This review is going to start off with an admission of stupidity. When I took my first shot at this game I thought the difficulty selection was a level tutorial selection thingy. So I wound up playing through the whole game on 'easier than hating David Blaine' setting, putting the trouble free progress down to it being a console port - and don't all we PC owners know what a daft bunch those PS2/GC/XBOX 'fanboyz' are? Well feeling suitably ashamed, I can give you a review of the game that took me the least amount of time to compete in the last ten years.
As the easiest game of the last ten years (EGOFLT), Freedom Fighters is an excellent way to spend five or so hours. Put the difficulty setting up, as I did for the sake of journalistic integrity, and you should get a good few days of fun out of this very good console port. No matter what difficulty setting you play on there's no getting around the fact that there are not a massive number of levels, and each level is not the largest thing you ever did see. However this has meant that the developers have taken good time and care to make sure each one is lovelingly detailed and nicely controlled.
The premise is straight from that classic 80's film Red Dawn, although there's not a single body warmer in sight. And the setting is New York City, present day, so the music should be marginally better. The Commies have invaded the US. Not only that, they've managed to take over the whole country. The player takes on the role of Chris Stone, a 32 year-old plumber from Manhattan. As the game unfolds you will progress from the role of an unknown freedom fighter to the leader of not just the local resistance but a figurehead for the whole US counter-revolution. Employing an arsenal of real world weapons that range from Magnum .44s to AK47s through C4 and Molotov cocktails (the irony) you will lay waste to any Red that has had the temerity to occupy your home town. Freedom Fighters uses a charisma system that bears some similarities to the trust system employed in that other consoley squad-based shooter, The Thing. For every objective you complete, whether it be blowing up a power station to assasinating the general who executed someone close to you, Chris gets a handful of charisma points. Gain enough of these and Chris can then lead other freedom fighters in the struggle against the Red Menace. This starts off slowly, but by the end of the game you can have up to twelve men and women following your every command.
The system is kept nice and simple, with only three commands to choose from; fall back/rally on me, scout/attack and guard. By simply pressing either the 1, 2 or 3 keys and defining a spot with the mouse you can give out your orders. You have no control over the individuals in your group as each instruction is given in a round-robin fashion to the fighter who has been waiting the longest for a fresh direction. As a result of this you gain no attachment to any in your band, which is a shame but it does keep things nice and uncomplicated. Incongruously, you can get yourself some extra charisma points by healing fallen comrades as well as the injured good guys that you'll frequently come across. They in turn are usually only too happy to take up arms and dish it out to the commies. This can make for some pleasingly rag-tag looking squadies fighting alongside you, as the screenshots will testify. This system takes a little getting used to due to its bare simplicity, but once you get the hang of it it works very well. In fact, by the end of the game you can send your bunch off to do most of the killing while you concentrate on sniping or carrying out the mission objectives. For the way it works you do get a good sense of being in charge of a freedom fighting force.
The AI of your troops is not the best. They will often take an age to kill a commie, preferring to hide in cover rather then blast the swine. The enemy aren't the smartest in the world either, but this isn't an FPS so the lack of smarts doesn't affect the game too adversely. On the other hand the pathfinding is pretty good with your buddies having little difficulty navigating the map. They will quite happily climb any obstacle that you do and generally do a fine job in keeping up with you. A little more intelligence wouldn't have gone amiss yet it would be churlish to ask for Half-Life or UT2004 in an action-adventure game like this.
Although your fellow fighters are all nameless wonders there's a reasonably well presented story that is told through cutscenes and during mission briefings. It all gets rather personal for Chris and this does help to increase the sense of intimate involvement in the war. Saying that, some of the cutscenes do drag and I did find myself skipping them so I could hurry back to the job of killing commies. The amount of flag-waving is understandably full-on yet I didn't find myself getting turned off by it. The jingoism is kept to a relative minimum while the story would have lost some of its impact if you're only incentive to take on the baddies was because they mucked up your house and stole your girl. This may be a subjective element that may not wash over too well with some of the more racist members of the UK gaming public, especially the way each level is completed by replacing the hammer and sickle with the stars and stripes on the mission objective's flagpole. Somewhat weirdly, if you manage to raise the colours before completing all the objectives the mission will still end and any benefits that completing the secondary objectives were supposed to deliver will still be present come the following mission.
IO Interactive, the creators of Freedom Fighters, have done a marvellous job of recreating the Big Apple. As most of the levels are set out in the streets the famous skyline is a regular backdrop, and all the famous buildings that have stood the test of evil make an appearance. Seeing the Empire State or Chrysler buildings really help to convince you that you are fighting through a real city, as does the appearance of the omnipresent yellow cabs and blue cop cars. The Glacier engine is a fine looking beast all round, with some nice rain and snow effects, some very sharp character textures and a fine physics engine which flings and drapes bodies around most convincingly. As the game progresses the seasons change from summer through to winter, giving a nice sense of the time that has elapsed. It all runs very smoothly as well. Throughout the entire game my high resolution was handled without any hint of slowdown, even when there were upwards of 30 enemies on screen. Even in 1600 the framerate rarely dropped below 30. The only time it chugged was when I ran through some smoke, but this is so normal not to mention infrequent that I can only say that the graphics did a fine job. Which is more then can be said for the sound. The effects themselves are fine, but there were some very weird locational problems that plagued the entire game. This meant gunfire would fade into nothing with a simple change of view, and voices became inaudible a mere few game feet away from the speaker. While this didn't ruin the experience it was certainly very annoying and spoiled what could have otherwise been a very immersive adventure.
While the graphics do a very good job of disguising their console heritage the gameplay could learn a thing or two from the Saint. It is so consolish that it could pick up a job with my local social services tomorrow, even thought it's going to be a Saturday. From start to finish you'll be bashing and blasting away at the red menace without any pause except for when you are at your base to learn about the next mission. One mission is supposed to be stealthy but I was opening up the proverbial 'can of' with an AK in under a New York Minute, (this game, like all others set in NYC, follows some unwritten rule and names a level just so). While many console ports suffer badly from not taking much advantage of the superior capabilities of the beige box Freedom Fighters only betrays its origin in the no-frills blasting fun of the gameplay. There are plenty of options to choose from, and while there's no quick-save, (manhole covers provide access to your base and act as savepoints) I really enjoyed playing such an unreservedly fun console game on my PC.
As I played through the game there were only two points that didn't please me. One was the simplicity, which was down to my own dumbness, and the second was the repetitive nature of the gameplay. But you know what; I didn't mind that as I was having such a good time. And the increasing numbers of your team really do subtly change the dynamic of the gameplay, it's just the constant shooting and bombing that may wear thin after a while. I don't know if this sameness would cause me to stop playing if I was trying it on a grown-up difficulty level, but on the easier levels Freedom Fighter provides a very enjoyable way to spend a day or two of non-intensive gunplay. This brings me to the value of the game. To keep the fun levels high and frustration levels low I wouldn't recommend the highest difficulty as the lack of quick saves forcing a trudge of re-slogging through the same battles over and over again and would have annoyed this reviewer. Saying this, the difficulty seems to be increased through a minor toughening of the baddies and a dearth of health-packs, so the badasses amongst you shouldn't be too fazed. And as the replay value is practically zero, I would prefer to see this game coming in at no more the twenty notes. If you wait till it's that price or can get a cheap copy from elsewhere I heartily recommend Freedom Fighters. Only blast the full wad if you really like console style games and reckon that the simplicity and repetition will be able to work with your patience levels.