that can change the course of confrontations. How you spend your Character Points to level up your squad is an important decision after each level, and you can truly customize how each of your rogues fight, manoeuvre around the world and what role they play in your team.
The visuals in Freedom Force are inspired from traditional comic books. Terms like "POW!" and "BOOF!" emanate from your enemies after each crushing blow, and cut scenes consist of beautifully drawn comic panels. A comically overexcited announcer narrates each of the games missions, which themselves tell a typically over-the-top comic book storyline about justice, aliens, magic and world domination. The visual style will be an absolute treat for fans of the medium, and it does a great job at creating a sense of style and humour throughout the game. The game's insistence on harking back to classic comic books, even parodying it at times, hammers home the over-the-top slapstick tone Freedom Force has.
Holy Level of Customization, Batman!
Whilst you have a plethora of wacky superheroes to construct an almighty team with, the option to create your own genetic freak is a notable and welcome addition. You can either choose a pre-made character to edit or import a skin of your own (or choose from the many created by others). From there, dishing out stats and assigning numerous superpowers is all that stands between you and a custom hero ready to expel justice. You can even write your own backstory for the character, if that kind of thing appeals to you.
The amount of variety when it comes to designing and levelling each of your characters means that no two levels will play the same. Each mission can be approached differently, and the amount of interaction with the levels themselves means that sneaking up on a group of thugs in one play through can be replaced with a scene of car-throwing, traffic light wielding carnage the next. In addition to the single player campaign, Danger Room is a skirmish mode enabling you to replay previous missions with a team of your creation. Deathmatch multiplayer is also available, bolstering the replay value of Freedom Force (not that servers are populated these days, leave multiplayer for groups of your friends).
A sequel, titled Freedom Force vs. The 3rd Reich, was released in 2005. The game catches up with the heroes as they travel back to World War II to take on the Nazis (naturally). Although pretty much a carbon copy of the original, it offered the same excellent, addictive gameplay and customization options that made Freedom Force such a great RPG. Comic book fanatic or not, Freedom Force is an excellent addition to any video game collection.