Sequels That Should Have Been: Freedom Fighters 2
The term “freedom fighter” is a controversial one, depending on whose side they are on. But regardless of motivations, there’s something noble about it, isn’t there? Giving up their former ways of life to fight for a country, a cause or even an idea takes guts. They’ll be fighting against an enemy that’s better equipped, better trained and better fed than themselves. However, they’ve got one thing the enemy hasn’t. Determination and desperation. To reiterate the old cliché: they’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
A quiet morning in New York – well, as quiet as they get – is interrupted as the Soviets decide to invade. For years they’ve slowly been eating up more and more of the world, and have been sitting quietly on the borders, waiting for an opportunity to show itself. In other words, Freedom Fighters (2003) is an exploration of what could have happened if the Cold War hadn’t been fairly balanced. The game was crafted by IO Interactive, who are otherwise most famous for their Hitman series, and infamous for their Kane & Lynch series. Curiously, the developers had actually intended that the game was to take place in Russia during an American invasion, but this move was blocked by the distributor and, oddly, Wal-Mart.
Understandably, this invasion catches a lot of people in the crossfire, notably two plumbers who sadly aren’t Mario and Luigi. Mario and Luigi, armed with rusty AK-47’s, blasting their way through the Reds, raising the Star and Stripes to the top of the flag pole would have been indescribably awesome. Unfortunately, we must make do with brothers Chris and Troy, who find themselves in an anti-Communist activist’s apartment on the day of the attack. The Soviets naturally seek out the prominent activist early on in the attack, and in the ensuing chaos Troy is captured by the Soviets, as they find the apartment empty. Thus Chris, having hidden from them, has an excellent incentive for standing up against the invaders instead of complying. And with anti-communist organizations already in place, it doesn’t take long for a genuine resistance movement to be established.
Chris quickly marks himself as someone to be relied on. He slowly advances in the ranks and gets to lead more and more men into combat. The men and women he has to rely on in combat. Freedom Fighters wasn’t a game that emphasized the strength or foolhardy bravery of one man, but rather how good a leader he is. You only had a few basic commands – attack, defend, charge, etc. – at your disposal, but they were enough for the combat to still feel tactically challenging and fulfilling. And charging in all by yourself just wasn’t a possibility unless you find carrying your vital organs on the outside fashionable. Granted, the enemies weren’t exactly the sharpest bunch, but they could still quite easily swarm you.
And the missions you were sent on weren’t just a list of objectives that you had to follow point-by-point. You were given a choice in which missions you wished to go on first, all of which lead to a major plot-driven mission at the end. But the order you did these missions impacted how the rest played out. For example, destroying a helipad in one made sure you didn’t have to encounter any gunships in another. Admittedly, the choices couldn’t exactly be said to be that impactful or deep, but at least they gave you the illusion of choice. You felt like you were an active member of the resistance, not just someone who happened to know how to fire a gun without killing yourself. Most importantly, the missions felt realistic in their structure. There were very few that involved heading in, guns blazing and killing everything in sight, even though that was usually what happened. Instead you went on missions to disrupt communications, raid supplies, rescue captives etc., and you worked like a true guerilla army, making surgical strikes, and then retreating back to the sewers.
Having the war set close to home rather than in some generic Middle Eastern or Russian village was attempted earlier this year by Homefront, a horribly mediocre experience for a variety of reasons. However, they both explore the same theme. What effect does an invasion have on the denizens of a country? It’s certainly something that can be described as a national trauma, when it’s on the scale of the Soviet invasion in Freedom Fighters and the North Korean invasion in Homefront. In these cases, the local culture is basically being slowly killed out as the invaders try to assimilate or even kill those who resist.
Homefront tried to show the human side of this, by having the player explore the places the Resistance was hiding in between combat sections, and with some rather blatant scenes that were desperately trying not to merely evoke an emotional response in the players, but rather punch them in the eyes until they force out the tears. Freedom Fighters still comes out as the stronger game in this regard, perhaps exactly because it doesn’t try to force a response from the player, but just shows it. There’s something almost heart-warming about seeing the sewers getting filled up with people as the Resistance gains support, thanks to your actions – alright, that may be a bit self-important.
So, for a hypothetical Freedom Fighters 2, what would need to be changed? Frankly, not a lot. The action is solid and intense, yet it doesn’t become too much of a shooting-fest. You’re still the underdog, and you’ll have to keep your wits with you if you want to make it through. And the story is sufficiently emotionally driven – without being overly sentimental – and has some interesting plot twists along the way. It might not be the most expertly written one, but it guides the player through the game and the theme gently. The game could certainly do with a technical update too, but that’s a minor complaint. After all, few games that don’t rely on a particular art style in their visuals rarely look that good almost a decade after their release. What bugs me about Freedom Fighters is that the ending was left completely open. The Resistance takes back Manhattan and New York in a brilliant showdown, but what happens afterwards, as Chris asks. They’ve only managed to destroy a fraction of the Soviet army, and now they’ve definitely pissed them off too. If the game had ended on a sad note, say, a nuclear strike on New York, destroying everything the Resistance had worked for, that would have been fine. Instead, I just felt hollow after finishing the game. Sure, I could fill in the following events myself, but IO Interactive need to end Freedom Fighters’ story themselves.
And that’s the major challenge a sequel to Freedom Fighters would face. How could they retain the guerrilla feel if it would end in open warfare with the Soviet Union? That would nearly require them to discard all that made Freedom Fighters such an excellent game. Maybe that’s why there hasn’t been a sequel yet. Nobody knows how to continue the story without risking mediocrity.
Previous installments in the “Sequels That Should Have Been” series: