We got a good feel for this squad-based shooter from the makers of Hitman 2 and came away impressed. Find out why.
Freedom Fighters, formerly known as Freedom: Soldiers of Liberty, was one of a couple of dozen different games on display at EA's annual summertime press event, but it distinguished itself as one of the more impressive games in the bunch. It's being developed by Denmark-based Io Interactive, whose most recent project was last year's highly acclaimed Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. But while Freedom Fighters borrows some of Hitman 2's technology and also has a slick sense of style, it's a very different type of game. It's a squad-based third-person shooter set in an alternate-reality New York City in a world where the Soviet Union won World War II and has since invaded the United States. The premise is reminiscent of the classic '80s action movie Red Dawn--basically you end up becoming the leader of a small but fierce resistance against the invading regime, all in a desperate effort to push your enemies back. The game will apparently feature advanced artificial intelligence for both friendly and enemy troops, and today we already saw some of this in practice. And Freedom Fighters' control scheme should allow players to easily and even intuitively command their teammates.
In Freedom Fighters, you'll play as Christopher Stone, a New York plumber who's finally had it with the oppressive regime that's overthrown his nation. Stone starts off with just his pipe wrench, but before long, he'll be using his enemies' automatic weapons and explosives against them. He won't be working alone--other oppressed citizens will join him, and as you progress through the game's campaign, you'll be able to assemble a posse of up to a dozen freedom fighters. The maximum number of squadmates available to you is determined by your charisma level, which you increase by performing heroic acts--by rescuing a group of Americans who've been imprisoned, for example. Basically, as he fights, Stone becomes a more charismatic leader that more and more freedom fighters will be willing to get behind. We were amused to see one of the IO developers demonstrate Stone gathering up a ragtag group of soldiers (all unique in appearance, including both men and women of various ethnic origins) at the start of a mission. A handful willingly took up arms and stood by his side, but once he'd reached his charisma limit, the next guy in line blew him off, refusing to take orders.
Squad control in Freedom Fighters looks pretty simple and seems quite clever. Troops can be ordered to attack, retreat, or regroup at the touch of a button. You issue an order to a specific troop simply by tapping a button, or to the whole squad by pressing the button down for a moment longer. The attack command doubles as the move command, so you can order your squad to advance ahead of you just by looking in the general direction, and should enemies round the corner, your team will automatically attack. The great thing about the squad AI is that you don't need to micromanage your team, even though you can if and when you want. Troops ordered to advance to a particular area will automatically seek out the most advantageous positions in that area. For example, when the squad was told to advance near to a machine gun nest, one troop automatically manned the heavy weapon while the others ducked behind sandbags for cover.
In many situations, it will be viable for Stone either to lead the charge or to hang back and serve as a general--in this sense, Freedom Fighters is both an action game and sort of a real-time strategy game. The interface and the AI apparently make it easy to command a squad effectively even in the heat of battle, while the game's core action elements are looking very solid. Weapons seem to pack a real punch, enemy death animations are varied and good looking, and the urban settings make for some exciting-looking shootouts.
We got a great feel for Freedom Fighters' gameplay in a moment when Stone ordered his troops to assault an enemy position. Soviets responded quickly, pouring out of a nearby armored transport and from inside a nearby building. But Stone's squad was well prepared. One squad member decked a Soviet with a rifle butt to the face just as the guy rounded a corner. A couple of others concentrated fire to rapidly take out several enemies. Meanwhile, Stone perched himself on a ledge away from the firefight and provided sniper support. The enemies spotted him, though, and rushed his position, so Stone grabbed an AK assault rifle from a slain enemy and starting taking care of business at close range. The Io developer assured us that none of this was scripted and that these sorts of scenarios could and would play out differently with each attempt.
Freedom Fighters will feature multiplayer support for up to four players via a split-screen mode, allowing for US-versus-Soviet skirmishes with dozens of troops involved. The PC version won't have a split-screen mode, and may have no multiplayer features at all, though the developers are still evaluating their options. The game's audio seems to be coming along well--you can hear Stone barking orders in the middle of battle, and the Soviet troops speak in their native language. At the same time, the urban settings of the game feature a distinctive visual style and should provide plenty of variety since the campaign will span across several seasons--summer at first, and eventually a cold, snowy winter.
Io is simultaneously developing Freedom Fighters for the PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, and apparently a GameCube version is in the works also (though to date, it has not been officially announced by Electronic Arts). We saw the former two versions in action, and each in turn was looking good. So we came away very much looking forward to the release of Freedom Fighters this fall. For more on the game, look for some new shots put out by Electronic Arts and see our exclusive video interview with the game's producer.
- Release Date: Oct 1, 2003 (US)
- ESRB: TTitles rated T (Teen) have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older.