Retro Review: FREEDOM FIGHTERS - A Blast Of Tactical Fun

FREEDOM FIGHTERS is a game that, I feel, was underappreciated during the sixth generation of video game consoles.  Although to be perfectly honest it is probably a game I would never have gotten around to playing if I had not had a Blockbuster Game Pass in the summer of 2004.  Living about 4 minutes away from the local Blockbuster led to my friends and I renting tons of games that summer, sometimes 3 games in a single day!  On one of those fateful trips, we picked up Freedom Fighters.

Story

Freedom Fighters is set in an alternate timeline where Russia was first to build the atomic bomb and used it on Germany to end World War II.  In the following years, the spread of communism was unchallenged and the Soviet Union had control of the entire world.  Summer 2003, plumbers Chris and his brother Troy are heading off to work like any other day when the unexpected happens.

Gameplay

Assuming the role of Chris Stone, players are tasked with helping take America back from the control of the Soviet Union.  The first two missions send Chris out alone to tackle this fight, but after rescuing resistance leader Isabella Angelina, Chris can recruit squad members to help him.  Leading your squad is the single greatest aspect to Freedom Fighters!  A single button press can let you assign squad members to attack a position, defend an area, or fall back to your location.  For more precise control, you can assign a single squad member with a light press of the button.  Holding the button assigns everyone under your command.  Squad members move and fight with a purpose as you assign them to do their different objectives.  When you assign your squad to attack an enemy position they will use cover as they advance. Tell them to defend a position and they will use available turrets to suppress enemy advances.  As your squad grows, you quickly learn how to use them to clear your way.  Squad members have health just like the player, so if a squad member goes down you have the option to heal them with a medkit.  When you are first able to recruit squad members you have only two slots available.  As you progress through the game, you can complete optional objectives such as rescuing prisoners to gain charisma which allows you to gain a new recruitment slot once the bar is filled.  By the end of the game, if you have completed every optional objective, you can have a squad of 12 by your side.  Squad members are recruited during each level by finding them and pressing the action button to recruit them, so make sure to explore some corners if you have some empty slots.

Levels themselves are the second greatest thing about Freedom Fighters!  Each chapter of the game includes multiple levels that each have their own objectives; they also can have certain effects on other levels in the chapter.  In chapter one, for example, you need to liberate a police station to rescue Isabella, however a set of Soviet snipers have the approach to the police station locked down and any attempts to advance result in death.  Collecting some C4 near the police station allows you to switch to the post office level, and destroy the gas station the snipers are perched on, which in turn allows you to finally progress to the police station.  Later chapters can have between 2-5 separate levels, so make sure to listen and read about what Soviet installations are in each area to better plan your attacks.  Between each chapter, story elements unfold from the perspective of a Russian propaganda news broadcaster to great effect.

Unfortunately, not every aspect of Freedom Fighters is the greatest.  Enemy AI is underwhelming considering how great the AI is for your squad.  Shooting mechanics are extremely rough with manual aiming being almost completely useless.  Depending on what platform you get the game on, controls span from good to mind boggling.  PS2 and Xbox are the worst offenders in terms of controls; nothing makes sense in terms of actual usability.  Surprisingly, it is the GameCube version that has the best control scheme on consoles, which is even crazier to think about when you realize it has three less inputs than PS2 or Xbox.  PC is of course winner in terms of controls with mouse and keyboard input making manual aiming somewhat usable.  Finally, make sure you play the game on normal difficulty or higher, otherwise the game loses all the team aspect which adds to the overall fun. 

Sound

Where sound is concerned, Freedom Fighters is pretty par for the course.  Voice work is done decently, but fake Russian accents can be overdone at times.  Weapons and other sound effects are unfortunately underwhelming in their presentation.  I would honestly write the audio work of Freedom Fighters off as mediocre if it wasn’t for the music; the score by Jesper Kyd is simply epic.  Featuring many vocal arrangements, the whole score has you feeling like you are placed in the middle of Soviet era Russia.

Graphics

Freedom Fighters runs on the same engine as IO Interactives other hit game, HITMAN 2.  This leads to models and terrain being very smooth but textures are relatively flat.  Your platform of choice really changes the presentation.  Playing on PS2 has the lowest res textures with everything appearing slightly muddy.  GameCube and Xbox without component cables have nicer textures, but still appears muddy.  Playing on a PC or Xbox with component cables allows the game to be played in HD and the clear presentation and smooth gameplay looks nice on newer screens compared to the other options available.

Conclusion

Thanks to a lazy summer and a Blockbuster Game Pass, I found a game that I truly loved.  While it wasn’t a perfect game, Freedom Fighters was a fun game.  Some mechanics weren’t as good as they could have been, but it really leveraged the ones that were.  To this day I still don’t think I have played a game with squad mechanics as good as Freedom Fighters.  I always wished that we would see an improved sequel to Freedom Fighters.  Unfortunately, the planned sequel ended up becoming the highly controversial KANE & LYNCH.  With IO Interactive becoming an independent studio again, maybe the future of this franchise can once again find new life. 

Buying Guide

Alright, I convinced you, huh?  How can you play this game?!  Freedom Fighters was released on PS2, GameCube, Xbox and PC.  The only difference between each version is resolution and controls.

PS2 (~$5) – Lower res graphics and bad controls make this version my least favorite to play.

GC (~$15) –  Better resolution than PS2 and controls that feel good, this is my favorite console version of the game.

Xbox (~$7) – Capable of being played in 720P resolution but with awful controls.

PC (~$15) – Capable of being played in full 1080P without hacks and the best controls.  If you want to play Freedom Fighters this is the best way to do it.

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