Another weekend, another Retro article. Too many games to cover, too little time. Over here at Indian Noob, the nostalgia goggles are very much rose tinted. It’s an absolute pleasure to go back and reminiscence all the sweet memories you had with a particular piece of digital media. After much brainstorming, I have decided to dedicate this week’s editorial to one of my favorite third person shooters of all time. Actually, when I think about it, it’s actually my second favorite tps after Max Payne. The game in question, other than being my favorite is qualified to be featured here at Retro Saturdays in the fact that it’s old, forgotten but not obsolete. It’s none other than Freedom Fighters, the third person squad based shooter developed by IO Interactive and published by Electronic Arts for Microsoft Windows, GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2003. Man, where do I even begin?
Like I always say, growing up as a gamer in India during the millennium was no easy feat. Games were hard to find, there was no internet and to be honest, hardly anyone was interested in video games here. But that didn’t mean that you were the only guy playing games in your area. Every one of us had our own closed circle of friends we used to exchange games and related media whether they be from your class or neighborhood. My circle consisted of me, my two friends and two of my cousins. Games were quite expensive back then (still is depending on how you look at it). We used to pool in all our money gathered over time and do a coin toss to decide which game to buy. The games discs are then passed around the circle and this process is repeated for all games.
It was during a winter vacation that I first got to play Freedom Fighters. As usual, I went to my cousins’ to see if he had gotten his hands on anything new. Having been bored of playing the same games over and over again, we decided to pool in whatever cash we had and buy a new game. We went over to the local DVD library called BBC and bought Aliens Vs Predator 2 after hearing so much about it for approximately ₹25. We got home and booted up the CD. Much to our surprise, it wasn’t AVP. It was a game was called Freedom Fighters and title card listed the developers as IO Interactive, the guys behind my favorite stealth franchise of all time; Hitman. We didn’t know whether to feel disappointed or glad. It wasn’t AVP but the game looked so cool. After ignoring his suggestion that we return it, I clicked on new game. When I look back now, that was a great decision. The game was amazing. It blew us away in all aspects. It looked good, played good and sounded even better. The epic orchestral soundtrack by Jesper Kyd was as good as his work from Hitman 2. The shooting felt so good and the story was the kind that made the hairs on your hand stand up. It would have been a great loss if we had returned Freedom Fighters.
A History of Freedom
IO Interactive was coming off the success of Hitman 2- Silent Assassin and got a hot deal with EA to make a new IP. Freedom Fighters was initially revealed as Freedom: The Battle for Liberty Island in E3 2002. The game was supposed to employ two different game modes; the first was a turn-based mode focused on operations in the sewers below New York. The second was a real-time action mode on the streets of New York. The game would be built on an updated version of the engine used to power Hitman 2- Silent Assassin.
During development, the design underwent a paradigm shift. The game was reworked to be a third-person shooter with squad management elements. The story largely remained the same and the name was changed to simply Freedom Fighters. Freedom Fighters was released by EA Games in the U.S. on October 1, 2003, a full week after the UK release. The game is notable for being one of the few developed by IO Interactive that was not published by Eidos Interactive. Freedom Fighters was released to positive reception. The game was praised for its gunplay, atmosphere, squad AI and the sound design.
An Inspiring Story
Freedom Fighters is set in an alternate version of our world where Russia became the definitive superpower after their victory in WWII. The soviet forces invade foreign countries left and right to expand their empire. You play as a New York plumber (not that one) whose world turns upside down when the Russians decide to take over the big apple. You witness Ruskies taking over everything you once loved and have no other way but to take up arms against them and be part of an underground resistance. Desperate times call for desperate measures. New York sewers, hotels and ruined cityscapes form the backdrop of your desperate battle against the soviet union over the course of several seasons. You witness as the hero Chris Stone evolve from an unwilling combatant to the legendary ‘freedom phantom’.
The story explores themes such as oppression, morale, desperation and patriotism. Although the story is not going to break the norms and tropes of such materials, the surge of patriotic feeling you get is really organic. Even though the story is about America, you don’t have to be a ‘Murican to feel inspired or proud. The moment you accomplish your first objective and when you finally drive back the Russians in a blood-boiling finale are indeed awe-inspiring moments. Combine that with the masterful opera inspired soundtrack of Jesper Kyd and you’ve got yourself something special.
A Sense of Organic Progression
Freedom Fighters isn’t a seminal game by any means. It didn’t break any new ground as a shooter. It was just a really well made third person shooter with some simple squad management mechanics. But one thing Freedom Fighters did is the sense of progression. The invasion of New York starts during the autumn season, when the golden leaves of decidiuous trees decorate the pavements. You start out as an average joe unwillingly dragged to become a part of the resistance. This is reflected by your low charisma meter. You are only able to recruit like two other party members at this point. But as you carry out more objectives and progress further into the story, your charisma will increase, allowing you to recruit up to two 6 men teams following your command. Mission selection is sometimes non-linear too as you can do some of them in any order you want. This sense of progression is not only reflected in the gameplay, but on the story and character too. Christopher’s appearance will change over time and so does the attitude of others towards him. By By the time you unleash the final large-scale assault against the Russians in a battlefield drenched in snow, Chris has overgrown hear, wears heavy tattered clothing and is known among the populace as the freedom phantom, the legendary leader of the resistance. His iconic speech atop a liberated building still invokes goosebumps on my hairy back.
Freedom Fighters is the only 3D game from that time that had you issuing various commands to your followers in a very simplistic and easy manner (at least to my knowledge). The companion AI was way ahead of its time and are able to suppress, flank and shoot effectively. The AI still holds up relatively well today. Like I said it’s a very solid third person shooter. The saddest part is that Freedom Fighters is not available to purchase from any online platforms at the moment. Your best bet is eBay and other similar sites. Simply editing an ini file can make the game run in widescreen. Despite blocky models and low resolution textures, the game can still be enjoyed a lot, thanks to the solid shooting and squad mechanics.
There was supposed to be a sequel coming out but the resources went in to the Kane & Lynch series, and we all know how that turned out. But there is some hope for a sequel. After IO Interactive has parted ways with Square Enix, they retained the rights to two of their franchises. One is Hitman and the other is..well Freedom Fighters.
Well that’s it for today folks. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Brings back so many good memories man. Ah what I wouldn’t do to become a child again…As for Retro Saturdays, we’ll be back next week with another forgotten gem. Til then, enjoy the weekend and happy gaming.