Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich

Review by Old Rooster
March 2005

Comics for Gramps

The other day, a new visitor to our home noticed the many shelves of games in my den. He was particularly struck by a colorful section including such titles as The Hulk, Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Legends, and Freedom Force. Indeed, sitting on my desk was the latest Force release, which has the superheroes tangling with the Third Reich. "How nice of you to play those comic-based games with your grandson," said he. "Those aren't for my grandson," I replied, "they're among my best and most favored games—pure escapism, funny and hugely entertaining. Here, let me show you a bit of this wonderful new release from Sierra."

And so we proceeded to explore the vivid and bold strokes, as well as outstanding gameplay, of one of the finest games this year: Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich. Needless to say, a convert was made. I should get a commission!

"That's All Real Nice, Old Timer; Now, Please Tell Us About the Game!"

Three years ago, Irrational Games took our little world of electronic entertainment by storm with the release of Freedom Force—a very original strategy/RPG/adventure. Although looking as if derived from comics of the 1960s, Freedom Force introduced a whole new stable of superhero characters, working to thwart villains in a plot that was outrageous. Except, possibly, for X-Men: Legends, nothing has come close to equaling the vibrancy and gameplay of this outstanding game. Until now, that is.

It's been one year since the original Freedom Force superhero team has done its job and, for the most part, each member has gone to his or her respective "civilian" locales. But all is not well in Patriot City. The portent of problems begins with the very bad dreams of Alchemiss and intensifies for real when two of the classic baddies, Time Master and Nuclear Winter, escape from prison. Before we know it, World War II looks like it may move toward a very different outcome—in favor of the Third Reich!

Enter our superheroes. The old team is called back to duty, including such stalwarts as Minute Man, with his trusty patriot staff, and El Diablo, who just loves to give a guy "a light." Joining the regulars are six new and very different characters:

  • Green Genie—He can transform into anything, and make chaos of a battle;
  • Black Jack—Who loves to play with poison-tipped cards;
  • Quetzalcoatl—A young man able to summon the powers of an ancient god;
  • Sky King—Just loves any excuse to use his rocket pack;
  • Tombstone—A failed electrocution gives him deadly powers;
  • Tricolour—Beautiful, but don't turn your back on this master of the sword.

"You Fools Understand So Little of Death" —Tombstone

Time Master and Nuclear Winter are not alone in their villainous ways. We also have:

  • Fortissimo—Who can level a city block with his voice;
  • Red Sun—An unparalleled samurai swordsman;
  • Bliltzkrieg—The Nazi genius who can bend the will of men.

The story is not especially logical, has some plot holes, is twisty-turny and won't keep you awake at night worrying about whether this might really happen. Rather, it's much in the spirit of a comic and needs to be taken for what it is and with considerable tongue in cheek. With the developers clearly aiming for some degree of satire and camp, I found it best to just let the story roll, not look for hidden references or puns, immerse myself in it, and have a heck of a good time!

Our tale evolves through a sequence of chapters and missions, taking 15 to 20 hours to complete on a medium difficulty setting. After being given a briefing, you're tasked with selecting and equipping up to four superheroes. As the game moves along, not only do the available heroes become more numerous, but also the skills required to perform your missions become more demanding. You may not at all need the swordplay of Tricolour, but rather the confusion that can be generated by Green Genie.

"When Fortissimo Sings, Everybody Dies" —Fortissimo

Interestingly, and fascinatingly, there is a fluidity and lack of linearity to mission accomplishment. Your heroes are dynamic in that they have a range and level of skills, as well as "health" that can be diminished by the use of those skills. Further, as you move successfully along, you earn experience and prestige points. These not only increase powers, but also can be used to solicit new heroes for the cause. Finally, even though it may be obvious you need Green Genie over Tricolour, there is nothing that says this has to be so. You may just make it with a sword instead of chaos, and it's often a lot of fun to try. This offers tremendous replayability for FFVTR. Additionally, an incredible character creation tool not only allows modification of powers and visible effects, but also gives you the option to change the look of a hero.

The developers have gone all out to afford not only replay possibilities in the campaign/story mode, but also a selection of multiplay and other options. My dial-up connection imposed limits, but those with cable or DSL will enjoy not only a range of types, including deathmatch, tag, team massacre, and, the most intriguing of all, Story Mode. With this, you can create custom scenarios, choosing heroes, villains, game mode and map, even a background story and what it will take to win the mission. Finally, those of us who prefer not to play on the Internet weren't left out by any means. A Rumble Room option is included, allowing you to select a map and heroes against any number of A.I.-controlled bot villains you choose. Great for practice!

"Smite the Wicked" —Minuteman

You control your team in three-quarter view 3D settings, with a good deal of individual micromanagement required. Essentially, FFVTR is a tactical real-time strategy game with strong RPG components. Indeed, although you can shift from one hero to another quickly, it's quite necessary to do a good deal of "babysitting" with those not selected. They will defend themselves, but not nearly at the level you would expect, and they do evidence some unpredictability in their actions. Succinctly, this is an A.I. problem that doesn't spoil the game by any means, but it is a bit of a glitch and may well be rectified by a patch.

The interface is extremely efficient and uncluttered. Facial portraits of your squad members are shown, together with indicators of health, energy, power and other critical gameplay factors. Movement of the selected hero is controlled through either arrow keys or the mouse. Indeed, use of the mouse is critical in FFVTR for securing information. A right-click pauses the game, allowing orders to be given. A left-click on a target will bring up a menu showing the default power you may use and a range of other possibilities. There are eight mouse indicators showing the kinds of attacks and other interactive options available. Not only can the game be paused, but you can save anywhere. Indeed, in case you forget due to being so caught up in the story and fun, the game saves automatically after every mission and also even at the point where you exit for any reason. However, there is no minimap. This is the only disappointment I had with FFVTR. Although directional arrows show the way, your team can sometimes get a bit lost, and it would be helpful to spot them on a minimap. This isn't a play-killer, by any means, but it would have been a useful inclusion.

"If I Can't Reignite My Flame, All of Freedom Force Will Be on Ice" —El Diablo

The aforementioned fluidity in the environment is also demonstrated by virtually all buildings, structures, items you can see and touch, shoot, punch, burn, toss about. Some of the comic outrageousness in the game comes about with extreme actions in which you can engage, which may or may not be required in order to advance your goals. Innocent citizens and even other superheroes need to beware when Tombstone starts shooting his electrical bolts! Picking up a street lamp to use as a weapon is something we've always wanted to do.

As evidenced by the pics I've taken on my tour of duty, the settings are not only richly colorful, but highly detailed and interesting. The maps can be zoomed and rotated. Even on my puny system, with many details lowered or turned off, you can see how good FFVTR looks. You can even elect to move the camera right next to a hero, getting down and dirty with the action.

Your travels will take you from crowded city streets to a military base, underground labs and bunkers, even back to the heart of the Third Reich in WWII. The storyline becomes a bit convoluted, but it never loses its sense of style and fun. There's a lot more I'd like to tell you about it, but I don't want to spoil your discovery. Trust me, you'll like it.

Fortunately, voice acting, sound effects and musical themes are as well-crafted as the graphics. You can get away with "over the top" with a comic-based adventure, and the actors clearly have a lot of fun voicing the likes of Fortissimo, Minute Man and El Diablo. Their work is undergirded by a tight, very professional, funny and creative script. Not only is the story itself involving, but there are sufficient one-liners to leave you laughing. "Did somebody order Mexican?" El Diablo says of himself upon arriving. This is but a sample of a script filled with this kind of comic-style dialogue.

"For Freedom!" —The Force Battle Cry

Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich is most highly recommended as an essential purchase for your game library. It may not have the strategy depth of a Ghost Recon or the RPG nuances of Neverwinter Nights. What it does have is a style all its own, clearly making it not only one of the most creative and original games of this year, but also one of the best. From involving story to eye-popping graphics, very funny script, incredible characters, great voice acting, ultra-smooth gameplay, and an unusual range of extended play options, FFVTR brings it all together better than any PC game I've played in the past year. Get out there! Join the superheroes! Don't let the Nazis take out Washington!

What I Liked Most About FFVTR

  • The story, characters and graphics grab you right from the outset;
  • Control and interface are superb;
  • There's a huge range of colorful heroes and villains;
  • The range of play and replay options will keep this on your hard disk for a long time;
  • The general outrageousness will make you smile and is great escapism;
  • Will run on lower-end systems.

Minor Problems I Experienced

  • An interface minimap would be helpful;
  • Nonselected-hero A.I. can sometimes be problematic. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Release Date: March 8, 2005

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
Pentium III 733 GHz (P4 1.8 GHz recommended)
128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended)
32 MB 3D GeForce 2 video card (256 MB recommended)
DirectX 9.0 compatible sound card
700 MB free hard disk space

Where to Find It

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No reproduction in whole or in part without express written permission.