Review by GamingJock
"Patrick Swayze would be proud"
The 1980s were a simpler and better time, gaudy fashion aside. We knew who the bad guys were- none of this 21st century terrorism baloney. They were evil, freedom-hating commie bastards who drank vodka for breakfast and suffered from a chronic shortage of toilet paper and Jesus. This atmosphere spawned one of my favorite action films, Red Dawn, a flick about high school students led by a much-too-old-to-be-in-school Patrick Swayze taking on Communist invaders in rural Colorado (of all places). As implausible as it was, it was an awesome movie.
Well, Freedom Fighters is the closest you can get to playing your very own Red Dawn. There are a number of flaws in gameplay that prevent this from being a better game, but overall the presentation is such that I replay this game at least once every year.
Freedom Fighters takes place in modern day (2003) New York City, in a world where the USSR never collapsed, and for all intensive purposes, must be pretty high-tech, considering they somehow sneak attack the US. I mean, I never understand that part in games- Red Alert 2 and World in Conflict had the same thing. How do you move an entire fleet across the Atlantic Ocean and surprise New York? And where is the U.S. military during all this? Whatever. The story is serviceable and does its job. A bunch of New Yorkers, led by two plumbers, Chris and his brother Luigi- I mean Troy- take the fight to the Soviet occupation force using the sewers as their base.
The American characters are pretty bland actually. The best characters are all Soviet, from the staunch generals to the busty propaganda news broadcaster Tatiana Kempenski. The news broadcasts detail the actions of your rebels and the news feed at the bottom provides funny bits such as recipes for eating your pets during the food crisis in winter.
There isn't a satisfying finale, in my opinion. There is no big bad boss fight, and the finish is kind of abrupt. I'm assuming the developers were fishing for a sequel, but points off for this.
Graphics obviously pale by modern standards, but this was pretty good for 2003. The environments are vast and detailed, and the vehicles in particular are well done and realistic, if not very varied. The character models are good as well, even though they repeat themselves- every Soviet soldier has the same stoic face, making you wonder if their was a cloning accident in Siberia or something. Explosions are well done, but the flame effects from Molotovs and other such things leave something to be desired.
One thing I can't stand is the ragdoll effects. Ragdoll has improved since then, but this game was released around the time when this physics feature was still in its infancy. I'm tired of soldiers practically teleporting to the floor when I shoot them, and bodies seem to lack weight.
The music is appropriately militaristic, with booming drums and brass instruments accompanied by deep Russian singing. It adds to the immersion and makes you really feel like the Reds are in Manhattan.
Sound effects and speech are more hit-or-miss. Soviet soldiers growl the same few lines over and over (at least it's in Russian), while your freedom fighters spout jingoism and patriotism while mowing down enemies. Like many other games, the weapons in Freedom Fighters lack punch or power in their sound effects. I am tired of firing a Beretta that is barely louder than a cap gun.
The gameplay is a squad-based third-person shooter. Your character, Chris, controls like many other third-person games. Holding the right-mouse gives an over-the-shoulder zoom to help aiming, but his accuracy is atrocious regardless of whether you aim from the hip or use the right-mouse. For example, the game is coded so that the .357 revolver can't hit the broad side of a barn at 30 feet, so your personal aiming ability with the mouse makes little or no difference. Maybe this makes sense at the beginning of the game, when he is a simple plumber, but you would think his accuracy would improve after making widows of hundreds of Russian women. Guess not.
The selling point of the game is fighting alongside AI teammates, or "freedom fighters". You gain charisma through completing objectives or good deeds like healing wounded civilians and Russian deserters. With charisma "level-ups", you are able to recruit more fighters, up to a maximum of 12. These guys and gals have varied weapons and follow you around like a posse, and you can give orders such as follow, defend, and advance. The orders are very limited, and it is impossible to pick a particular fighter to give a specific order to- you have to cycle through all of them. In the end, this doesn't really matter because it's far easier to just have them follow you like a massive mob, tactics be damned.
There is the standard variety of weapons, from pistols and shotguns to rifles and an RPG. The problem is, you will be using the AK-47 for 75 percent of the game. Why? Ammo. Most of the enemies are regular grunts, nearly all of whom use the AK. Plus, Chris can barely carry any rounds for most guns, and the average soldier takes half a magazine to drop, so you will constantly run short of ammo for most other guns. This kind of limits the gameplay choices a bit.
The AI is functional, and at some times, pretty good. Your freedom fighters can pick their own cover and lean and shoot like real infantry. Enemies do the same and advance crouched under fire. However, sometimes they decide to forego cover and just bum-rush you, even if it's one commie versus you and 12 freedom fighters, which kind of kills the realism.
The best part of the gameplay is how the levels in a particular section are tied together. You can visit any level and complete some or none of the objectives before switching to another location. For example, if I destroy the helipad in the dockyard, I won't have the face Hind attack choppers when I assault the hotel the Soviets are using as an HQ. This gives a real sense of strategy. However, it is kind of annoying how all the enemies respawn in the same spots when you leave an area.
The biggest gripe I have with the gameplay is the difficulty settings. I hate when game developers take the easy route by just pumping up enemy health. Soviet goons are equally smart/dumb on all of the settings, but their health varies significantly. On the easiest setting your freedom fighters are nearly invincible and the enemies go down too easy. You could send your bullet-absorbing comrades to clear out the entire map on their own. But on the highest setting, suddenly every American is made of tissue paper and the Soviets are human mech warriors. I swear, when the average grunt takes THREE sniper rifle bullets to the head to kill, no wonder I run out of ammo. Hey Io Interactive, this isn't fun or challenging- it's cheap and stupid.
Problems aside, on the second-highest difficulty the game is a bunch of fun.
While the levels can be completed in different order, the "campaigns" progress in a linear fashion. There isn't any multiplayer, so some players might feel bored after completing the game. However, I found it lots of fun to play it over several times over.
Overall, this game is worth adding to your collection. I've heard rumors about a sequel in the works for years. I hope Io Interactive goes ahead and makes, and here's hoping they fix some of the gameplay issues in addition to making it looking pretty with next-gen graphics.
> BTW, I just thought that if the Soviets invaded modern day USA, the events in Red Dawn would never happen. I mean, kids lately... what are they gonna do, fight the commies with iPods, VW Jettas, and Facebook? We would get steamrollered by the hardened Russians. Whatever, I digress :D
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 03/20/09
Game Release: Freedom Fighters (US, 10/01/03)
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