+ Excellent combat concept and gameplay mechanics
+ A console quality game for the Vita
- Frustrating non-combat gameplay
- Forced multiplayer into a single player experience
Freedom Wars INFORMATION
Release Date: October 28th, 2014
Developer/Publisher: Shift, Demps, SIE Japan/Sony Computer Entertainment
Freedom Wars was previewed with the promise of an original, PlayStation Vita exclusive and a AAA title. A game like this is rare for the Vita so expectations were high and maybe a bit unfair. The Freedom Wars review explores a game that does a lot of things well but does struggle in some crucial ways, hindering its ability meet its lofty expectations. The flaws can be debilitating at times but there is still an addictive quality to the gameplay. For the Vita though, it's still one of the premier titles, one that cannot be experienced anywhere else.
Story - Freedom Wars Review
The concepts behind Freedom Wars story elements play off the same paranoia of 1984 in the sense that the government has taken over and has very specific and strict ideas about what "citizens" can and cannot do. Every infraction adds time to your prison sentence. These infractions can be as simple as existing. Yes, being born is a crime and you'll have to earn your way out, specifically by fighting. The time that is added for each infraction is also ridiculous. Talk to someone too many times in a row, and hundreds of years get added. It's all rather hilarious.
All of this takes place in underground cities called Panopticons. Essentially giant prisons. To earn your freedom you must fight Abductors, giant monsters roaming the wastelands above the city. And this is where the story starts. On the journey you learn more and more but as far as your personal character development and the characters you come in contact with, it's rather shallow. The setting is nice, but the story does nothing to drive the player forward.
Much of the dialog becomes a chore to sit through because it just doesn't matter, it's uninteresting and more or less filler. Freedom Wars is a long, arduous game, and irreverent story telling only causes frustration.
Freedom Wars Technical Performance
Like many Vita games, Freedom Wars looks like a high definition PlayStation 2 game. The design of the characters are fairly generic Japanese RPG-like fare, with spikey hair, goth style clothing and colored very brightly. The models however are fairly simple and the animation behind characters movement is unsophisticated. Again, it's all very reminiscent of the PlayStation 2 era, even down to the world. The game may want you to think this game is very open with a lot of space to play in, but the evironments are big with a lot of empty space. The battle areas at least have some pleasant design to them, a half buried city of decaying structures where open space is littered with some barriers between foes. The Panopticon however has some big areas that are boringly populated with very little and serve to elongate walking distances.
Perhaps the largest, both literally and visually, graphical standouts are the Abductor monsters that you're tasked with defeating. They are the largest models in the game and some of the most original. Despite a robotic aesthetic the Abductors are more insect than robot in how they look. It's a good balance in terms of design, and preys on natural fears of giant insects (hell, robots too).
It's in these moments, on the derelict surface, fighting Abductors that Freedom Wars looks its best. These encounters are fast with chaotic action on screen. Colors are vibrant, melee and ranged attacks are flashing and clanging and there is no slowdown. These are the rare moments where Freedom Wars looks like a true console experience and sheds it's PS2 bones for some impressive sights.
Freedom Wars Music
It's hard to review Freedom Wars music because, like most games, there is a ton of it. Unfortunately, since so much time is spent in the Panopticon, several tracks wear thin, really thin. It's as if menu music follows you from scene to scene and it becomes extremely grating. It wasn't good when it began, the hours of repetition make it worse.
There are certain sections where the music can be changed by using a radio or jukebox but these tracks sound exactly like music imitating popular music rather than a fresh take. They're generically common and bad. Once again, as is becoming the theme of the game, music during battles is much better, particularly during "boss battles." While still not music that could be enjoyed on its own merits it is at least a fitting score to the game.
Gameplay - Freedom Wars Review
Anyone familiar with the anime, Attack on Titan, should understand what the general combat gameplay looks like in Freedom Wars. Your character is equipped with a grappling hook called a Thorn, that is able to latch on the basically anything, even enemy characters. The Thorn can pull your character across the battlefield quickly or drop some enemies to the ground. This facet of Freedom Wars is more than just a gimmick and really helps separate it from other games in the action genre, especially on the Vita.
In addition to the Thorn, players are equipped with other weapons such as grenades, striking weapons like swords and a firearm. Having these choices combined with the Thorn makes for some very interesting and fun gameplay. The caveat is that it is difficult to control. Much has been made of the lack of two shoulder buttons on Vita, and it does no favors here. There are several control configurations, the most natural being the shooter like controls, using the dual analogs sticks to aim, but there are several common mechanics that require an awkward combination of button pushes that really make performing them uncomfortable. You eventually get used to it, but it never feels natural. In many cases I would hardly use it because it felt so poorly. It makes a difficult game that much more difficult.
Freedom Wars is hard, especially as a single player experience. There are points where it will feel impossible to complete a stage without the help of another, who, especially after initial release, will be very hard to find. As the game moves on, requiring the help of another player helps to alleviate some of the games brutally hard fights. It seemed that this was a conscious design choice, to make the battle or tasks so difficult as to require multiplayer, but it comes off as frustrating. To make a single player experience suddenly multiplayer is a slap in the face to any player without intentions to play multiplayer. Is it possible to still get through without help? Yes, but it will require a sickening amount of upgrading and "leveling up," which in itself spoils the flow of the game and experience.
Speaking of spoiling the experience, almost everything NOT on the battlefield is laborious. The Panopticon is entirely too big. Simple tasks like running from character to character, even within the same level is agonizingly too much work. Your character's jail cell has several nice hubs, why couldn't everything just had taken place from within that instead of a constant traversing of the entire facility? It takes so long to get from place to place and most of all, it's not engaging. It's worse than a fetch quest because the only action is running around. This isn't a minimal part of the game. Early on especially, the battles are short and time in the Panopticon is devastatingly long. Much is spent developing characters, but because the character development is poor it's extremely wasteful of the player's time.
The combat again, shines even brighter because of this, and is very deep. There are many weapons and loadouts are customizable for enemy types but also for player style. For example, because the shooting controls never quite felt natural, I spent most of my time upgrading my sword. Even the Thorns are upgradable, some that heal, shield or set a trap. Replaying missions just to pay for the upgrades was addicting (before it became a necessary evil later on) and unlike many games, wasn't a chore since early levels were relatively short and easy to complete.
Freedom Wars Review Roundup
Freedom Wars had so much promise to be a AAA game the Vita so sorely needed, but comes up short in several areas. Gameplay is both exhilarating at times but can also spoil the experience at others. The controls are awkward but workable, but bringing down enemies, especially an abductor, with a combination of your arsenal feels so right, you'll want to immediately dive back in and go for it again.