Game #3 – Freedom Fighters – Episode 1: First Impressions

Full disclosure, this is the third time I have purchased a copy of Freedom Fighters. The first one was back when the game hit stores in 2003. I originally bought it for the PS2 but could never really get into it. About six months or so afterwards, I bought it again for Xbox. Since it had multiplayer, I thought I could convince friends to play with me…that never happened.

On my third attempt at the game, I have reached (and subsequently passed) what I believe to be the point where I stopped the previous times. The first section of the game gets you familiar with the controls and the game’s concept by having your character, Chris rescues his brother and Isabella, the leader of the resistance. The first section is pretty straightforward and gives you an idea of what the rest of the game should be like.

For this playthrough, I am playing the original Xbox version on a 360, so it’s taking a bit of time to refamiliarize myself with the control set-up the developer’s IO-Interactive put in place for the game. Whereas today’s shooters typically have you precise aim with the left trigger, here you click and hold the left analog stick. The left trigger is used to jump, with the right trigger being used to use the item in your possession. Unfortunately, there is no way to modify the controls to suit more recent control types.

As an aside, I have the misfortune of playing the game on a not so great television, one that doesn’t allow me to adjust the screen size. Because of that, things on the side of the screen, such as my health bar, are out of view. The only saving grace is that I record my footage and the view on my computer reveals all.

At this point, the reasons why I stopped playing Freedom Fighters back in 2003/04 are pretty clear. Not only do I have a problem with the controls, there are a lot of weird AI anomalies that show up regularly. Both the Soviet soldiers you fight against and the American Freedom Fighters you recruit are pretty stupid. In the case of the Soviets, they run around aimlessly. You can literally throw a molotov in front of a group of soldiers, and if it doesn’t contact one of them, they act as if nothing has happened. Then there are times where they fire at walls or are able to fire through them, which manages to hit you . It would be quite comical if it wasn’t so annoying.

On your end, as the protagonist Chris, you have the ability to issue commands to the fellow fighters you recruit. Your commands are pretty limited: attack/scout, retreat/regroup or defend/hold. But when you issue commands, your squad always take a moment to register what you’re ordering them to do. Because of the delay, having them perform quick actions is next to impossible. But when they acknowledge your request, even then, they don’t perform the action.

There will be situations where you might request that they go ahead and scout an area. Most times, they will fail to do so, especially if it requires walking through a hallway or a narrow corridor. In one situation, my guys did go ahead and in the process completely walked by a Soviet soldier. Oddly enough, he didn’t bother to fire until my character was visible. Situations like this happen a lot and because you can’t rely on your squad to help you in key situations, the likelihood of being killed is increased.

Story missions are broken up into parts and within each, you have the option of choosing the way in which you approach it. The game’s first real mission, “In a New York Minute” has you completing a number of different tasks such as blowing-up a bridge, rescuing prisoners and destroying a helipad. Considering how the helicopter is hovering above the bridge you need to blow up, it would make the most sense to destroy the helipad first.

While destroying the helipad does eliminate the helicopter threat, which then allows to you more easily destroy the bridge used to transport units and weapons, there is still a constant stream of re-spawning soldiers that make progressing a pain. This is really confusing since when you are first introduced to the forthcoming mission, the way Isabella details it, she gives the false impression that by eliminating one thing, it makes later parts significantly easier. Instead, once I was left with having to only capture a Warehouse where small-arms are being held, I still encountered an area filled with a large number of Soviet soldiers with more appearing magically. I only imagine that had I attempted to capture this building first, then an even greater number of soldiers would appear and most certainly, a helicopter would show up.

I might not have been that angry at the situation my character was forced into if it wasn’t for my poor squad support that kept dying . Having to tackle heavily armed areas alone or wasting health packs to revive fighters is not fun. At this point, I had a team of three other fighters with me and when they all die at the same time, run out of health packs is a grim reality. Then, when you add odd controls and constantly spawning Soviets, I am finding it really tough to continue playing.

At this point, it is hard to see where all the praise the game received when it was released back in 2003 comes from. In my opinion, the only interesting aspect to the game is its take on alternate history. While that is nice, the story hasn’t yet really revealed itself outside of introducing only a handful of characters. I expect that there is still a lot more to this story and it will really need to pick up to get back on my good graces.

The only other factor to consider for Freedom Fighters high praise would be praise  of IO Interactive’s previous Hitman Games. Since the Hitman series up to that point was loved by many, perhaps this rode on that success. Interestingly though, Freedom Fighters was never much of a financial success, so maybe this game is one of those that only fans of a certain developer or genre could truly enjoy. There are many games that fit this category and it would explain a lot in this case. Hopefully, as we proceed further into the game, its charm begins to really show it self because I really do want to like this game.

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