Freedom: First Resistance Preview
Giancarlo Varanini takes a look at Red Storm's PC game adaptation of Anne McCaffrey's popular trilogy.
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Angel Sanchez was leading an ordinary life. Like many people, she grew up in the suburbs, went to school, received her degree in communications, and was even set to marry her college sweetheart and start a career at a consulting firm. Angel had her entire life ahead of her, but there was no way she could have prepared herself for what was about to occur. Earth was on the brink of invasion by an alien race known as the Catteni, and Angel's world would soon shatter.
When the Catteni arrived on Earth they immediately employed their traditional strategy of rounding up the native population by force and placing them in refugee camps where their fate would be decided. One day, while Angel was walking home from work, Catteni ground troops reached the city and began to pluck humans from the streets and throw them into abandoned buildings that had been converted into camps. Angel's family was abducted, and her college sweetheart was shot while resisting the Catteni forces. Confronted with the chaos occurring around her, Angel attempted to hide from the Catteni forces, but her attempts prove to be futile, and she was quickly abducted and imprisoned in one of the makeshift refugee camps.
Life in the camps was rough, but if anything, it served as motivation for Angel. She could've given up on herself and her family if she had wanted to. Others in the refugee camps betrayed their fellow human beings by aiding the Catteni in exchange for better treatment in the camps, but Angel resisted and managed to build a foundation of hope around something she overheard while in the camps: talk of a hidden rebellious force. Angel immediately recognized that she had to join this group of rebels. She only needed to escape and find those who were the source of her hope.
Such is the storyline of Red Storm's Freedom: First Resistance, an action-adventure game based on Anne McCaffrey's Freedom trilogy. While McCaffrey's three books - Freedom's Landing, Freedom's Choice, and Freedom's Challenge - all take place on the Catteni-enslaved planet of Botany, the game is set entirely on planet Earth. In the context of the Freedom trilogy, it appears that Freedom: First Resistance takes place after the third novel, since the game does not focus on the experiences of Kris and Zainal. But fans of the series will likely notice similarities between characters in the trilogy and those in First Resistance. Angel Sanchez is the focal point of the Freedom: First Resistance story, and she serves as the leader for her small resistance group. As the back story for Freedom: First Resistance indicates, Angel has no real experience in a leadership role, especially for the situation she has been thrown into. However, she does have natural leadership abilities that have aided her in getting others to join her group.
Angel gets to test her leadership abilities and powers of persuasiveness with Leo, who initially needs to be convinced that joining Angel's group will be worthwhile. Leo recognizes that the resistance needs his help more than he needs its help, and he exploits that angle at every opportunity. For any other person, taking that kind of attitude is unjustified, but Leo is more than able to back up his ego with his natural talent for dealing with electronic equipment. Since the invasion, Leo has been keeping the remaining electronic equipment in the city running by setting up a hideout of sorts in the sewers, where he can hide from the Catteni.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Leo is Claire Parkington. Unlike Leo, Claire grew up in a privileged home with a father who would buy just about anything for her. In fact, when Claire showed an interest in gymnastics, her father hired an Olympic-level coach as a tutor. Claire managed to gain a variety of combat skills thanks to her wealthy father, but little did she know how useful they would become. When the Catteni invaded Earth, Claire's father immediately became a collaborator with the Catteni and sold other humans into slavery. Seeing what her father has done, Claire decides to join the resistance in the hope that she can undo her father's horrible act of cowardice. At the same time, she never truly believes that her father is capable of such things, and she's willing to give him one more chance. When she's around Angel and Leo, Claire immediately takes a subservient attitude because she believes they know how to deal with the situation better than she does, but when Claire is alone, she is able to prove how valuable she is.
The fourth member of Angel's band of rogues is Jimmy. As far as physical appearance goes, Jimmy is the behemoth of the group and possesses the most strength, but on the inside, Jimmy is a very different character. As Jimmy finds family members, his gruff exterior begins to collapse to reveal a man who cares deeply for his family. Not much is known about Jimmy, but one thing is certain, he would love nothing more than to fight the Catteni. The final member of Angel Sanchez's resistance group ties in Freedom: First Resistance with the trilogy of novels. His name is Zared, and like Zainal, a Catteni from the Freedom novels, Zared is not completely loyal to his alien brethren.
While the Catteni's use of slave labor is deplorable, other aspects of their society are quite interesting. The Catteni apparently have a pack-rat mentality when it comes to invading planets as they try to gather as many trinkets and goods as possible. However, what is more notable is their caste system. At the bottom of the Catteni social ladder are the Tudo. The Tudo serve as the grunts of the Catteni and therefore know little about anything other than battle. Angel Sanchez and the rest of the resistance will likely spend a sizable amount of time fighting off the Tudo hordes at the beginning of Freedom: First Resistance.
The Drassi is the second order of Catteni, and they're not much different from the Tudo other than being a bit more intelligent. With their added mental abilities, the Drassi are able to handle some technical items - they serve as crewmembers in the Catteni space fleet - but for the most part, the Drassi are there to give orders to the Tudo. The final Catteni social group is the Emassi. They, of course, are the most intelligent and least physical of all the Catteni. The primary function of the Emassi is to run the show during the absence of the Eosi - the true masters of the Catteni. They can also handle the most complicated Catteni equipment and make most of the high-level decisions.
How the resistance deals with the Catteni forces depends on how its members interact with one another to complete tasks. The stage that we played through placed Angel, Leo, and Jimmy in an abandoned mall, which the Catteni had turned into a refugee camp that has since been deserted. While not entirely complete, the level gave us a good idea how First Resistance's gameplay works. Before you start to actually fight the Catteni, First Resistance will give you the opportunity to equip any member of the trio with an assortment of items from the inventory. Among the items included for this particular stage were a Catteni pistol, a baseball bat, and allergenic grenades - all of which will become incredibly helpful in fighting the Catteni. In addition to what's in your initial inventory screen, you will be given other opportunities to stock up on various items that you might run across. For example, in the abandoned mall stage, lying near the entrance of the mall are a few duffel bags that contain useful items, one of which will be crucial in finishing the level.
Freedom: First Resistance's combat may seem a little simplistic at first, but it actually has an amount of depth that should be able to keep both hard-core and occasional gamers interested. The first thing to consider before fighting the Catteni hand-to-hand is that each member of the resistance has a different fighting style, and some are just more adept at fighting than others. Presumably, Claire will have the greatest fighting ability of the group since her father was able to pay for the best instructors. Jimmy is going to have the greatest amount of strength. In stark contrast, the ego-driven Leo will be the weakling who can take the least amount of damage. And as is typical with most leaders, Angel's fighting abilities will only be average, but she'll have other skills to balance her out.
There will be additional factors that help determine how well the resistance performs in hand-to-hand combat, such as the distance from the opponent, the weapon being used, and the duration of time the attack button is held. Simply tapping the attack button will only produce a weak jab, whereas holding the button down and then releasing it produces a more devastating attack. However, hand-to-hand combat isn't the only way to fend off the Catteni. As previously mentioned, you'll have an arsenal of weapons at your disposal, which includes the Catteni pistol and the allergen grenades. These weapons are used in the same manner as melee fighting. That is, holding down the attack key will result in a more accurate and effective attack while simply tapping it decreases the chance of a shot hitting its target.
While the Catteni, especially the Tudo, may initially seem incredibly stupid, they do know battle tactics and they know when something is amiss. Since some missions require that your resistance members never be spotted, the Catteni are always actively looking and scouting the area for intruders. If a Catteni spots something like a glow ball - a tool that can be placed on walls or other objects and used by the resistance to light up an area - they will know there is an intruder nearby and will begin an active search to find the intruder.
Freedom: First Resistance's gameplay is not entirely centered on hand-to-hand or long-range combat with the Catteni. A good portion of your time is spent solving various puzzles to get through a level. What makes Freedom's puzzle system unique is that many of the puzzles require multiple team members to participate. For example, in the abandoned mall area you'll find a locked door with a switch nearby. Pulling the switch does nothing, but taking a closer look around the room reveals a circuit breaker box that needs to be repaired - a job that requires coordination among all three of your team members.
This is just one of the many instances where the group will have to split up. Since this puzzle needs to be solved with some kind of knowledge about electronics, it's obvious that Leo is best suited for the job. Leo will have to leave the group, go back to the beginning of the level to get the tools, and then go back to the circuit breaker box to repair it. Meanwhile, Angel should be standing near the switch so that when Leo fixes the box, she can be ready to flip the switch so Jimmy can run through the door. There will be plenty of puzzles just like this one, and each of them will rely on recognizing the special abilities of a particular resistance member in order for it to be solved.
Nonplayer characters will interact with your characters depending on which team member you've selected. For example, in the same abandoned mall mission, after your resistance team solves the electric switch puzzle, you will find Jimmy's brother waiting on the other side. If Angel or Leo attempts to speak with Jimmy's brother, he will shun them, saying that he'll only agree to speak with Jimmy. Once Jimmy reaches his brother, you'll be given pertinent information regarding your mission, and as the conversation progresses, you'll be able to get more out of Jimmy's brother by choosing different responses to his queries.
Nonplayer characters can be found throughout the adventure mode in Freedom: First Resistance and they react differently depending on how they're spoken to. Some will be forthcoming with information about a particular mission or the Catteni, while you will need to smooth-talk others to get them to share their knowledge. The final version of Freedom: First Resistance will contain 6000 lines of text, so you can expect that Angel and her group are going to do a lot of talking.
To complement the deep story and gameplay, Red Storm is using a heavily modified version of the Rogue Spear engine to provide the visuals for Freedom. As mentioned before, since Freedom is still in the alpha stage, many of the visual effects have yet to be implemented. However, right now the game looks great and boasts complex character models and a large amount of motion-captured animation for each member of the resistance. Each of the levels has been designed to show the destruction and devastation the Catteni have brought to Earth, and some are simply massive. Whether it's entire towns that have been deserted or a mall that has seen more than its share of damage, the graphics will definitely help set the mood for Freedom: First Resistance.
Even at this early stage, Freedom: First Resistance promises to be an engaging game. Its storyline is incredibly deep with each character having a detailed background. Even the Catteni are shown as a complex people who base their values on a caste system. The combat system looks like it will be easy enough so that an average player can get into Freedom quickly, but there are added elements that should keep even the most hard-core gamer interested. Thankfully, Freedom's puzzles will offer something different from the traditional "find the key and open the door" system. The resistance members and their specialized abilities will play a crucial role in solving puzzles and getting through a mission. Interaction between player characters and nonplayer characters is definitely not an afterthought in Freedom: First Resistance either, as NPCs will pay attention not only to whom they're talking to but also to what the other character is saying. Unfortunately, while there will be no multiplayer mode, the game's 18 single-player missions should be able to stand on their own. Freedom: First Resistance should be on store shelves in late Q3 2000.