Freedom Fighters
by Kazlo



Uh oh, partner! The reds are a-comin' so grab your best boomstick and lock your daughter in the bomb shelter unless you want to find out just how far the principle of public ownership extends!

In 2003 your friend and mine Eidos published Freedom Fighters, a game developed by IO Interactive, the developers of the Hitman series. This time, IO is putting away the Silverballers and bald men but keeping the engine to create a full-on third-person tactical shooter. The results are far from revolutionary, but certainly exciting and occasionally creative enough to merit a looksee.

The story of Freedom Fighters is, in diplomatic terms, "straightforward". In this alternate reality, the Russians ended WWII before it started by developing the nuclear bomb and shoving it up Germany's arschloch. Communism spread to the rest of Europe at an alarming rate and in 199X A.D. Russian subs, tanks, and troopers are popping out of New York Harbour like helmeted, funny-talking daisies. YOU are a plumber whose name is so important I cannot remember it. After escaping from Soviet capture squads by bravely hiding in the bathroom of some client's apartment, you join up with The Resistance to fight those dirty Commies for truth, justice, and the American way.

Freedom Fighters uses the same engine as Hitman 2, but you couldn't tell from the design. The controls and your abilities are quite straightforward. You run, jump, climb, shoot, and reload automatically whenever there's a pause in your shooting (though the time it takes your character to decide to reload is a liiitle too short, and you may find yourself unpleasantly surprised when a commissar starts clubbing you in the face and you're still compulsively reloading). Your health is limited compared to most shooters, but the game is not hyper-realistic. Your weapons are fairly inaccurate even when using over-the-shoulder targeting, and enemies can withstand a headshot from any weapon save for your pistols, logically. What this boils down to is that you'll defeat most enemies with continuous bursts of fire, good positioning, and the element of surprise, rather than good aim and quick shooting. Where the game begins to set itself apart from the pack is the emphasis on squads. After a solo mission or two to learn the ropes, you find yourself able to recruit a variety (in appearance and armament) of freedom fighters to assist you. These guys are just a little smarter and healthier than A.I. troopers but other than their occasional make-out session with world geometry are a breeze to order around. Tapping one of three keys/buttons will tell a single trooper to fall back, attack, or defend, and holding it down will apply the order to everyone.

Your squad is surprisingly effective, and it's a good thing, too, because on any difficulty above easy, the squad will be your lifeline. As expected, you're the spearhead of every attack, but without your team to soak up shots and provide extra guns you'd soon find yourself missing appendages you didn't know you had. Though the action is quite simple and squad control is almost automatic, many missions are a balancing act where you must conserve ammo, medkits, and squadmates to push the enemy back and defeat them without screwing yourself over and getting backed into a corner yourself.

Freedom Fighters' visuals are not especially impressive but have held up alright over the years. War-torn New York is suitably drab, perhaps too suitably drab. Every level at least feels like a genuinely unique part of the city, but somehow partially destroyed buildings all seem to look pretty similar after a while. The city becomes quite beautiful towards the end of the game, as fall turns to winter, but it's still just a different shade of the same destruction. Characters are much more plentiful but less detailed than those in Hitman 2. All of the characters fit the game just fine, but your main man... Chris! seems a little bland. He's supposed to be Mr. Average, but his animations and appearance feel uninspired, which would have been alright if he was a completely silent protagonist, but he tends to pipe up now and then in cutscenes without giving you any reason to care about him.

Sound effects are adequate, and the voice acting for a few characters is surprisingly good, but the music is the real star of the show. The soundtrack was composed by Jesper Kyd, the composer for the Hitman games, and it is tender. The overall score is not quite up to par with Hitman 2 or Blood Money, but the music is fitting, striking, and grim, turning merely dim scenes into dramatic ones.

Freedom Fighters is pretty similar for GC, PS2, Xbox, or PC, but the PC is missing any kind of support for one of the greatest and most overlooked aspects of the game: multiplayer. Multiplayer is mostly based around CTF, but if you and a few friends decide to go wild on each other you'll have a ton of fun. Each player gets a standard player character, but can recruit either 4 or 8 allies (depending on the number of players) to assist them exactly the same way as a squad in single player. Multiplayer becomes a tense stand-off as you and your opponents take and defend various fortifications, occasionally meeting up for a huge scrap in the middle of an arena, wading and searching through enemy troops to kill the other player(s) and leave their squads disoriented enough to destroy. Online multiplayer have seriously taken off, but as it is I recommend you pick up a console version and try a match sometime. You might end up playing for hours.

All told, Freedom Fighters is a solid, underrated little title in almost every way, and certainly worth the 10-$20 price tag it carries these days. Playthroughs can vary from 6-10 hours depending on how many optional objectives you take on and your playing style, and it's worth trying on at least two difficulty levels. If nothing else, you can always come back three years later, play through it again, and write a review about it. Four socks - some story elements weren't worked in as well as they should have been, and the game's final levels and ending feel rushed and anticlimactic.


Overall:






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