In 2003 I was a baby child who had just got the platinum GameCube for Christmas. One of the first games I got for it was Freedom Fighters. It is now 2020. I have once purchased Freedom Fighters. Earlier this week, on September 21st, nearly seventeen years after its initial release IO Interactive has re-released Freedom Fighters. This game, since I first played it, has been in my top ten list. I am glad to finally own it on PC.
Freedom Fighters imagines an alternate history. In 1945 the Soviet Union brought a bloody end to the Second World War by dropping a nuclear bomb on Berlin. From that moment forward communism becomes the driving political/economic system on the globe. First spreading in Europe, followed by Southeast Asia, then South America, and finally North America. In 2003 the Soviets invade the United States and that is when the game begins.
The player controls Christopher Stone, a 32-year-old Brooklyn plumber who has a younger brother he works with. They end getting called to an apartment rented by a “Red Watch” journalist just as the invasion starts. The soviets bust in and arrest your younger brother believing him to be the boyfriend of said journalist. You escape capture by having the mad skills required to hide behind a door. The Soviets, having arrested a suspect, decide to call it lunch and don’t bother searching the rest of the apartment.
You quickly leave the apartment and find a man that goes by the name “Mr. Jones” in the hallway. He teaches you important skills like shooting, running, jumping. All the normal game things. And you begin your adventures as the rebellion hero known by the Soviets as “The Freedom Phantom”.
Freedom Fighters is ostensibly a third-person shooter. It has the familiar “over the shoulder” camera angle of many modern games. However, it was made in a time when shooters were more about resource management rather than tactical thinking. Because of this, you’ll find your ammunition is somewhat limited, and your health requires items to restore rather than just taking a moment to not get shot. These game-play decisions, while also extremely popular at the time, served to force the player to rely on the game’s unique core mechanic, charisma.
Charisma is what the game calls experience points. There is one use for them and that is to recruit more fighters to follow you into battle. As you complete objectives or help the civilians of New York you’ll gain charisma and be able to recruit more followers. This continues until you have a maximum of 12 fighters following your orders.
Since Freedom Fighters is primarily an action shooter, the tactical commands are limited but powerful. There are three orders you can give: attack, defend, and follow. These three orders are all you need because your fighters are pretty smart.
The simplest and most used command is the “follow” command. With this command, one or more of your team will follow close behind you. From there they will shoot at any enemy that gets close enough to you but they won’t pursue them if your enemies retreat. This command is best used if you’re wanting to take the lead in the charge. Having all your fighters following you can become cumbersome when your squad of fighters is big. This is what the defend command is for.
Defending in Freedom Fighters is a bit of a misnomer. In a game about being a resistance fighter in an occupied city, you rarely are defending. Most of your actions are quick hits or sieges. The game doesn’t really throw waves of Soviet soldiers at you. Because of this, the defend command is more of a “stay” command. When told to stay, your fighters will take cover and spread out a little bit. In general, though, they’ll just hang out and maybe shoot anyone. They don’t get too rowdy. If you want rowdy order your squad to attack.
The attack command is somewhat insane. Issuing the command can be done against a particular enemy or an area. When issued the fighter, or fighters will charge forward firing at anything that gets between them and their target. What is most interesting about this command is they won’t charge stupidly. If they detect an enemy they won’t charge past. Instead, your fighters will deal with the initial threat before moving on. This can lead to unpredictable behavior. Once you get used to that behavior you can deploy groups of fighters to efficiently clear buildings while you deal while enemies elsewhere.
The enemies in Freedom Fighters are perhaps its greatest weirdness. The developers must have been working on the follower AI and kinda forgot to tune the enemy AI. Soviet soldiers will run around semi-randomly once a fight starts. In ways that make no sense in real life, but constantly puts enemies behind you. Maybe that is intentional as it sure makes for a challenge. Enemies will also take cover and engage your fighters. More often than not, while some of your enemies are shooting at you, the rest are jumping out a window. They won’t die from this. You’ll just run into a massive pile of enemies elsewhere in mission. This continues until you’ve gone through the whole level. Which means a climactic fight at the end. Which is usually pretty frantic.
As stated earlier, Freedom Fighters was first released in 2003. This newly released version is just that came recompiled for modern PCs. There have been no updates to the game-play. Because of that, some things in the game are rough by today’s standards. Go ahead and push that out of your mind. I am. I’m not going to judge Freedom Fighters by any standard beyond whether or not it is fun. Freedom Fighters is fun.
Any time or money you put into Freedom Fighters is worth it. Accept its limitations and have fun. There have been a lot of remasters and remakes lately, but a true re-release seems rare. While remasters tend to be hit or miss. A re-release of the original material presents the game just as it was. If you accept the game as it is, you’ll enjoy it. If it looks fun, have fun.