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Written by  :  Terrence Bosky (5463)
Written on  :  Feb 17, 2005
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars

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Great Caesar's Ghost!

The Good

No one would have believed in the middle years of the twentieth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own.

Scratch that.

From the far reaches of time and space, impending doom streaks towards the Earth!

Much better, this is the Silver Age after all.

Patriot City, 1962—An old man sits on a park bench, dwelling on the events that led to his expulsion from Los Alamos. Catching a scientist giving secrets to a Russian, the old man makes a valiant attempt to crush the communist plot only to be struck down at the foot of the Minute Man statue. But wait, the statue glows! The mysterious Element X leaves the statue it’s imbued and revitalizes and rejuvenates the old man. Now this man, taking the name Minute Man, dons the colonial costume of his namesake, wields a staff, and forms Freedom Force, a society of like-minded superheroes dedicated to the defense of liberty. Little do they know that this is all part of a master machination.

Freedom Force is a cross between an action-role playing game and a real time strategy game. Initially players take control of Minute Man, chasing the spy through the park and around town. Through a series of pop-up tutorial windows, we learn that Minute Man can leap atop tall buildings, rip lampposts from the ground and hammer thugs with them, and has a few basic attacks.

Minute Man controls rather easily. Players click where they want Minute Man to go and he runs to that location (leaping when necessary). Clicking on enemies (mostly thugs at first) uses the default attack and right-clicking on them brings up more options. Minute Man’s initial powers include a powerful punch, an arcing swipe with his staff, and a somewhat limited missile attack. Performing these actions depletes his stamina, so players must exert a little strategy since a winded superhero doesn’t do anyone much good. Minute Man also has the requisite health bar that determines the amount of damage he can take.

Minute Man gains experience when he completes a mission. He also earns prestige points by taking out opponents and completing secondary objectives. Prestige points can be lost if he or his enemies hurt innocents or cause property damage. Prestige points act as currency allowing Minute Man to recruit new members to Freedom Force, either ones that came with the game or player created ones—more on this later.

Even though the first few missions are Minute Man specific, he soon teams up with Mentor, an alien being with psionic powers. Mentor fills in some of the back story and is the first of the story mode characters (ones that the player doesn’t need to recruit). Before long, Minute Man meets up with El Diablo, Man-Bot, and Alchemiss, giving the player real options when creating a party to go on a mission.

Most missions allow for four party members and few of them have required characters. Doubtless players will have their favorites. Minute Man faded into the background as I preferred El Diablo’s flying powers and ranged fire attacks. Even if you leave characters on the back burner (sorry Mentor), they still gain some experience which keeps them in the game.

When characters level up, their core stats don’t change but they do gain more health points and stamina. They also gain new abilities and can power up existing ones. The ability tree seems somewhat rudimentary, since you have to buy and level up seemingly unrelated powers to get the ones you really want. Players also have the chance to buy attributes like flight or poison resistance depending on the character.

Missions typically have the same objective—take out the enemies, but since that covers rescuing a nuke from Nuclear Winter, fighting giant ants, pummeling dinosaurs, or defending the Freedom Fortress from an army of giant robots, it’s unlikely the player will get bored anytime soon. There’s very little repetition in the game’s thirty something missions—except, of course, where the story calls for it.

If you don’t like the characters offered by the game, there’s a character creation screen that lets you design your own superhero. Want a purple hulking beast that can fly and shoot fire? Want an icy lass who’s faster than a speeding bullet and made out of rubber? It’s all here, in a somewhat rough form. Players can design their own heroes, but still need enough prestige points to recruit them. It’s far too easy to design the ultimate hero and then find out that purchasing her is mathematically impossible.

Tired of generic heroes? Want some licensed men in tights to boss around? Check the fan community for Freedom Force versions of popular heroes complete with authentic powers and animations. You have to love a game this well supported.

The Bad

I installed the game and was quickly met with a message that Freedom Force wouldn’t work with my version of Windows (XP SP2). The game asked me if I wanted to continue any way and I said yes, hence this review. If you have XP SP2, it’s probably best to go in expecting to fail. There is a rumored patch on the way (as of 2.05) which addresses this issue.

People I’ve talked to, who didn’t like this game, have legitimate concerns over controlling four characters in real time, especially on levels which require dividing the team. While you can (and must) issue orders while paused, I wonder if another control scheme would have worked better. I do wish that the interface allowed better control of units spread across town—especially since crossing the road can be deadly. If a car (usually a taxi) doesn’t want to stop, it knocks the health points right out of a character. I highly recommend installing the patch which addresses Liberty City’s traffic problems.

Finally, while you can save anywhere in a mission, you keep overwriting the same save spot. Saved missions appear in alphabetical order, not sorted by date or time, so it can take a little effort finding the correct one to load. I’m not sure if any patch helps with this.

The Bottom Line

This game essentially is a playable Silver Age comic book. The voice acting and dialogue is campy and the graphics are cartoony, but not in a pejorative sense. Rather the game captures the excitement of that era without the use of irony. I found it to be the gaming equivalent of sitting in front of a big box of comic books.