Mr. Exposition reviews: Freedom Force

Please note: if you consider that review "TL;DR", don't bother posting. In fact, what are you even doing in review section if you have allergy to walls of text? But if you do post that or something in that manner anyway, i am going to carpet-bomb your neighborhood. Thank you.

***

I think i am getting back up to speed with those reviews. This time, we shall tell the world about the glorious guardians, the superpowered saviors, the valiant vigilantes - the majestic, incredible, spectacular, amazing, unbeliveable Freedom Force!

Those are not exactly box pictures - but it's the same art. Excuse me for that, i simply couldn't find versions of decent size.

Freedom Force and Freedom Force Vs. the 3rd Reich were made by Irrational Games. Yeah right, the same guys who brought System Shock and Bioshock to us. Freedom Force was made in 2002, and Freedom Force Vs. the 3rd Reich followed in 2005.

The awesome aesthetic!

If you didn't get the memo yet, NEWS FLASH: Freedom Force is an affectionate parody on the comic books of Silver Age. You know, the times when Batman was played by Adam West and had Bat-Shark-Repellent-Spray. The amounts of campiness and overacting in that game are huge, and some of the superheroes are rather silly. For example - one of the heroes is Man-O-War, a fisherman-turned-amphibian with the power to contol electricity and water. Another is Minuteman, who constantly spouts patriotism and wears American Civil War-era uniform in the colors of United States' flag. Yet another one is... well, you get the idea. Most of those heroes were inspired by widely-known characters of real comic books. Man-O-War is a parody on Aquaman, Minuteman - on Captain America, and so on.

The graphics in this game have aged really well. Simplicity of objects is almost unnoticeable, because it really does look like a comic. Many elements add up to it - the caricature look of all the characters, the hilarious stereotyping, various sound effects like BIFF, THUD, ZAP, FWOOSH, VRRANNG, etcetera appearing upon attacks, the classic comic-style Narrator, and every single item or character having alliterative pun in it's description (which this terrific review proudly parodies). There are even origin stories for most heroes you recruit, which are something in between comic and animation. Three WW2 heroes in FF Vs. the 3rd Reich even get origin stories stylized as Golden Age comic books - talk about attention to details. And of course there's the music, which is not only good, but also very appropriate.

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El Diablo's assault against icy invaders!

The perilous plot!

Okay, so where do we start. Freedom Force kicks off when Lord Dominion, an evil alien bent on conquering everything in sight and then some more, decides to give criminals on Earth superpowers, sit back, and enjoy the show. Luckily, the shipment of Energy X got hijacked by one guy from the local resistance, and ended up getting dropped randomly on Earth - mostly in Patriot City, which is just New York in paper-thin disguise. Some people hit with it were good, some were bad. First hero to appear is Minuteman, who was rescued from impending death by convinient charge of Energy X. First serious villain heroes fight is ushanka-wearing communist spy with ice powers who calls himself "Nuclear Winter". And it only gets more and more ridiculous from there.

The plot of a sequel, meanwhile, reaches for the shelf and pulls out Godwin's Law Of Time Travel. Blitzkrieg, a telepathic Nazi whose abilities include "Lebensraum" and "a beam of pure Nazi rage", travels back in time to grant the 3rd Reich with the power of Energy X (creatively renamed "Reich Radiation" by him). Freedom Force members travel back in time to foil his plot - but an unexpected part pops up. There are three non-superpowered heroes fighting in World War 2. There's a British spy Blackjack armed with a pistol, flashbangs, poisonous playing cards, and his laughable accent. There's Tricolour, a female fencing champion "compelled" to join the bad guys by aforementioned psychic Nazi and brought back to sanity by the force of Le French PatriotismTM. And there's the Sky King: an armour-wearing jetpack-equipped American movie hero who decided to become a hero in real life.

Over the course of the first game, eponymous Freedom Force fights: thugs and gangsters, icy communists, hordes of clones, invading aliens, shadow-people, robots led by deranged architect, giant ants, dinosaurs, and a Greek god. Sequel adds Nazi soldiers, Nazi gorillas, Nazi brains-in-jars, Russian witch turning people into frogs, hive-minded duplicating Japanese general, opera singer leading legionnaries, and forces of pure chaos to that list. Yes, this is exactly as insane and comic book-y as it sounds.

What's intresting is how Freedom Force approaches - and parodies - traditional comic book tropes. For example, for each "story arc" of a few missions, there's an appropriate cover, again in the style of Silver Age comics. Finales of both games bear resemblance to various "crisis crossovers" with mighty enemies distorting the very fabric of reality. The tutorial of FF Vs. the 3rd Reich is set up as a classic example of "Super-Dickery" (i.e. the situation when hero appears as a dick on a cover, but storyline reveals the cover lied once again). And so on.

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Honored heroes at their Freedom Fortress!

The gratifying gameplay of Freedom Force!

Freedom Force is a mix of strategy and RPG. Before each mission, you can pick four characters for your squad (some may be required). In the field, you control them in isometric perspective and you're able to pause the action and coordinate. Each hero has two stats - health and energy reserves, and there's also limited number of heroic deeds allowing for quick recovery - in most cases only one. Energy regenerates by itself, health does not, and you can find canisters of Energy X strewn across the levels - red one to restore health, purple ones to increase energy regen speed. Right click brings up the command menu, in which you can pinpoint target you want to attack, see the area of effect for power (if it has one), and choose power intensity (pump it up for more damage or tone down to conserve energy).

There is an intresting system to handle various type of damage. Each object in the world has resistances and vulnerabilities, depending on a type of material and character attributes. For example, ice characters are vulnerable to fire (d'oh), fleshy ones - to radiation, mechanical ones - to electricity, and so on. That way you can counter villains very efficently if you know which of your characters to use.

Speaking of characters, there's a whole lot of them in story - about twenty or so. The character is defined by the content of three tabs: first one contains basic parameters (strength for melee and throwing, speed of movement, agility for dodge chances, endurance for health and energy for... well, energy) which are set in stone, and predetermined set of character attributes - some of them give effects from the get-go, others may be activated for a certain amount of character points. The second tab contains powers divided into two lists, some of which are also locked in the beginning. And again, you can level up your existing powers from level 1 to level 5, or activate new ones (the previous one must be leveled up to 3 or higher first). The third tab contains material. All those - basics, attributes, powers, and material - add up to give total value of character in points. In the third tab there's also a list of resistances and vulnerabilities, information about him, and a button to replay secret origin (if he has one).

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Misusing magic on Reds-with-rockets!

The leveling system works as follows: characters get 300 experience for participating in a mission, 200 if they stay in the base. For one level you need 600 experience, which upon level-up gives you 600 of the aforementioned character points. You can get bonus XP (thus bumping you up to next level faster) by picking up green canisters of Energy X. For completing objectives and picking up yellow canisters of Energy in the game you get Prestige points. These points then can be used to recruit new heroes for your team, by paying "value" of that character in Prestige. In addition to few built-in heroes, you can create custom characters either from the blank slate (you can't create your own models or effects, but you can set any parameters at will) or by modifying existing ones. And then recruit them.

One last thing: there's a "danger room" function, which allows you to replay any mission. You can even use enemy characters for that.

The captivating changes of Freedom Force Vs. the 3rd Reich!

First, of course there are several new characters and more than enough new enemies. But that's pretty obvious.

Some things have been reworked in the sequel, mostly parts of gameplay. First and foremost, the energy system was simplified. Instead of one uninterrupted meter, there's a bar divided in three segments. Basic powers don't require energy, some consume one segment, some two, and most powerful ones three. In FF Vs. the 3rd Reich you can only make attacks more powerful by spending an extra part of the bar - "no energy needed" powers require one segment in supermode, and so on. Of course, you cannot pump the 3-bar powers further up, because you only have 3 segments of energy. I, personally, think that simplification of energy management was a good thing.

Second - and in my opinion, much more important thing - is that Heroic Deeds were seriously buffed up for the sequel. Now they can restore health, energy, and cure character of all negative state at once. Other thing to note is that in the sequel, some characters have gained new powers. Properties of some old powers were shifted as well. Set of options for character customization is much wider. Multiplayer and "Danger Room" (rapidly renamed "Rumble Room") offer ten times more possibilities than in the original. But on a grand scale, mechanics did not change all that much.

And last but not least, the noticeable change in one character's personality. In Freedom Force Mentor was reasonably overacting, no more than everyone else. But in FF Vs. 3rd Reich, he is a clinical case of what we TV Tropers call "Large Ham", spewing melodrama in all directions.

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Nefarious Nazi automatons at large!

The dastardly drawbacks!

Okay, first things first. Original Freedom Force can be hard at times - even on normal difficulty. Plus, the difficulty setting is in options menu, and you're not presented with it when you start the campaign. In FF Vs. 3rd Reich, though, this problem is dealt with. Also from the difficulty category, "Heroic Deeds" in original Freedom Force are severely underpowered. You are using them either to clear off a negative state, to restore health, or to replenish energy - not all three at once, and they can't do squat if your character is knocked out. But again, this is dealt with in FF Vs. 3rd Reich.

Another, very very annoying problem is that most attacks - especially beam attacks - have tendency to completely miss their targets. When you ramp up an attack and expend all energy of that character only to have it miss the target, you can get pretty irritated. Enemies overusing stuns and knockdowns can also get on your nerves. Finally, the camera in original game cannot be rotated - i never actually ran into any problems with it, but it's still a flaw. On the whole though, these are very good games, maybe because in those review series i only review games which are not shit.

I've retroactively moved screenshots into the review itself. It sucks less that way.

Recommendation: Freedom Force is a hilarious parody on Silver Age comic books, and it has solid solid gameplay to boot. And it's only seven and a half bucks on Steam. If you are a fan of comics or RPGs, you should definitely get it. If you are not a fan of comics or RPGs, but are feeling intrested, you could give it a go anyway - download the demo, maybe you'll like it. Then again - if you are not a fan of comics or RPGs, how can you even call yourself a geek?

Irrational Games' website is here, and the Steam page is here.

My latest review:
Cortex Command

My early reviews:
Machinarium
Platypus

Please don't comment on those two, as they are very old. Send me a PM if you want to ask something.

Intresting fact: this review took me three bloody days to finish. A mix of procrastination and it's sheer volume is a wonderful thing. If you read through it, you probably could leave a comment here. Please. I want your feedback, people!

Now that R&CF: A Crack In Time is out, the climactic conclusion of Freedom Force is hilarious in hindsight. I've expected eardrum-shattering scream pervasively proclaiming "LAAAAAAAAAWRENCEEEE!!!" at any minute. Aaaany minute now...

...

Yes, i cannot shut up about R&C. Deal with it.

Hell, that's pretty good, never heard about it.
A nice and "captivating" review here.
I got a bit confused between the descriptions of the two games, though. It's hard to swith your mind from one to another.
And, Ratchet and Clank, huh? I thought you were joking.

Journeythroughhell:
And, Ratchet and Clank, huh? I thought you were joking.

What do you mean "i was joking"? The addendum at the end is simply a joke-commentary "in the low tone of voice", nothing more.

Yeah, I picked it up when Steam had both parts for 2 !

Steam's great for older games, if you're willing to wait for the right price to come around!

I did find it hard, I admit, but the whole cheesy campy feel of the game really adds to the fun, and it's good that you can switch between real time, slow, or turn based.

All in all, I agree with the review pretty much completely.

Kollega:

Journeythroughhell:
And, Ratchet and Clank, huh? I thought you were joking.

What do you mean "i was joking"? The addendum at the end is simply a joke-commentary "in the low tone of voice", nothing more.

I mean, when you metioned Ratchet & Clank in the PMs.
Also, it's not a bad thing.
I have a similar problem when it comes to The Rock

Looks alright, good review Kollega (Even if the mail you sent me was a bit of a plug). Have you ever considered doing video reviews in the future?

Pegghead:
Looks alright, good review Kollega (Even if the mail you sent me was a bit of a plug).

I said that i don't usually do that, and i just want some recognition for three days writing of it stretched over.

Have you ever considered doing video reviews in the future?

No. I don't even have a good microphone, let alone a camera. And people would probably accuse me of ripping off Yahtzee, because they accuse everyone of that.

Kollega:

Yes, i cannot shut up about R&C. Deal with it.[/small]

So I've noticed :P

I like your reviewing style. Made me laugh on a couple of occasions.

Fat Man Spoon:
I like your reviewing style. Made me laugh on a couple of occasions.

It's probably because it's similar style to Yahtzee's (well, the similes are similar, at least), plus the game itself is humorous.

This is a very good and detailed review, I rather enjoyed reading it, kudos.

 

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