Freedom Wars Review – Great Mechanics Meet Wasted Potential (Vita)
Freedom Wars has sort of stood in the distance as a beacon of hope for PlayStation Vita owners wanting more from their awesome little gaming machine than ports and indie titles. As wonderful as some ports and indies are (I adore Persona 4 Golden), there’s been an overwhelming lust for a big, exclusive experience like Gravity Rush for a while now. This SCE Japan, Shift and Dimps affair has been a promising release since its unveiling.
In a lot of ways, I’m willing to call Freedom Wars a success. In other ways, well, it’s a bit of a let down.
Our own Heath Hindman reviewed the Japanese version when the game originally released in August. I’ve been met with largely the same game, though the online pass has been removed for western markets and the difficulty tweaked as well. There’s still a spike towards the middle of the game, but what I’ve read from Heath’s review indicates that the spike we have is a little less obnoxious.
We’re All Born with a 1,000,000 Year Sentence
The premise of this game is interesting. Far into the future, the Earth has been worn down to rubble by humanity, and resources have become incredibly scarce. Cities have changed into Panopticons, and citizens are born into each with the sole task of advancing their own Panopticon. I chose New York, though there’s a whole pile of new cities for the western release.
Because of the resource scarcity, birth is considered a crime. All children are immediately labelled Sinners and sentenced to 1,000,000 years imprisonment. That time can be worn off by serving the Panopticon and its free citizens by either performing missions or donating goods.
It’s a really clever idea, and that leads to some interesting takes on warfare, the capture of citizens and the advancement of your own Panopticon.
That Sweet, Sweet Gameplay
The actual missions that progress this storyline are mechanically wonderful. Freedom Wars is at its best when you get into the nitty gritty of fighting on a battlefield with other teammates. Each teammate has an Accessory. Accessories are androids that you outfit with gear and give tactical instruction to during battle. That means that there will be a whole slew of players on your team as you command your squad to tackle an objective.
That objective might be taking down all the enemies, rescuing citizens or destroying giant robots known as Abductors. This is a third-person action title where you’ll sprint around the map firing a host of craftable weaponry at the enemies around you. You have something called a thorn attached to your arm, and that lets you attach to objects and fling towards them (or drag them down in the case of the Abductors). The whole thing is tight, responsive and satisfying. This feels like a well-honed Japanese action game while in combat, and that makes each mission more fun and enjoyable.
It’s just that the diversity of the locations is thin, the missions themselves are repetitive and the AI leaves a lot to be desired. The weapon crafting is convoluted and hidden behind walls of awkwardly assembled menus, and the process of reducing your sentence or spending points on Entitlements or gear (go with gear, friends) can be a bit of a slog.
Do It for the Grind
If you do decide that you want to beat your million year sentence down to zero after beating the game’s storyline (a feat I accomplished after knocking around 100,000 years off my sentence), it’s going to take a lot of grinding. Now, I want to be clear and concise about something here. I don’t necessarily find grinding to be a bad thing. If you’re like me, you can find the grind in games to be rather relaxing; it serves as a way to mindlessly wax away several hours with a definitive goal in view. That’s accomplished here with the end game of Freedom Wars. So, if grinding is your bag, you’ll be good.
I haven’t actually cleared my sentence, though. I’m still in the low 800,000s. Freedom Wars has turned into a game I play while watching hockey or football. It’s something I turn on when I don’t need to give a game my full attention. It’s a slow burn, and in that regard I’m fairly happy with it. The problem is that, thanks to Heath’s aforementioned review, I know what will wait for me if I ever decide to beat this thing down to zero. A swimsuit and a plant.
Which brings me to my absolute biggest problem with Freedom Wars.
It isn’t the repetitive locations, the drab art style, the teammate AI or the difficulty ramp midway through. Those things are all pesky annoyances that I’m willing to overlook given the pace and style of the action in the game itself. What bothers me about Freedom Wars most is the way it quickly squanders its setup.
The beginning of this game, once you get past the cliche of amnesia, is incredibly alluring. A post-apocalyptic world where people are born as drains on resources? Yes. Freedom Wars present that scenario as the backbone of its fiction, it slaps players with the sinner label and a 1,000,000 year sentence. The only way to beat that sentence down is by serving your Panopticon through jobs and donations. This is an awesome, fantastic setup, and it’s really great when the game adds more years to your sentence early on for taking liberties like laying down in bed, walking more than five steps in your cell and more.
You feel like you’re being punished, and the world of Freedom Wars makes sense as this horrible, censored and freakishly controlled thing. And then it just sort of falls into the background behind endless streams of dialogue. You’d think that they could have made a plot about breaking the system of Panopticons and freeing humanity from automatic million year sentencings. No, not really. The storyline finishes, you’re still a sinner and the world hasn’t changed much at all.
Freedom Wars is not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. Its flaws are obvious, constantly present and, in the case of the storyline, disheartening. However, the gameplay itself is good enough to lift its quality above average. For a consumer base so hungry for unique exclusives as my fellow PS Vita owners, Freedom Wars is a welcome addition to the system’s library. I’d be hard pressed to call it an amazing game, but those willing to accept its faults and enjoy a solid grind will absolutely get their money’s worth.
(Ed’s Note: Due to an oversight, a blurb detailing the online experience was somehow left off the review, so here it is. Please note that the score given reflects time spent both offline and online by our reviewer)
There is competitive and cooperative online play here, and it’s something I actually used more of towards the second half of the game. I was personally greeted with an online pass request a few hours into play, though that’s been removed with the day one update for Western gamers. The PvP is four on four style, and it’s quite fun if you’re running with players who have some solid skill behind them. Getting rolled completely happened a lot when I tried this mode, but when I had teammates who seemed to flank enemies well and use their thorns properly, I had a lot of fun. The cooperative play for the campaign is beneficial for the late game when the difficulty ramps up. I often found the NPC AI a little on the dumb side when taking part in tougher quests. Having human players actually work together to bring down abductors or grab citizens at the right points made these missions easier. I imagine going ad-hoc with friends next to one another would multiply that effect, too.
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