If you’ve ever seen the movie Red Dawn and wanted to experience fighting Communist Russians on American soil (sans Patrick Swayze), your prayers have been answered. Run, don’t walk, to get your hands on a copy of Freedom Fighters.
The game offers an alternate world where Communist Russia never fell in favor of democracy, but rather set out to take over the world and establish a reign of red. Starting in South America, Soviet forces gradually moved north until they took control of New York City in 2003, where the rest of the game takes place.
You play as Chris Stone, part of a brotherly duo of plumbers (perhaps a Mario Bros. joke?) on their way to fix some pipes in The Big Apple when they’re ambushed by Soviet troops. Chris narrowly escapes to the New York sewers where a rebellion is just taking root. The city is in chaos as tanks roll through the streets, red stars emblazoned on the sides, and the Russian general starts his propaganda machine via loudspeakers and all local news broadcasts. The game does an admirable job of setting the atmosphere of an occupied New York, from the soldiers in the boroughs, to billboards supporting the newly installed government, to the CG news broadcasts between missions that condemn the Freedom Phantom, as Chris is known. As the streets start crawling with Russian troops, they set up bunkers and machine gun nests to quell any insurrection among the natives. Troop trucks roll by, helicopters hover between skyscrapers, and despite the presence of some specific NYC landmarks, you really start to feel like the last sane man in a world gone mad. I couldn’t help but think of the real-world ramifications of this game, putting us in the place of the occupied, instead of the other way around. We call it “Peace-keeping” when we do it, but is that how the people we’re “protecting” see it?
Back to the game at hand, the visuals range from above-average to excellent. Weapon models all look like the real thing, and most of your equipment is visible on your character at all times. Chris is limited to carrying one rifle and one sidearm, his trusty wrench, and whatever else he can squeeze into his backpack. These other items include C4 explosives, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and health packs, while the guns range from .357 Magnum and Desert Eagle handguns to sniper rifles, shotguns, the classic AK-47, the LAW rocket launcher, and the powerful M-60. Ammo can be hard to come by if you try to stick to a particular weapon, so having to switch up often (to whatever the enemy drops) adds some variety. The rest of your squad comes equipped with one primary weapon that they stick with, but never seem to run out of ammo. Unlimited ammo is nice, but sometimes if you’re in a firefight across a lot of open ground, a shotgun spraying buckshot isn’t going to do much good beyond the first 10 feet. Luckily, these squad members are pretty durable, so you can send them sprinting across the battlefield without worrying too much about them dying. Even if they do become incapacitated, just walk up to them, offer a health pack, and they’re back in action. You’ll occasionally also find injured citizens or even enemy troops who, when healed, will either raise your charisma level or offer to join the fight.
The charisma system is how you recruit squad-mates and helps even out the difficulty curve. Just as things start heating up, if you’ve helped many of the injured people you’ve found, you’ll gain charisma, and the more you have, the greater the number of people who will follow you into battle. By the end of the game, having a fearless dirty dozen of your own feels pretty cool. Other events can raise charisma, too, like saving your buddies and raising American flags over occupied territories.
The squad command system is simple, intuitive, and effective. It revolves around three buttons on the controller, and with the tap or hold of a button, you can instantly command one or all of your troops to follow you, scout an area, or hold and defend a position. Switching to first-person aiming when giving commands allows you to send them to a very specific spot, and not only do they follow orders to the letter, they seek cover on their own and have some of the best path-finding A.I. I’ve ever seen. Try standing on the roof of a building while your troops are on the ground below, with several complicated stairways and catwalks separating you. Just hold a button and they’ll quickly find the best route to wherever you are, even if you’re miles away from them. Also, if you’re in a machine gun nest and order your troops to hold that area, they’ll man available turrets on their own and open fire on any enemy in range. They (as well as enemy troops) duck behind barricades, hide behind crates and vehicles, cover each other, and will call for help when they need it ? finally, some A.I. that emphasizes the intelligence. Very, very impressive. Congrats to IO Interactive on pulling off what so many others have failed at ? making smart, reactive non-player characters.
The sound department is no slouch, either. The weapon sounds, gunship blades, and explosions have all the punch they ought to, and both friends and enemies will shout witty quips or yelps for assistance according to their specific situation. The only flaw I noticed with the audio is that Chris sounds a little disjointed sometimes when ordering the whole squad. He’ll use the same command as for a solo supporter, but with something tacked on the end to let you know it was a group order. It just sounds a little weird sometimes. The voice acting, both in-game and in cut scenes, is quite good, and when you turn the tide of battle, often a sweeping chorus of music will kick in to give you an extra push to keep on fighting.
The only place Freedom Fighters is lacking is in multiplayer modes. Even after you finish the entire game, only a few maps are available, and it’s purely versus battle. It uses the squad system in that when you take over a control point, you can spawn new troopers there who’ll follow you and shoot at your enemies, but in the end, there’s just not much to do here. I was hoping for something like a cooperative mode through the main campaign, or some online or LAN modes, but to no avail. Hopefully there’ll be more time and effort put into the multiplayer modes in a sequel.
There’s certainly potential for a series of games to spawn from this excellent first showing. Once you free New York, the rest of North, Central, and South America will need liberated before freeing the rest of the world, and if each game only focuses on one city, that could be quite a franchise in the making.
Multiplayer modes notwithstanding, this is an awesome title with a grown-up storyline, not only for its subject matter (how many 10-year-olds know what a Soviet or The Cold War is?), but also for its twists and political implications. From friends and family being kidnapped and sent to re-education camps to seeing your secret base overrun by invading troops, Freedom Fighters is a great ride, one not to be missed by any action fan. It just might make you feel patriotic, too.