A diamond in the rough...
Freedom Fighters is, for lack of a better word, more fun than it would initially have you believe. An innovative concept wrapped in a very intriguing storyline. A storyline that very nearly carries the game all on it's own.
The storyline is one of an alternate Earth where world history has favored the communists of the USSR during the Cold War and not the capitalists of the USA. The Russians have slowly taken bits and pieces of the world map until finally taking over Mexico and invading New York City. That is where this game starts, with a plumber named Chris as the player's avatar. Chris is immediately recruited into an underground network of "Freedom Fighters" as levels in the game lead to the eventual, ultimate showdown between the Freedom Fighters and the Russian forces.
What I found so intriguing about the storyline is not it's Red Dawn wannabe/rah-rah patriotism leanings as much as it was just how eerily it mirrors current going-ons in global politics. In a Post 911 and the Iraq invasion world, it's more than a little disarming to see the Russians portrayed as the evil "saviors" of the "oppressed" United States citizens. One could spin this game in such a way as to make the current Iraq insurgency look almost justified, even patriotic from a certain point of view. Putting Iraq in the roll of the USA in this game and the USA in the roll of the Russians can really make a gamer think if they allow it.
Not that I personally don't believe in the current war or don't believe in patriotism, I'm just saying I like how this game, post 911, made me look at the idea of invasions in a whole new light. Whether the developers truly meant for it to be there I'll never know, but for me, as an observer, I'm glad it's there.
But I digress...onto the positives and negatives of this game's mechanics:
Positives are many. The graphics, while sometimes glitchy, are adequate. The levels have a really nice art design. It genuinely look like an invaded New York City. Bunkers, troop transports, road blocks and patrolling helicopters, all with USSR military insignia, really breathes life into the level design. Also having New York City as a battle ground just oozes coolness in my book.
The gameplay is also another positive. Like the graphics they can glitch from time to time, but all in all, once you get the feel for it, it can become a very exciting and blood pumping experience. The mechanics consist of a standard 3rd person shooter, but they add in a squad of NPC and you are given a limited (but effective) set of strategic commands. The commands are the basics of follow, attack, and guard, but when used in the right combination you can often find yourself going thru a entire level and never having to personally fire a shot at anyone. In some ways the game reminded me of Full Spectrum Warrior, but with a more hands-on approach. It's a satisfying feeling to set your squad up to guard a corner then tempt the enemy troops to come around that corner only to be met with a hail of gunfire.
Which is another HUGE positive for this game, the soundtrack and sound effects. The soundtrack is totally inspired, IMHO. It's a very large and sweeping score of Russian army choruses with just a hint of industrial sounds. As if Trent Reznor was asked to do the soundtrack for Hunt for Red October. The sound effects are also top shelf. All the guns and explosions have the appropriate weight, with the big Mano a Mano gunfights being the real standout. Voice acting is a bit weak, but it doesn't take away that much from the overall experience.
Negatives range from very minor, to pretty annoying. The minor really are pretty minor. I found myself a little disappointed that, after the first few daylight missions, the rest of the game is played in darkness. The game REALLY looks nice in the daylight, with a very nice "early morning haze" effect. It would have been nice to see them play a bit more with the lighting effects in this game.
My other minor gripes are that I wished that the troops in my squad had a bit more personality. The need to care about their well being is pretty marginal. Downed troops can be revived with one med pack or you can just make your way to the next save spot an recruit more. Having a squad with a bit more personality would only add to their emotional weight when one of them goes down. They feel entirely too disposable. The other gripe is strictly fanboy in nature, but NYC, gun battles, and NO Statue of Liberty level? What up wit' dat?
Major gripes center around graphics, controller setup, and AI. I said the graphics were pretty solid, but when I get a sniper rifle, zoom in on an enemy for a head shot, and that enemy disappears and never returns...that's a bug, and it happens pretty frequently. The controller setup (and this could be only an issue with the PS2 version) also really gave me fits when clicking and holding L3 to go into over the shoulder mode. Clicking and holding to stay in this mode was not the way to go. It should have been click once to alternate between the two. Holding only causes the game to zoom in and out when not held properly and is annoying when trying to line up the perfect shot (especially with the sniper rifle). The AI of the squad is also an issue. In guard and attack modes the AI is typically excellent, but in follow mode the squad seems to float in this really odd area between guard and attack. If you round a corner and it's chalk full of enemies, half the squad might take cover while half stand there clueless and one or two might take off running directly into enemy fire. I found myself alternating between guard, sneaking forward solo, then issuing the follow command and immediately issuing the guard command again, just to stop my squad from squirreling out on me. The actual follow command could use some AI tweaking if it were my call to make.
Overall, if you like 3rd person shooters and would like it to be sprinkled with a little tactical strategy, then you can't really go wrong with this game. It has a unique look, an interesting presentation, and (as with most good shooters) it's very fun to shoot stuff in this game.
To quote the wisdom of Bagzton, Freedom Fighter's resident mascot, "Lets chase those Russkies back to the Motherland! Y E A H !"