Developer: SCE Japan Studio | Year: 2014 | List Price: $29.99 | Buy from Amazon
Upon hearing that Freedom Wars may be the very last first-party triple-A PS Vita game, I decided to give it my $30 when it came out two weeks ago. There was a super cool trailer as well as a healthy amount of hype on IGN, and after spending a fair amount of time on Borderlands 2, which was ported (badly) to the Vita, I really wanted to try an action game that was built from the ground up for the trusty portable. While it does suffer from its flaws, Freedom Wars really does show off the Vita’s capabilities and provides a mighty fun time all the while.
Freedom Wars’ sets you in a post-apocalyptic world divided into Panopticons in a state of perpetual war in a struggle for resources. People are considered resources themselves, and anyone seen as a waste of resources is given a massive prison sentence. You start the game given 1,000,000 years for suffering from amnesia (a jab at the anime trope, perhaps?). Luckily, the Panopticon gives you a way to work those years off. Simply perform tasks that net the government resources, and your sentence will slowly be whittled down.
These tasks generally come in the form of Monster Hunter-style missions where you’ll find yourself face-to-face with enormous robots called Abductors belonging to rival Panopticons. Taking these out is no easy task, and you’ll have to pay attention to movement patterns and have a fair amount of perseverance to prevail. During some missions, I found myself not being able to defeat all of the Abductors within the 45-minute limit! Luckily, the game has a very robust co-op mode, and you’ll be able to enlist the help of other players either online or locally to take down some of the more difficult behemoths.
Speaking of difficulty, you’ll find no shortage of it in Freedom Wars. Though the first couple of missions are a cakewalk, the difficulty starts to ramp up around the halfway point of the game. Players online complained about the difficulty of defeating ground enemies, who are similar in stature to the player and pack similar firepower, making them difficult to aim at and overpowered. The developers responded with a series of patches, and it was perhaps due to these that I personally didn’t find them that difficult. I instead found the missions with multiple Abductors the hardest, since it was difficult to concentrate on one without being blind-sided by the other, and often a series of these had to be taken out within a time limit. I feel that the difficulty was fair, however, and apart from a few frustrating sequences of death-revive cycles, I found that every time I died was due to my own error.
What drew me into Freedom Wars in the first place was the story. I’m sorry to report, however, that the story usually only serves to get in the way of missions. A lot of story advancement consists of fetch quests and moving around from place to place in search of the next person to talk to. What’s more, because there is a quick-travel system, moving around requires no more than simply accessing the menu, and most of the time it just felt tedious. Also, the writing feels dragged-out most of the time, and the plot as a whole seems to lose its focus towards the end.
But the main attraction here is gameplay, and Freedom Wars’ mechanics are impeccable. There are six weapon types to choose from, each with their own peculiarities, to the point where I found myself only being able to use the Light Melee and Assault Weapon classes. Your approach to defeating Abductors will have to change drastically depending on what weapons you use, since different parts of the Abductors have different weaknesses. Freedom Wars also has a very rich and complex weapon crafting system, which I still don’t fully understand even having beat the game, but optimisers and people looking to annihilate other players online will have to master this aspect of the game to succeed, because Freedom Wars doesn’t have a leveling system and stats are based solely off your loadout.
On the field, Freedom Wars is a joy to experience. The game’s most unique aspect of combat is a grapple-like contraption called a Thorn that everyone is equipped with, making the game feel very vertical. You’ll be using your Thorn to dodge enemy fire and to get yourself up on top of Abductors to deal damage where they can’t immediately swipe at you. There are four different control schemes to choose from, each allowing for a different style of play, and I spent most of the game using the Marksman scheme, which makes the game control like a shooter when using an assault rifle. The game is always responsive and the performance never drops outside of online multiplayer, as far as I’ve seen.
Design: 8/10 Freedom Wars goes to great lengths to sell you on its world. People refer to you as ‘Sinner’ in disgust, and the smallest things add years to your sentence. You’ll eventually earn entitlements to allow you more freedoms, but the game really succeeds in making you feel like you’re under a totalitarian regime. Unfortunately, the game suffers in plot, and the ending feels out-of-nowhere. Many of the characters are rather annoying, as well.
Visuals: 9/10 Freedom Wars looks and plays stunningly, with great environments and a good framerate. Apart from a few lip-sync issues, the characters look great as well, and have a unique style to them that’s not quite anime, but still very Japanese.
Sound: 8/10 The soundtrack is always great to listen to, but nothing really extraordinary. Upon replaying missions, you’ll be given the choice of what tracks to listen to, but the story quests always seem to have the same couple of themes that get a bit tiring. That said, there’s a good range of styles. I kind of like the desert theme, which sounds a bit Middle Eastern. The Japanese voice-acting gets the job done, but isn’t out-of-this-world.
Gameplay: 9/10 Freedom Wars’ gameplay is hard to criticise. It’s very involved and the battles are really exciting. Bosses can take you out in two or three hits, but luckily your teammates are given a couple of seconds to revive you, and they most often do, so it never feels too unforgiving. The weapon crafting system is nuanced and complex, which some might enjoy, but personally, I found it rather obtuse.
Value: 9/10 Freedom Wars will give you dozens of hours of gameplay. The main story took me roughly 25 hours to complete, but there are still other more difficult missions to complete with your friends and online. Also, don’t be expecting your million-year sentence to hit zero anytime soon. Even after the credits rolled, I still hadn’t reached the 900,000 year mark. To illustrate just how long it’ll take, the game gives you a Gold trophy for reaching 500,000 years!
Total: 43/50 (A-)
List Price: $29.99 | Buy from Amazon
Have you tried Freedom Wars yet? What do you think of it? Tell us in the comments!
I’m still waist-deep in Final Fantasy VII at the moment, though I bought Uncharted: Golden Abyss a while back. I let a friend borrow it while I was playing Freedom Wars, so I’ll have to get it back before I can play it. Anyway, look forward to a review of one of those soon.