If there is one genre for the PC that could be described as a "past fad", it is the third person shooter. While the genre's icon game Tomb Raider is still going strong, it has failed to see any broad success on the PC for a while now. Infact the last time I recall the third person perspective being utilized even remotely successfully on the PC was Urban Chaos, and that is a good few years old now.
However, if EA have anything to do with it, this is all about to change with Freedom Fighters. From the makers of Hitman 2 comes what has to be one of the more unique titles of 2003. Taking control of a leading figure in a vigilante group fighting to take the United States back from Soviet forces, Freedom Fighters pits you on a journey of aggressive guerilla warfare action with all the odds against you. Is this the third person shooter's savior?
Naturally, the first thing Freedom Fighters presents you with is the game's storyline, ranging from a reasonably quick intro to ingame cut scenes. Despite the fact the game does a good job of not over doing the story introduction with lengthy explanations and the likes, the story line is indeed quite cliche driven. Basically, after winning the Cold War, the Soviet Union proceeds to take over South America and Canada, on their way to the United States. With a quick and concise Nuclear blow to Washington DC, killing the president, nothing seems to be in the Soviet Union's way. It is up to you and your vigilante to win back your country, and fight for your freedom. With this said, the expected characters are present, ranging from the propaganda spitting news hostess to the relaxed tyrant dictator, not to mention the usual crummy Russian-to-English accents. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Russians speaking English, but the 'bad guy villain Russain' thing has been done so many times in countless mediums it has lost substantial credit, though I guess it could have been worse, the dictator could have had an eye patch.
After the story has been subtly introduced with your new fate dumped onto your shoulders, it is time to get straight into the action. No fuss, and no messing around. This is something I feel a good action game needs, plenty of action, and without delay. Freedom Fighters won't be losing any favor at the beginning, that's for sure.
The majority of combat is done with guns in Freedom Fighters, although you can get such weapons as knifes and spanners, and you can even resort to good old fist fighting if you want. However, the intensity picks up very quickly, and you simply don't stand a chance without a high powered machine gun let alone a gun at all. The main reason for this is the somewhat over exaggerated health point tally on your enemies, it takes a good half clip to take down one enemy when aiming at the torso, and while head shots are much more effective, they are not easy to pull off in long and mid range situations. This also makes ammo a very appreciated resource where every bullet counts, which is quite different to your usual gun loving action game.
Another type of weaponry is explosives such as C4's and Grenades. The C4 explosives are not usable in all situations, they are usually used to complete missions such as blowing a petrol tank near an enemy base, or blowing up a sniper nest. The grenades on the other hand are usable whenever you have them available, however due to the sheer difficulty in throwing them, they are relatively useless. For some reason, grenade projectiles represent that of a sharp parabola rather than a slight curve, which makes using them much more of a 'trial-and-error' type of process, and hence, eliminating them from most situations.
One thing that I consider a must have in high paced action titles like this is a good save system, which could either be a manual save system, where the player has power to save whenever desired, or an automatic save system which executes regularly. Unfortunately, Freedom Fighters has implemented neither effectively. While you can chose "quick save", what this does is save your progress during your current gaming session, should you quit the game, your quick save will cease to exist. Rather, the game will load the last auto save, which do not occur often enough. For a game that already has slightly repetitive gameplay, it makes things a tad more tedious having to repeat the same things over and over due to lack of a true manual save option.
However that is enough for the negatives, lets start delving into the positives. For one, Freedom Fighters has incredibly quick load times. More often than not, action games like Freedom Fighters with equally sized and detailed maps suffer from terrible load times. If you must repeat the same mission over again due to a sudden death or whatnot, atleast you can resume play in the matter of seconds.
Another aspect which I quite liked was the ingame A.I. While it isn't necessarily anything to write home about, the A.I. is done convincingly right. Enemies, even on the easier levels, are not dumb, they will take cover during a fire fight, and they will use their environment to their advantage. For example, available gun stands will be used by close by enemies, and should the gun stand operator be killed, another will more than likely take his place. On top of this, when you recruit fellow freedom fighters, you will notice they do accordingly. If you don't like their actions then you can give them three basic commands, which are 'come back', 'attack desired area' and 'defend desired area'. These cover the basic strengths of the game's A.I. and are quite effective during combat.
As you progress through the game, you will begin to notice that each given mission has a few included objectives, all of which have their own designated area on the map. However these objectives, despite being different physical levels, actually interact with each other. An example of this is one mission, which requires you to take out a sniper nest to allow freedom fighter friendly police units to move by. To do this, you'll need to load one of the levels which will contain the C4 explosives, then after you have them, you'll need to blow up the sniper nest, which is located in a different level, and after that is done, you must load up the next level and escort the police. As you can see, each event effects each objective accordingly, and these objectives are not listed in order, you must find out the order in which each objective should be done by yourself.
When it all comes down to it though, most of the good points about Freedom Fighters are reliant on the solid ingame engine. Third person games like Tomb Raider and Urban Chaos, despite being successful in their own rights, suffered from lackluster engines, and in Tomb Raider's case specifically, an engine which took years to develop into anything decent. For the first game in an almost certain series, Freedom Fighters features a very sturdy and solid engine. One particular area of success is the physics. Enemies leaning near of against objects will droop and fall over these objects once killed, and with the flawless clipping subsystem, it just gets better.
Without some manual file editing, the game is not overly impressive visually. What I mean by this is the fact you can't seem to change the resolution in the options tab. What I had to do to change the resolution is open an INI file found in the main directory, and then change the resolution that way. The default seemed to be 800x600, which is very low by today's standards, and produced blurry visuals. Otherwise, once the resolution was up to a crispy clear 1280x1024, the graphics came off looking reasonably good on the eye despite the somewhat basic models and textures, however if you ask me, the graphics are at an appropriate level of quality for the type of game Freedom Fighters is. There is no use in bogging the game down with stunning eye candy when most of the camera angles are mid and long range.
Another part which required some fine tuning was the controls. While the functions are very basic, WASD to move, all your usual crouch and walk buttons etc, the mouse control was where I found Freedom Fighters to be a little off. It may have just been me, but the default sensitivity setting was way too sensitive, it was very hard to move the character with slow and precise turning. Luckily, there is an option for mouse sensitivity, and turning it down a few notches fixed this issue. Besides that, everything else about the controls is extremely simple and very easy to use, even the teammate command buttons were simple. You won't have to worry about a complex control system here.
Freedom Fighters is arguably what the PC so sorely needed - third person action with innovative measures to ensure its quality and playability. While the characters and storyline are not necessarily unique, the actual gameplay is rather refreshing indeed. Although the levels are somewhat linear in structure, the way in which Freedom Fighters glides you through the carnage is exceptional, where missions are not only linked, but some objectives are directly reliant on the outcome of other missions . For the icing on the cake, Freedom Fighters also features some of the most impressive, or atleast consistent artificial intelligence I've ever seen in any action title. Don't expect too much from it, but then again, don't underestimate its potential - Freedom Fighters is a simple, innovative third person action title, which can be occasionally repetitive, but nonetheless, still loads of fun.