The Good: Fast-paced gun play, auto aim actually works right, controlling squad members helps in later levels, open-ended objectives are welcome
The Bad: Unbalanced and frustratingly difficult, too many enemies for the type of weapon system in use, what's with the helicopters?, story is bland and uninteresting, repetitive objectives and levels repeat ad nauseum
This is actually a game I knew was a big deal back in the day and ignored it until now. I don't if it was because I was too young to understand the concept, it seemed like another shooter, or something else told me to overlook it, but I'm glad I finally dived into one of the most popular and talked about games of the early 2000's. Freedom Fighters is a squad based third person shooter where you control the main protagonist Christopher Stone, and help the rebel fighters take back the United States from Soviet control.
The story isn't really anything memorable, but the game does have a decent atmosphere about it. You feel the suppression of Russia as you run around the war-torn stages and view the cut scenes. Real-time scenes are mostly made up of news propaganda and the quick unfolding of the rebels winning. The game moves at a really fast pace, isn't that long, and feels fairly average today, but back in the day, it was something new.
The game is structured around rebel bases that act as hubs and each set of levels is accessed via a map. Once you get into a level there are a few objectives to complete and then it's on to the next one (in any order). If you find yourself hurting for supplies you can find manholes which act as checkpoints and can either quick save or go back to your base (but you lose all your squad members). The game actually doesn't explain any of this and I had to figure this all out myself which was very confusing and frustrating.
When you complete objectives you get Charisma which gives you a squad member slot with every level. It's imperative that you do most of the side objectives as later in the game you will need as many members as you can get. When you actually start shooting and playing the game feels extremely unbalanced and very difficult. The sheer amount of enemies that are thrown at you is insane. There are probably over 200 enemies in each level and the levels aren't that big. The game uses an auto-aim mechanic which actually works with how many enemies they throw at you. Just pull the trigger and Stone will auto switch enemies on the fly without any issues. There is a manual aim mode, but it's finicky and you can't move while you aim. I would have liked fewer enemies and a more robust cover shooting mechanic instead.
This shooting mechanic is what makes the game so difficult to begin with. I actually had to turn on cheats for rocket launchers as helicopters would come after me and there were no rocket launchers in the entire level. I was probably supposed to run from them, but the constant restarting was infuriating. Checkpoints are far and few between and the last thing I need is to mow down the same five waves of enemies over and over just to try a different zig-zag path with the helicopter.
This extreme balancing issue brings the games fun down quite a bit and after about three or four levels it all starts to feel the same again. There are not that many weapons to choose from with just standard assault rifle, submachine gun, heavy machine gun nonsense that has been done many times over. Squad member control was decent, as they followed you around, but send them out to fight on their own and they drop like flies. I'm actually glad the game was as short as it was as it got so repetitive and numb that I wanted it to all end.
The visuals and audio in the game are actually impressive for the time. There's a lot of detail everywhere and the voice acting is rather excellent, but there's a lot of slowdown when too much is happening on screen at once. Overall, Freedom Fighters is a fast paced third-person shooter on steroids, but the balancing issues, repetitive objectives, and overall frustrating difficulty brings the fun down quite a bit.