Marketing for computer games is now big business and with multi-million dollar campaigns and enforced deadlines, there have been more and more games being rushed onto the shelves; all too often incomplete and a disappointment. It has become increasingly common to see press releases and screenshots before a game is released, building the hype and so on. I'd never heard of Freedom Fighters. The divine internet-catalogue-shop that is Amazon.co.uk don't even have a site review for it. It was with some scepticism that I opened the box - my first impression was that this was going to be some ghastly FPS and not worth 10 minutes gametime. My God, was I wrong! Every once in a while a game appears out of nowhere and surprises. Freedom Fighters is one of these and we reviewed the PS2 version - it’s also available on Xbox and PC.
Picture this. The Cold War had turned out differently. Warsaw Pact has stomped over NATO, bringing with it all things Soviet. Now the Reds are well into the occupation of USA, and this is where the game starts. You are a New York plumber, who turns freedom fighter. By some twist of my good fortune, the protagonist is also called Chris, and often gets called by his name during the games - "Chris, you need some help?" you hear mid-firefight, whilst getting your ass kicked. Spooky stuff if your name also happens to be Chris. Anyway, I digress. You join the resistance and undertake various missions to undermine Ivan's occupation. As you succeed in missions, you gain charisma points. The more charisma, the more people you can lead into battle. You can boost your charisma by helping injured people or completing particular mission objectives.
Control overall is very good. Your character has a good range of movements and skills with weapons. The normal analogue sticks controls the direction you move and the direction you look. You can deliberate aim, or allow a degree of auto-aim. The auto-aim doesn't snap onto the enemy straight away, but if you are running towards a bad guy, you automatically shoot in that area. It is pretty good, and allows some of the 'taken-for-granted' if you were there, you'd point and shoot towards the enemy. So you don't have to aim properly all the time. It is also dynamic enough to allow you to run one direction, and fire in another - great for crossing streets and so on. At the same time, if you see the enemy, start shooting then look elsewhere, you shoot elsewhere. The run backwards and shoot has also been perfected - and vital for getting yourself out of trouble. Controlling your team is easy - there are 3 pre-set orders for them - "defend this area", "follow me", or "go and do stuff over there". The last order is the method of searching areas, or sending out a deliberate attack.
AI is often a bone of contention in military games. Your people here are somewhat clever. They follow orders and will fire and maneuver with some skill, including interacting with the environment - so they will take cover when reloading, or use heavy machine guns on guard posts if they see the opportunity. The Soviets also have some nous and will attack and defend with skill, including taking cover and so on. The weapon effects are also accurate - the shotgun is useless over 30 meters, you can shoot the enemy in the legs many times, but one headshot will kill. Realism goes out the window with the Medikits however. Medikits will restore your energy to full, and you can also apply first aid to those around you, so you can keep your team fighting. In this respect it is totally devoid of realism, but then it’s a game. Freedom Fighters lacks the interaction of some modern games - there is no vehicular access like Operation Flashpoint and you can only really move around the map via the defined routes, but having said that, there’s enough variety for it not to be a problem. Some doors are shut and stay shut - some are open and provide a route around a building. In general, there are a number of ways of completing your objective, so no problems with boredom or predictability.
The graphics are fairly good - they do what they have to do. It lacks the 'wow-factor' that a high powered PC game might and in fact modern graphics cards on the PC won’t improve it, but at the same time it’s consistently good enough and smooth in the gameplay. I did notice some jerkiness in the cutscenes, which surprised me - perhaps my PS2 is getting confused. The cutscenes are not really that exciting - a Russian newsreader updating viewers. Unfortunately they refer to you as 'Freedom Phantom', which is a really cheesy name, and totally unnecessary - EA should know better than that. At the end of the day, you don't buy a game for the cutscenes - that's when you feed your dog or play with your pussy. The sound is also good quality - most of it is gunfire and shouting but it does work very well.
Overall, Freedom Fighters brings back all the necessary elements to make the team third person shooter fun. The simple controls and the missions, with enough of a challenge to make you think, really make it fun to play - something that can be lacking in uber-realistic games. You can always retreat and come back later in this game - where ever you see a manhole cover you can escape to the sewers and try again with full health and a reload. You can also quicksave in game via the same method - useful before you try something stupid. The real beauty here is that is was a surprise - no preconceptions here, just fun to play - fun enough to have diverted me from SOCOM (and how much publicity did that have?). The final word has to go to the music by Jesper Kyd who has scored all of Io Interactive's games and the Xbox title Brute Force - think Hunt for Red October with a touch of Jean Michel Jarre - fantastic stuff. If you are going to put something on the Christmas list, this is a competitive number for the PS2 and on the PC, it's now at budget price on the street and even more of a bargain for a tenner.