I finally decided to take Freedom Force down off my Pile of Shame and quite successfully made it through, and I’m really glad that I did. I have no particular attachment to the Silver Age of comics, but the earnest, period tone of the game really charmed me. From the start you’re fighting Soviet spies who keep making cracks about indulgent capitalist fools, and it goes from there. I love how thoroughly the game commits to this. It must have been tempting to slip in even a little 4th wall breaking irony, but because it plays it straight, it encouraged me to buy in to the game and its reality, instead of remaining aloof and detached. The attention to detail, especially how the in-game item description tool-tips are written in this same tone helps immensely.
Making everything in the world interactible and destructible must have required a great deal of work, but it was absolutely worth it. The world of something like Baldur’s Gate (which I still am going to finish one of these days) is lifeless by comparison. There’s such a joy to picking up a lamppost and smacking enemies off ledges with it, or having buildings crumble from collateral damage, or having a character who’s not in fighting shape hang back and hurl cars and trash cans (overflowing with the refuse of a productive society) and whatever else is handy at the enemies.
This would normally be the section where I nitpick the various game mechanics, and there certainly are some issues this time around. The big problem is that there’s a lot of finicky micro-management. The default choice on a lot of actions doesn’t quite produce the desired result, so getting things done well often requires two or three clicks per command. There’s a lot of mousing around trying to select just the object you want. There’s also a problem with aggressive collision detection on ranged attacks which potentially leads to lots of friendly fire incidents and getting blocked by environmental objects.
I’m pretty surprised that the difficulty generally felt right. Given the diversity potential of the Hero Creator, it would have been easy to is how easy it is to create overpowered, game-breaking characters. I was able to force myself to stick with just the default built-in heroes, surprising especially given how min/maxed my Baldur’s Gate character is. The deal I made with the game was that if it wouldn’t throw anything that seemed unfairly challenging at me, in return I wouldn’t try to break the game. Other than one late game encounter where you spawn in surrounded by nasty, status- and knockback-inflicting enemies on a platform no larger than a Soul Calibur stage, with every bit as deadly an edge, the game held up its end of the bargain, and so I held up mine. The foursome I eventually settled on – El Diablo, Man of War, Eve, and Bullet – was more than up to the task otherwise.
The game ran fine, technically, on 64-bit Windows 7. It wouldn’t quit gracefully – I’d choose “Exit” from a menu and then get the pop-up saying Freedom Force has stopped working unexpectedly – but otherwise there were no problems. It even ran in 1920×1200 without any tweaking needed. It wasn’t exactly pretty, especially when it came to character models, but it felt fine given its age.
While I’m not planning on making a full run of it just now, I played the tutorial level of the vs. the Third Reich sequel and in addition to a nice graphical upgrade, including the much-needed addition of object highlighting, there seems to have been a good attempt to clean up some of the micromanagement issues. I’m a big fan of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and so I’m curious to see what Irrational’s take is on the Golden Age of Comics.