Or how some games change
In the console/PC game ‘Freedom Fighters’ (2003) you play a plumber turned urban guerrilla who pretty much single-handedly runs the Red Army out of New York. It was critically praised and there were a lot of disappointed people when it was revealed that instead of a sequel, we would be getting Kane & Lynch…
When I played the demo back before the game itself came out, I thought it looked futuristic. When I played it around the time Russia occupied parts of Georgia (the country on the east coast of the Black Sea, not the US state), I though it to be quite a realistic interpretation of contemporary worldly events with some obvious conveniences taken with the presented history in the game. Playing it now, it feels like watching Red Dawn– it’s hard to get more inaccurate and silly than this. And to think, this was one of my favorite games as a child. Just goes to show how fast our perception of things change.
Firstly, our terminology has gone under a complete makeover. These days, ‘freedom fighter’ it’s more synonymous with Islamic radicals and their suicide-bombing and less about partisans standing up to an invading totalitarian regime, though from the stand-point of many Arabs, that’s probably how they see it… but that’s about as far as I’ll go with that.
Another game that plays around with the idea that a Communist dictatorship, this time North-Korea, would occupy the US, is the 2011 game ‘Homefront’ that, while an interesting premise, didn’t do too well in the sales department.
Both Freedom Fighters and Homefront take place in alternate realities where the Commies are some bad-ass super-powers. North Korea as the major Asian power by the 2020’s seems especially far-fetched but at least it’s somewhat explained how they evolved into a state powerful enough to occupy the US. Freedom Fighters however covers little of the backstory, just giving you some miniscule alternate history facts like the Soviet Union nuking Berlin in 1945 and occupying the last European country by the early 50’s. Also, in the intro the protagonist brother mentions that Mexico had recently been invaded by the Soviets, so it would seem the world power paradigm had shifted at least since the end of WWII but up to that America seems to have somehow managed to evolve almost identically to that of its real world counterpart. There rest of it is entirely centered around New York City. In this way the developers probably tried to play out the desperation, where the residents of the city had little to no idea as to what the situation was like in the rest of the world but it feels more like America is only made up of the Big Apple. This feeling deepens once the credits roll as by then you’ve managed to drive the Reds out of NY but even the protagonist says that they’ll be back as if they’ve pretty much have conquered the rest of the world anyway. So how a small band of people without military training managed to fight off the entire Red Army and do it in under a year is beyond me. But I’m just over-thinking something that served as little more than a backdrop to kill some modern Commies.
But continuing on with my over-analysis on a fictional work of intellectual property by people who have never experienced living under a Socialist totalitarianism first-hand, there are some other weird stylistic choices. For instance: the cabs have the writing “Yellow Cab” on their side in Comic Sans. I’m hard pressed to believe that even back in 2003 that must have seen as a tad odd at the very least. But other than the weird cosmetic solutions, one of the most important features, and that being the in-between map objectives, didn’t live up to their expectations. That was supposed to be one of the staple features but in reality, it’s barely there. Honestly, you only get a taste of the it early on and later it’s only present in a way where you need to switch between maps only to get some certain supplies and there are some other minor optional instances like destroying a chopper platform in one level and not having to deal with air-born gunships in another one but that’s about it. Being required to switch between maps during missions is extremely rare and that wouldn’t have been a problem if it hadn’t been so highly publicized as a major gameplay element but then why was it so down-played in the final product? Poor integration, maybe a late addition? The maps never feel like they are connected.
Another thing is the art style which looks hideous nowadays but honestly looked quite horrible even back when it was released, so bear in mind it’s not the prettiest of titles. In fact it has one of the stalest looking character models and environments you’ll get to experience in a 6th gen game.
On the upside, it is somehow very enjoyable. Leading your rag-tag team of nameless-faceless grunts who all carry an assortment of generic weapons and ordering them to do most of the killing but acting mainly as meat shields for you is actually loads of fun.
Also the environment, weather and seasons change as the game progresses and so does the look of both the protagonist and the rest of the cast. You start as a jumpsuit-sporting plumber and finish as a hardened veteran and the hero of the revolution which is really interesting to witness.