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Freedom Force Revisited

Classic Cheap Games

This month sees the release of DC Universe Online and the conversion of Champions Online to a Free-to-Play model. So we here in the Classic Cheap Games corner of NinjaCamp thought it'd be fun to revisit a spiritual daddy to those titles: Irrational Games' 2002 release, Freedom Force.



Freedom Force was the game which broke the “superhero game curse”, as every major superhero video game previous had been canceled before release. The gameplay occurs in real-time, but the player is able to pause the game and issue orders. As such, it is also an interesting precursor to games such as Dragon Age:Origins or the King's Bounty franchise.


Freedom Force is a tribute to Silver Age Comics, and the visuals are specifically an homage to the art of Jack Kirby (even more specifically the “Cosmic Dot” era Kirby, but hey-- let's not get too geeky, right?). The voice acting is playfully over the top, with the heroes and villains all having distinct and enjoyable accents and quips, leaning heavily on the tropes and stereotypes of the vintage comics which fuel the game. The provided heroes have all your favorite superpowers, from flame-powered flight and superstrength to the ability to summon lightning from the sky. Freedom Force features destructible terrain, and stronger characters are able to pick up various parts of their their surroundings to wield against their enemies. There is something indescribably wondrous to the act of beating your enemies unconscious with a streetlight.


The player controls 1-4 heroes, selectable from a pool of Freedom Force members whose ranks swell as your team gains prestige for their heroic deeds. The initial missions are fun and straight-forward, giving the player plenty of time to get used to the “pause” nature of the game while ramping up the number of heroes and difficulty level. This delight fades a bit as the game's middle third is an interminable process of visiting repetitive level maps with slight variations of tasks. This might have been palatable if there was more lee-way on the the player's ability to impact the game world, but the player's only real input is in the resolution of combat, while things like story-arc and character development are strictly on rails. The final third of the game is a joy, however, and the game rediscovers its momentum with a real sense of resolution as we see clever levels with unexpected twists. While the middle of the game can be a bit of a slog, the end of the trip is well worth getting through it.


Multi-player & Character Creation

There is a multi-player option which feels tacked on at the last minute, but it's clunky and unpleasant enough that we'll just skip over it entirely, and instead move on to the far more interesting character creation. Freedom Force comes with a built-in character editor, allowing players to customize their own heroes or recreate their favorites from the comics. The custom heroes are able to be recruited and used on in-game missions. (The customization tools are intriguing enough that even 9 years after release, there is an active community of Freedom Force modders producing everything from custom meshes and skins to entire new campaigns and story arcs.) There is a wide variety of powers and combinations, enough that the designers seemed to want to use them as enticement for multiple play-throughs. Partly for this reason the single-player campaign is not designed to allow you to unlock all the characters' abilities.


Unless you cheat. Which brings us to...


Cheats and Walkthoughs

There are a number of documents to guide a player through the world of Freedom Force, but the definitive cheat sheet/walkthrough seems to be this one by simulacrum on ign. It contains a complete walkthrough, character descriptions, and console line tags, which are very helpful, especially if you want to play with all of the above-mentioned powers without multiple replays.


Summary

Freedom Force is a fun bit of retro superheroic escapism, a game where the designers' love of the source material comes through at every turn.

As a whole, the game gets 4 out of 5 severed thumbs of our enemies.

It and its sequel (2004's Freedom Force vs the Third Reich) are available on Steam, while the sequel alone is on GOG.com.