Communists are kind of like the Nazis in American Culture. Sure, the Communists technically never tried to wipe out specific races of people (they were pretty much willing to kill any race that opposed them), but they will always be a universal acceptable enemy (unless of course Communists or Nazis take over America, then I imagine this would change). However, ever since the Cold War ended, way back in the 1980s, Communists have dropped out of the fears of Americans and they haven’t really gotten the respect as world conquering evil doers that they once did. Now, more than a decade after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the USSR, IO Interactive decided to rewrite some history, and release Freedom Fighters, a game that provides a brief glimpse at a once possible future. So, what would the world be like if it were taken over by Communists? IO attempts to paint the grim picture…
But where do you come in? You play as a plumber named Chris Stone. He and his brother, a fellow plumber, are on their way to unclog the sink of a lady named Isabella, who is believed to be strongly anti-Communist, even going as far as to give speeches against the Reds. Chris isn’t a follower of politics, but his brother Troy closely monitors the political environment. In almost eerie foreshadowing (woo spooky!), Troy warns Chris of the dangers of not worrying about the Communist threat, but Chris still doesn’t care. They arrive at Isabella’s apartment and begin their repairs, when suddenly armed men burst through the door. With thick Russian accents “gently” ask where the tenant is but apparently the Russian gunmen have no plumbers in their homeland and assume that Troy must be her boyfriend. He is taken away with them, but fortunately Chris was in a room they didn’t bother to search (how convenient!). Unfortunately, his brother is gone and there’s some major stuff going on right outside the building. He runs out and finds an old man who seems willing to help him, and he follows the man that will lead him on a life-changing journey. The story stays gripping throughout, but don’t expect RPG-type depth or development (though, there are several plot twists that are well executed).
Freedom Fighter’s gameplay is quite simple. It’s setup as a team-based tactical strategy, but I for one quickly discovered that tactics get you no where, and it’s all about running as fast as you can and killing as many Commies as you can. As you progress though, you’re no longer capable of defeating every one of them on your own, so fortunately you can recruit fighters to join up with you. Not many people will trust you at first, so you have to prove yourself by building up your charisma. Once you get 100 charisma points, you can recruit one more fighter to join up with you. This is an interesting system, in that it encourages you to be an actual defender of the innocent. You see, you gain a few charisma points here and there for helping out civilians who need healing, and freeing hostages and the like. This in turn allows you to recruit more soldiers, which helps because you’re now protected when searching for new people to help. Towards the end of the game, you actually feel like it’s your duty to help them, which is a great feeling to get from a video game.
While not necessarily the brightest bunch, your soldiers will actually perform the tasks that you give them. As a fan of the more tactical Ghost Recon series, I was a bit bothered by the lack of commands that you can issue to your troops…in fact, you can only actually give three commands – defend, attack, and fallback. I quickly got used to the limitations though, and realized that I didn’t need necessarily need more commands for them – I just would have liked them. The AI behind your fellow Freedom Fighters is pretty good, but I found it lacking some of the most basic tactics – only a few times did my fellow comrades in arms bother to take perfect opportunities to flank our enemies. Sometimes they’d run out into the open instead of avoiding firefights, and I had no control over it at all.
Despite this problem, the game remains fun. As your progress, you’re instructed by your allies in the war to go out and remove Soviet opposition from a variety of different environments – movie theaters, docks, power plants, and other locations. Most of the time, you’re given a choice of where you’d like to go first. Interestingly, this has a direct effect on your success in the next area. I like that aspect of the game a lot, since in most games, what you’ve done in your previous mission has little effect on what goes on in your next mission. There are other times when there is only one option on the path before you, and there are even times when you have to go on solo stealth missions, which require a rapid change of gameplay. This was hard to adjust to at first, but I liked the change in gameplay, as it added some more variety to a fairly short and linear title.
Most of the time, you won’t even need to look at the map of the area in order to complete your mission. This is because of the incredible linearity of the title. You basically just keep running in the direction that you haven’t been and you’ll eventually finish the area. Soviet opposition slows you down a little, but once you get used to the controls and the auto-aiming, you pretty much don’t need to slow down anymore making for a fairly short title (when all the bullets stopped flying, I’d only played the title for 7 hours). The controls are a bit unwieldy though. I found aiming with the weapons in manual mode to be excruciating, but fortunately the auto-aim is so good that I only needed to use it on a few missions.
Freedom Fighters looks a lot like Rockstar’s State of Emergency. The character models are almost all exactly alike except for the few main characters, and the environments are extremely spacious with many similar areas in them. However, the gameplay is so gripping that you hardly even care that you’ve fought off the same waves of enemies at the same gun turret setup before, and you care even less when you’re at that gun turret laying down even more enemies. The environments are extremely large, with lots of back alleys to explore and find items in, such as new weapons. While not as accurately modeled as more realistic shooters, there’s a good variety of different weaponry (from plastic explosives to rocket launches to submachine guns and so on), and a handy inventory system to keep in control of all of it. Lackluster sound effects (there are no footsteps for crying out loud!) are redeemed by haunting Russian music and some great voice-overs for almost all of the characters.
In the end, Freedom Fighters is definitely worth your rental money – but sadly, not much more than that. I certainly liked the game, but after beating it, I can say that it’s going back to the video store without being played again. A limited multiplayer mode is included with the game, but there’s very little variation between it and the main mode, which doesn’t add any life to the title. If you’re up for it though, Freedom Fighters will deliver some captivating gameplay to sink your teeth into.