michaelenger's Free Running (PlayStation 2) review

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Free Running is flawed

The concept behind the game is a good one: have the player take control over an acrobatic character and then give them freedom to jump around the environment at their leisure. It sounds good but in practice you can't make a good game out of just that. Take the Tony Hawk series of games for example, you can't just give a guy a skateboard, plop him down in a level and then expect him to have fun on his own. The player needs to be directed, pushed, challenged and taught, which is where the game hits a major wall.

The concept behind parkour (or "free running" as it is also referred to) is to be fluid in your movement over the urban jungle and it gives people a massive feeling of freedom as they aren't hindered by contemporary obstacles like rails or walls. These are challenges to overcome or objects to be used in their exploration and play. The problem of trying to incorporate this feeling into a setting where there have to be rigid goals means that you have a conflict of ideas and the result is that the feeling of freedom is lost as you run from checkpoint to checkpoint, doing the same tricks over and over because you're too focused on the clock to enjoy yourself.

The creators of Free Running tried to allow for a certain degree of freedom with the challenges Free Race and Landmark Hit, that simply gave you a place where you had to be and left it up to you how to get there. The problem is that there is usually one path which is the fastest and getting a Gold medal on the challenge is simply a process of doing and redoing that same path until you can perform it with your eyes closed. The exploration aspect is lost since you're always racing against the clock or an opponent that won't give you a second to look around your environment. Any step out of place or any move malperformed usually leads to failing the challenge, so the game becomes a tedious grind on the same tricks along the same path until you finally beat it.

A level editor of sorts would have helped the game a lot by appealing to people's desire to have control over their gameplay experience. One of the fun aspects of parkour is the self-challenge where you see something that could be fun to do and then you try and try until you succeed, being rewarded by your own sense of accomplishment and progression. Take the Landmark Hit mode, for example. It would be great to get to select where you start and where you have to reach and then see how fast you could get there, not having to worry about some pre-set time to beat or anything other than your own desire to be better.

Some of the modes, like the Crash Test mode is completely stupid and seems like it was added to the game as a bad idea and never removed. The whole game smells of lack of play testing and it really sticks out in some cases where the camera really isn't on your side or when some tricks can work smoothly while others are cumbersome and slow, leading to a lot of frustration when the clock is ticking. The nuances in the gameplay, like how far your character is going to jump or when to press a button to perform the appropriate trick, are hard to figure out on your own and its only after having played the game for a long time that you start understanding how it works. Even then you get surprised when your character doesn't do what you expect him to.

Free Running seems to be a game made for fans of parkour, who would appreciate the novelty of performing the same moves in the game as they do in real life that they would ignore all the small problems that make this game hard to pick up and play. Even just jumping around smoothly is hard without going through the training levels and some of the challenges are so brutally rigid that one misstep can lead to failure. Confusing and partially unresponsive controls coupled with a sporadic camera lead to many unfairly failed challenges and hours of frustration. The game doesn't come close to providing the same sense of freedom as the activity it emulates.

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