As a rule, the British tend to be more reserved than our American cousins, particularly when it comes to gushing patriotism. But for the last few days, we’ve been there with the best of them, staring straight down the gun barrel of the American dream whilst wearing a back-to-front baseball cap and a National Rifle Association T-shirt. The office has been disturbed by constant whoops and jeers, ranging from the straightforward “yeah, baby”, to the curious “who’s your daddy?” to the worrying “eat lead, you God damn commie bastards”.
For such a response to be elicited from any one team member, something special must have wandered into our midst. To have the whole team behaving in such an inappropriate manner can only mean we’ve stumbled across one of our favourite games so far this year.
Imagine what the world would be like if the Russians had won the Cold War. That’s the premise of Freedom Fighters. The Reds are the dominant world power and they’ve just invaded the USA and instated a communist regime. The only hope is a plumber called Chris, and all he has on his side is loads of guns, a gang of very willing cannon fodder, and the American dream.
Playing as Chris, you start the game on your lonesome, but are soon able to recruit loyal followers who will do whatever you tell them. Every time your Charisma Meter fills up – when you take on daring feats or heal the injured – you are able to recruit another soldier into your army, up to a maximum of 12. What makes the game great is the simple fact that commanding these gung-ho fools actually works. There are three commands, attack, defend, and follow me. If you tap a button, you will give an order to a single soldier. Hold it down, and the entire squad will do your bidding.
Click down the left thumbstick and the action switches to an over-the-shoulder view, useful for precision shooting and giving out more specific orders. Put the aiming reticule on one unfortunate enemy, give the attack command, and your boys will tear him to pieces. Put your reticule over a gun emplacement and give the defend command, and one of your guys will take up position and blow away anything that comes close.
Your men behave exactly as they should do, and that’s the real beauty of the game. With the occasional exception, they are intelligent, providing covering fire, taking cover behind walls and other parts of the scenery and fighting effectively and aggressively. Tell them to attack a gun tower and they’ll throw a grenade. Tell them to retreat, and on their way back to you they’ll take out an enemy soldier with a few well-aimed pistol shots to the head. We don’t like to glorify violence, but it sure is fun.
You progress through the game by freeing areas of New York from communist control. Each area is made up of smaller sub-areas, or as we like to call them, ‘levels’. You can move freely between these levels via the sewers. At the manhole covers you can save your game and/or move onto a different level. And you have to flit between the levels, because what you do in one affects another. On one of the early levels you are unable to progress because you are pinned down by snipers. So you move to another area and blow up the tower they are hiding on, thus allowing you to progress. The level design is excellent; whatever you need at any given moment, be it a medi-kit or a save point, it always seems to be close at hand. And the open nature of the levels, mixed with the squad command dynamic, makes for an extremely varied and personal game. There are always several ways to go about any part of the game, and usually the best path will present itself to you with a little exploration. Thanks to the handy map, navigating your way towards the next objective never involves aimless wandering.
Aside from a few bugs, which should be ironed out before final release, this game is a tasty piece of eye candy. All the environments are not only huge but extremely detailed. It runs on the same engine as Hitman 2, but looks much better. All the enemies do excellent demonstrations of ‘rag-doll’ physics as you fill them with bullets. The sound is of the same high quality, with excellent gun FX and a stirring neo-classical musical score.
It’s a tricky game, and most missions take a few goes to crack while you work out the best tactics, and how to use your men most effectively. There are four difficulty settings, giving a game that already has plenty of replay value a little bit more – but we recommend that you don’t opt for the easiest one, as you’ll see the end credits too soon.
It’s been some time since we last had a game the whole team enjoyed so much, and we suggest you get it as soon as possible.