Gaming Memories: Freedom Fighters

Welcome to “Gaming Memories,” a blog series where I reminisce about my favorite video games. I will slowly but surely get to every game on the list (and possibly beyond), and speak to why each holds a special place in my heart. That not only means I’ll talk about why I think each is a great game that speaks to my tastes, but also where and how it affected me in a larger context. I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading.

One of my favorite moments in Freedom Fighters happens whenever you destroy an important structure held by the invading Soviet Union army. You locate a bridge, a helipad, artillery, or some other critical objective, clear out the enemies around it, and plant your explosives. As the countdown timer ticks down, the blaring music fades, giving you a few seconds of silence amidst the chaos. Then, boom. Your target is engulfed in flames, and as your handiwork sinks in, a new choral song comes on loud and proud to highlight your accomplishment. You’re taking it to your invaders one big-ass explosion at a time. And it feels good.

Freedom Fighters is a game about mounting a resistance against an oppressive regime, and those moments where you land a critical blow are powerful. The narrative, while sometimes campy (in an endearing way), does a great job at connecting how these small victories add up in the bigger picture. Visually, the Soviet imagery shows just how prominently they have set up shop in New York, and seeing it crumble is stirring. Perhaps most importantly, Freedom Fighters underscores every moment with its epic soundtrack. I’m a vocal fan of video game music, and this one’s score sits near the very top of my favorites. Its unique combination of synth and choral sounds is bold and striking, and it was a grand step up from what video games were doing with music at the time; it felt like it raised the stakes for the entire medium. And it does it with impressive variety that always matches the game’s Cold War vibe. From the empire’s chilling march, to the resistance’s quiet resolve, to intensely desperate combat themes, Freedom Fighters’ soundtrack runs the gamut, and the way it dynamically changes tracks to match its big moments is highly effective. Any good soundtrack serves to enhance the game experience, and by that measure this is still one of the best.

But Freedom Fighters is much more than bombast and a great soundtrack; it arguably has more substance than its already considerable style. Its solid third-person shooting is driven by streamlined squad mechanics, and built upon stellar level design. I’m normally not one for dealing with squads in shooters, but Freedom Fighters’ arcade nature makes it simple and fun to command your surprisingly competent squad members around the battlefield. And the way each sprawling, nonlinear level is laid out provides all sorts of opportunities to spread out and tackle objectives from different angles. It goes a long way towards making you feel like you’re part of a team that’s working together to complete an objective; so many games miss the mark by having teammates that are little more than window dressing. Your squadmates truly matter here, so much so that they’re often more effective than you are. That makes it easy to become invested and rely on them, and the fact that you’re always convincing new fighters to join the cause furthers the game’s theme of mounting a resistance. You get to see your troops grow dramatically in number over time, which makes for some killer final levels where you are leading a veritable army against formidable fortresses. It’s a great payoff.

Team!
Team!

Yet my favorite design idea from Freedom Fighters is one I’ve not seen much since, and certainly not implemented this well. You regularly have multiple levels to choose from at once, and completing objectives in one will affect another. For example, destroying a helipad in one level will prevent helicopters from spawning in another. This creates an elaborate network of cause and effect, and you’re able to bounce between these levels at will; you can even leave mid level and see the effects of your handiwork elsewhere. The result is that you can strategically plan out how you go about systemically taking down the empire at an infrastructural level. Which, yet again (catching on yet?), supports the game’s theme of mounting a resistance against your oppressors. It’s rad as hell, and I had a blast exploring multiple approaches across multiple playthroughs. It’s dynamic enough to reward experimentation, and I enjoyed my later playthroughs on higher difficulties just as much as my first. It’s impressive any time a game gets so much mileage out of simple ideas, and Freedom Fighters is more robust than most. I remember all of my time with it fondly.

Freedom Fighters is a game about mounting a resistance against an oppressive regime. Not only is that apparent through its story, visuals, and music, but also through the very core of its mechanics. You inspire and recruit a team of rag-tag rebels looking to fight back. You plan out the best way to dismantle your invaders’ infrastructure. And you execute across superbly designed levels. I love how everything ties together under a central theme, and it’s much rarer than it should be for a game to put such level of care into everything it does. I’m a big proponent of cohesive design, and in that aspect, Freedom Fighters is refreshingly holistic. It’s also got spunk, super cool ideas, and (at the risk of beating a dead horse) a goddamn amazing soundtrack. It’s the kind of game I play and think “Why can’t more video games be this good?” Maybe that's overly idealistic, but at least we got Freedom Fighters.

4 Comments