Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich
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Stop Mucking about!" cries Black Jack the stiff upper-lipped Brit scientist-cum-gadgeteer while he readies a Limey Lure or a Biff For Blighty. I am being assaulted by a relentless foe!" shouts another of your heroic party as the Nazis advance. Welcome back to Freedom Force, the superhero game that likes to do things slightly differently. A tale of silver-age 1960s comic book heroes getting up to all manner of derring-do, Freedom Force's novel take on the action/RPG was warmly received - yet also rushed out the door unpolished by its then publisher EA. Now though, the developer has all the time it wants to give its pet project the care and attention it deserves - and it's put Nazis and brains in tanks in it as well.
It all kicks off a year after the first game. Hoodlum activity is low, and the nefarious plotting of criminal masterminds seems to have abated. After an introductory playable premonition in which Alchemiss (who remains guilty about leaving Manbot in the Celestial Clock - long story) dreams about the Freedom Force turning on her, the action begins. The deputy director of the CIA wants the gang to check out Castro's Cuba, where the evil Nuclear Winter has used TimeMaster's slumbering body to magic 1962's Cuban Missiles (of Crisis fame) to the present (1963) where he can be diabolical with them. Freedom Force, obviously, saves the day. But when our heroes return to fair Patriot City, they discover that it's now become Port Blitzkrieg, and has been repopulated by jackbooted, goose-stepping Nazis. So it is then (time stream meddlers take note) that the Force must travel back in time to WWII and prepare to thwart badness once more.
Teaming up with Tricolour (foxy French patriot), Sky King (brash actor and rocketeer) and the superbly stereotypical British card-chucker Black Jack, it's your mission to battle through the Nazi ranks and defeat the enormously brained Blitzkrieg.
Multiplayer is also getting a revamp (because, let's face it, it was pretty shitty the first time round), with endless customisation options to satiate the rabid Freedom Force community, as well as story-based missions to give your online heroics a bit of direction.
In short, there's oodles of love being put into this sequel (as demonstrated by the fact that many of the bombastic superhero voices are recorded by the developers and artists themselves), and it's hard to see how anyone could dislike its silliness or the bright-eyed honourpreserving naivety of its heroic combatants. For freedom!
Download Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Marvel And DC Comics superheroes are everywhere at the moment - at the cinema, on TV, in newspapers and magazines. You can't even visit the deli of your local mini-mart without some minor comic book personality serving up your slices of ham and luxury cheese coleslaw. However, rather than using licensed characters, Freedom Force vs The Third Reich is stuffed with Irrational Games' own creations, such as the destructive metal-headed Manbot, and the rasping, beyond-the-grave revengeseeking Tombstone.
"There's no way we could do all the cool moddable stuff if we were licensed," says Irrational's CEO Ken Levine. "We want to be making more games for hardcore gamers that don't have publisher control. It's similar to an independent film. We'll plough all the money that we make from this one into another." Like a plot from a comic book, Irrational is ready to fight and build its own dynamic and funny alternative universe of Patriot City, free from the tyranny of big-money licensees and corporate interference. Kapow!
War On Terror
Freedom Force vs The Third Reich is the sequel to the well-received 2002 original, which zapped you into a colourful action-packed RPG, controlling a team of Energy X-powered heroes battling Lord Dominion and his twisted cronies. The story begins a year after the last game, and in a nutshell, involves Freedom Force travelling back in time from the 1960s to the 1940s to foil a dastardly plot involving the jackbooted Nazi menace.
In single-player, delivering orders to your heroes (not 'superheroes' but 'heroes' in the game - certain company lawyers are watching the team closely...) is faster than Superman with diarrhoea. Right-clicking on any character will bring up their health, along with a myriad of melee and ranged attacks, powered by Energy X, the secret element that gives the heroes their heroic skills. Examples of the fun you can have include the fiery El Diablo's Tongues of Flame attack, which torches foes accompanied with a cartoon "Foooosh!" exclamation. There's also the beautiful, skimpily-dressed Eve's Swarm of Leaves that engulfs enemies in a whirlwind of discarded foliage.
You can control up to four characters at once, so to make sure you keep tabs on the frenetic on-screen action, Irrational gives you the option of pausing the game or even playing in super slo-mo. "Heroes also spring into action, so they don't get the crap beaten out of them," says Levine. "We wanted a balance between the first FF and, say, Dungeon Siege, so that the characters fight and defend themselves, but they don't do a very good job of it.
As well as ensuring you get a karate kick out of the single-player hero experience, Irrational is also fully committed to improving the multiplayer side of FFvTTR, with an in-game browser and special plot-driven online maps. "Usually the problem with multiplayer is the lack of context," continues Levine. "Even if you play Assault mode in UT2004, when you have a sequence of events that happen, it's all a bit random isn't it? So we came up with story-based multiplayer, where everything is moddable and you can actually script the scenarios so they echo comic book situations."
So, you can create a multiplayer map from scratch, complete with detailed back-story and custom characters, for balanced missions with very different sides. Scenarios could include your own original supervillain and three minions attacking the Freedom Force base, with four heroes defending it; or a map where four heroes have to destroy different enemy objects in turn to save the world. Once you've added some artwork (and winning/losing messages), you can save it to your hard drive and post it on the Net for the thousands of hardcore Freedom Force fans to lap up.
Different types of games are also available including the usual deathmatch and arena modes, as well as a new addition called Tag, where each of the participants take a team and pit one character against each other at a time - rather like Magic: The Gathering. Plus, Freedom Force vs The Third Reich has The Rumble Room, which is basically a skirmish mode, with the ability to add bots, or have up to four players controlling four characters each over a LAN or the Internet.
Yep, there's something innately loveable about Freedom Force vs The Third Reich. Maybe it's the fact that all the excellent character voices are performed by Irrational employees in a poky improvised recording studio? Perhaps it's the ridiculously over-the-top stereotypes that populate the game, including the new A 1940s heroes of Black Jack (stiff-upper-lipped Brit), Tricolour (sassy chick wrapped in French flag) and Sky King (American rocketeer).
"All the embarrassing fake British, French and German dialogue is written by me," says Levine proudly. "All the Germans say is 'Achtung!' and 'Amerikaner Schweinhund!'." We also like the colourful environments, decorated with dynamic lighting, destructible buildings, objects you can pick up and throw at enemies and sparkly superpower effects.
Actually, we reckon it's the whole package that we're drawn to, which is currently being expertly assembled with great passion and belief by Ken Levine and his minions, keen to avenge the hurt they felt after the enforced rush-release of the first game by their evil ex-publisher. Ker-Slap! We'll discover whether Freedom Force vs The Third Reich is a superhero or supervillain in next month's review.
What's the difference between Andres Serrano and Oliver Reed? One's an artist who works with piss, the other's a piss... You get the idea. That's the trouble with comedy you see, it's all about context. And timing. Timing and context. And delivery. But mostly timing and context. Reputation plays a part. As does taste. Audience judgement can help and you shouldn't underestimate the value of shock. But eight out of ten comedians, when queried for the sake of this poll, agreed that for the most part context and timing were the most important ingredients for successful gag execution.
For instance. Do you know who Andres Serrano is? A quick Googling will enlighten (not for the easily offended though), but without some sort of knowledge of the infamous Piss Christ the above jokelet most likely falls as flat as a pancake trodden on by a passing elephant parade.
And that's the main issue surrounding whether you'll get any joy, pleasure and fulfilment from playing Freedom Force Vs The 3rd Reich. Namely, just how well do you know and cherish American super-hero comic books of the '50s and '60s? Fans of the original Freedom Force will be right at home with this sequel as, on the face of it, nothing's changed. Slightly better graphics, as you'd expect, and a more polished, robust presentational style. But thematically we're ploughing a very similar furrow here, with all the exaggerated parody of old school comic book heroes intact as you work through a timetravelling plot involving communists, Nazis, Romans, aliens and just about everything else you can think of.
Thanks Ants, Thants
We say parody, but here's the nub of why Freedom Force doesn't quite live up to the reputation it's attempting to build. It's something we here at call the Look Around You effect. You see, for all the loving homage and painstakingly faithful recreation of the period material, we can't quite agree on whether or not the TV programme is, you know, funny.
Sure the voice-acting is over the top (communist soldiers screaming, I fall for the people! as they succumb brought a wry smile to the face), and the design of the various heroes and villains shows a lot of imagination, especially with the Origins' cut-scenes. But it's all played very straight, with none of the knowing comic winks or ironic touches that separate an entertaining parody fibm a straight out simulation.
So here we have to go back to whether you get' the source material or not. I'm hazarding a guess that the majority of gamers (in this country at least) are more attuned with the more modern, realistic, dare I say darker take on the world of superheroes. I certainly am, although disapproving muttering and scowling looks coming from the Will Porter camp opposite my desk would suggest that not everyone is left as cold by all this old-school stuff as I am.
Though obviously remaining faithful to the material of the time, some of the portrayals of non-Americans in this game leave a vaguely unsettling taste in the mouth (especially the Middle-Eastern and Asian characters), although I certainly wouldn't go as far as using the R word. It does raise the question of whether outdated attitudes are acceptable when used in context though. In passive entertainment you can get away with this, but when you're actively taking part in things, is it right to simply assume that cultural differences such as arranged marriages are bad", just because they're not in keeping with '50s American values? This forms the backstory for one of the main heroes, incidentally, a young Arabic woman who finds escape from a stereotyped mad mullah' father by being transformed into a kooky, fun-loving westernised' girl. Culturally offensive? Contextually acceptable? You tell me.
The arguments about this sort of thing could fill volumes I suspect, and while this hasn't affected the score, I think it's worth making the point. In the end, it's up to you whether you're OK with it or not.
Let's move to slightly safer ground and talk about game mechanics. And in this area, has a lot to offer. As in the first game, it's defined by semi-3D Dungeon Siege-style RPG action, with plenty of variety in the heroes, their powers and your ability to utilise them in the field.
The option to pause (or slow right down) the action to think strategically about your team's actions adds a dimension to the game that's often lacking in RPGs of this type, and the ability to train up your characters as you progress allows for a lot of customisation. You can even create your own heroes, although it's not on a par with something like City Of Heroes.
The storyline is in keeping with the period setting -missions all forming chapters of different comic book issues, and you really can't fault the presentation of the game. The way the issue covers (loading screens) sum up everything you really need to know is very cleverly handled, as is the interaction between your team members - which can vary depending on which four members of the Freedom Force roster you take into action each time.
In fact, the only quibble I can find with the actual gameplay is with the camera controls, which are irritating beyond belief. You never quite have the level of control over your view that you'd like. You either can't see far enough or you're losing track of which hero is where and what they're doing. The pause function alleviates this and gives you time to marshal your thoughts, and providing you can live with it (and to be fair, you probably can) there's much enjoyment to be had from the actual game of Freedom Force Vs The 3rd Reich.
Elsewhere, the game bristles with neat touches and satisfying mechanics - many of them held over from the original game but no less enjoyable for it. Being able to uproot lamp-posts and lift cars and use them as clubs (if you're a big strong hero type that is - an alternative method is to splode them with a fireball and fill anyone standing nearby with painful debris) raises the bar for action RPGs once more and will no doubt pave the way for interactive scenery to become the de facto standard for the genre from now on.
Multiplayer options have an intriguing spin, with the option to custom-build a multiplayer gametype of your choosing, Ha/o-style. It's called Story Mode, but it's effectively just customisable multiplayer combat. We're not talking any kind of co-op style campaign missions or anything, but it probably won't take the modding community long to handle that side of things.
Ultimately, it all comes down to whether you think your interest in the subject matter is sufficiently high to keep you plugging away to the end. Without the safety net of parody to fall back on, this really is one of the few times when saying you have to be a fan of this sort of thing to appreciate it really counts in a modern game review. I think perhaps I can now retire happy.