Imagine if much of the history for the last sixty or so years didn’t happen the way it actually did. Imagine if the nuclear bomb was dropped on Berlin, and the UK reluctantly joined Soviets. Imagine if Soviets managed to put medium-range missiles on Cuba, and invade the entire South America. Imagine if the President was assassinated two years ago, and that the entire North America is in for a big surprise.
Chris and Troy Stone are two plumbers in Manhattan who are living life just like anyone else. Troy is the slightly paranoid of the two, watching the increasing pressure of Communism closely. Chris doesn’t care that much, keeping his mind mostly on work. The story takes place “yesterday”, when the two are hired to fix the sink at a woman's named Isabella Angelina. Isabella is an important member of an organization that does its best to fight communism in ways of informing the public, so as you’d imagine Troy is quite excited when they enter her house. After a minute or two Russian voices are heard from outside the door. A troop of commie soldiers, led by general Tatarin, storm the apartment in search of Isabella. But when they can’t find her they decide to arrest everyone in the apartment complex. You don’t feel like being arrested, so armed with your wrench you start laying down some punishment. The commie invasion has begun, but a few brave men and women take it upon themselves to fight the red bastards. These people are called freedom fighters, and that’s your profession starting immediately. Somewhere down in the sewers you’ll coordinate missions, like liberating fire stations, blowing up key structures, etc.
Between each mission (including sub-missions) you get to watch the new communist invasion newscast, where a rather funny Russian woman Tatiana Kempinski tells the viewers about current events, focusing mainly on “terrorist” uprisings. This gives you a slightly different perspective on the story, and makes it just a bit more believable. According to her the communist leaders have been concerned for the American people, so now they’re there to liberate the people from their oppressive and corrupt regime. They’d like to restore peace, and hope the American people will swear allegiance to their new leaders, so they could reap the benefits of communism. Any resistance will be looked upon as terrorism, and will be dealt with swiftly and brutally.
Freedom Fighters is essentially a third-person squad based action game, where you control Chris Stone, but over time will be able to recruit a number of soldiers. The missions in Freedom Fighters are dealt with in a different way from most similar games. Early in the game you’ll be asked to liberate a certain building, but you can’t reach it, because snipers that took cover on the top of a gas station are killing anyone who gets near. On the mission map you’ll usually be able to visit several locations, so in this example you’ll head over to the gas station, sneak up to the fuel containers, and blow it sky high. Later in the game the main objective is to kill all the commies in a fire station, and raise the American flag to show who’s in charge. At this point there are several strategies you can do, depending on how hard you want the game to be.
For instance, a fighter copter is circling around a bridge you’ll need to cross, so first you’ll have to visit the helipad and blow it to bits. TNT is needed to blow up the gas station, so a visit to a diner is needed, where the commies are storing their firepower. When all that’s done you’re free to try liberating the fire station, but prepare to be fired upon!
At the start of the game very few people know who Chris is, so you can say his street creds aren’t too great. Chris can earn Charisma points by healing injured civilians, and once in a while you’ll have enough to go up in level, which means you can recruit more soldiers. Squad based guerilla warfare is tons of fun in Freedom Fighters, because for once the artificial intelligence works like a dream – most of the time. You can climb up boxes, hop through windows, and your group will follow you without a question. On the XBOX version you can order your men and women around using the X, Y and B button. The X button is used to recall your soldiers, the Y button to attack whatever area you’re aiming at, while the B button is used to order them to defend the area you’re aiming at. This works extremely well most of the time, but there are even more neat interface features. The inventory can be accessed using the digital pad, so for instance by holding down on the digital pad and releasing you’ll select the pistol, while holding to the right and releasing will select the Molotov cocktails. It can be easy to miss the bottom left, bottom right, top left and top right items, but with practice you’ll probably be fine. Thanks to this interface feature the action is even quicker.
Chris can only carry one main weapon and a pistol at a time, but there are several fun tools of destruction to be used during the game. Russians are known for their AK weapons, and one of their models (47 or 74 probably) is used a lot (From the screenshots looks like both of them are used in the game – Editor). There’s also a shot-gun that looks a lot like a Spas-12, and later in the game you’ll use a rocket launcher, a sniper rifle, and more. Mounted guns are common, and obviously very efficient at what they do best. Cars explode very realistically, and like in Halo whoever gets to close ends up flying. You’re unfortunately not able to drive any of the cars, but considering how little damage they can handle you’d probably be blown to bits if you tried.
A game that takes place in Manhattan obviously needs to look a lot like its real-life counterpart, and Freedom Fighters does so. I’ve never been there in real-life, but the architecture, the cars, the diner, and the shops all look authentic. IO Interactive’s own 3d engine Glacier was used, which can do plenty of neat special-effects, like rain, snow, explosions, smoke, and more. The levels are obviously designed mainly to accommodate fun gameplay, and they really are tons of fun. The gameplay might be a little repetitive at times, considering how you’re usually just running and shooting, but make no mistake – it’s a whole lot more fun than your average sci-fi run-and-gun shooter. Also worth noting is that the environments are quite dynamic, meaning big things can blow up and it’ll look really good.
The sound-effects, voice-overs and background music in Freedom Fighters are also very good. All story-related characters have appropriate voice-overs, and thankfully the accents all sound American, even if the game was developed in Denmark. The soundtrack is quite varied, and extremely well done. Some of the tracks reminded me of the Fight Club soundtrack, a movie with an atmosphere comparable with Freedom Fighters. Other tracks have a bit of 80s synth-pop in them, mixed with a bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Jesper Kyd, the man behind the soundtracks used in games like Brute Force, Hitman 1-2, and Messiah composed and performed – along with the Hungarian Radio Choir. The entire soundtrack has over an hour of original music, and at least in my experience it was very hard to dislike it even after hours of playing.
The XBOX version supports split screen multiplayer for up to four players, where the players join the Russian or the American side, select a deathmatch-like map, and duke it out. It’s interesting because throughout the maps you’ll find huge containers with fresh recruits and mounted guns on top, so it’s smart to dominate as many containers as possible, so the opponent(s) can’t build up a gang and put up a fight. Multiplayer really is tons of fun, but the more people who join you the better.
The controls are much easier on the PC version – especially when aiming manually, but it doesn’t seem like the AI is too sensitive, so you can usually sneak up and take your time when aiming. Auto-aim is used when running around normally, but unlike for instance Die Hard Vendetta on the Gamecube you’ll at least have to do most of the aiming yourself, and the game will do its best to fine-tune the shots.
I like positive surprises, and this game happened to be a prime example of what seemed like a nice game, but ended up being an extremely well designed, and well done action game. There are some gameplay features that you could want, it may not be the longest action game out there, and there isn’t very much replay value, but I can almost be completely confident that if you’re a fan of action games, and the idea of urban guerilla warfare with great AI sounds good, then this is a must-have.