The games with tights and capes
Superheroes and more particularly, superhero themed games are very few and far in between, unless you count licensed games… But while there are a few good games based on long-established franchises like Spider-Man and Batman, there aren’t a lot of games that make use of the general concept of superheroes. Of course one can always argue the requirements of being a superhero? Isn’t Mario basically a superhero? He is quite superb after all. But of course I’m talking about the true-blue 60’s Silver Age-styled superheroes, tights and all.
So as I said, there are some very good licensed games, contemporary Arkham series for example. Another of DC’s franchises I’d point out is the overall pretty decent DC Universe Online which does give off the classical comic book superhero vibe. A similar excursion was done in the form of the now-defucnt MMORPG City of Heroes. But as that one has already bitten the dust and the other one still standing isn’t doing all that hot, it’s clear that the classic superhero isn’t a favorable theme in the mainstream, at least not at its most basic. With Marvel movies being the biggest events of the summer, there’s definitely an interest towards superheros, just not the one’s in tights, so to speak. And because of that, I thought I’d give a quick overlook on another one of my childhood favorites.
Freedom Force (2002) and its subsequent sequel Freedom Force vs the 3rd Reich (2005) are two fantastic isometric tactical team-based strategy games with light RPG elements that were based around the look and feel of the Silver Age of comics. Developed by Irrational Games, widely renown nowadays as the people behind the Bioshock series. Keep in mind, I’ll be addressing both games as a whole, because other than the plot and some new characters, there’s very little difference between them
The story is silly and quirky, the characters speak similarly to that of the many heroes and villains of 60’s live-action shows like Adam West’s Batman. So expect all the corny dialog and cheesy “acting” you’d come to love from such iterations.Graphically the games were nothing to write home about, even back for the day but the fantastic art style holds up still, I’d say. So aesthetically it’s staying true to what you would expect from such a title: the music, the visuals – it’s all in the heart of the era, of course all presented in a slightly sarcastical note but the fourth wall is never broken so it doesn’t come off as the developers just blatantly making fun of the genre or how it was portrayed back in its time. I’d say it feels something similar to a Tarantino film, in that he’s kung-fu and western movies are contemporary but cheesy, yet they manage to look and feel cool nonetheless. This is because like Mr. Tarantino, the people at Irrational respected the source material.
As far as the gameplay goes, it is somewhat of a challenge. While you’d think it would be a ‘breeze through’ type of game, that’s not really the case. While it’s not an unfairly difficult game, some planning and strategizing is still needed. What’s more, knowing your characters strengths and weaknesses and being aware of their acquired abilities is key to getting the upper hand in some seemingly overwhelming odds. If you’ve ever played the original Red Alert, you’ll know that some of the maps were huge and took a lot of time and some nifty planning was needed to pull off the mission objectives. This is somewhat similar, although the difficulty and overall level lengths never reach the heights of Westwood’s premier RTS. Still, spamming basic attack orders with all your team mates will most likely get you nowhere. Patience young grasshopper!
And this is where the RPG elements come into play as they are mostly tied to the combat. Characters widely fall into the classical tank, healer, DPS categories with some variability to them, which mostly depends on what new abilities you acquire for them after every successful mission. Though largely they stay on the path appointed to them by the developers. Luckily, there is a pause button when ever you need a second to asses the situation and issue commands in a calm manner. After all, things can get quite hectic.
It’s understandable that as time goes on, the hero-formula will continue to evolve and morph from the colorful tights on the pages of comics to the family oriented mindless Bayhem summer blockbuster spectacles. Then again, back in the day, comics were little more than clever ways to get children to read. But hey, I’m not complaining, just pointing out that we have a few wonderful interpretations in video game form of that era.
HONORABLE MENTION: inFamous 2 (PS3)