Can there be any greater clarion call for the forces of good than when the cry goes out that freedom is endangered? Can there be any greater cityscape in the world than the spiraling skyscrapers of Patriot City? Is there any hope when the greatest city in the world comes under threat from the wicked forces of the Third Reich? Can anyone save these poor law-abiding townsfolk?
Freedom Force needs you!
Bounding back onto our PC monitors with a mighty cry of justice, Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich (FF:TR) is the follow-up to the cult game Freedom Force, a strategy RPG where the player controlled a squad of mighty heroes against the dastardly forces of such enemies as Nuclear Winter, The Shadow, Mr. Mechanical, the Manbull and Timemaster along with a nostalgic, often wonderfully funny soundtrack and plot.
As the sequel begins, the Freedom Force has all but disbanded from their Patriot City headquarters thanks to a lack of evildoers to teach a lesson to. As the heroes drift off back to as normal a life as they can have now, a call comes over the priority channel: trouble in Cuba! Nuclear Winter is up to his old tricks, and his Soviet forces are attacking an American airfield, led by Red Oktober. The Freedom Force must mobilize to quell this threat to peace! Veterans of the series will know what to expect, but here’s the secret if you haven’t worked it out just yet: do not take this game seriously. This is pure and unadulterated cheesy slapstick in computer game form, with a massive dose of homage to the old Silver Age of comics.
The single-player storyline revolves around these crazy, madcap rules of comic convention. Every loading screen is a comic cover with the next level laid out in classic comic style, while each of the characters talks with a patriotic accent and a cry of glorious duty. Every special move or technique is a cheesy pun, every level’s title a shouted heroic warning. It’s never quite enough to make a player cringe in fright or disgust, and remains fun and infinitely appropriate throughout the game.
Once the initial threat from Nuclear Winter and Red Oktober is suitably vanquished, something suddenly happens to the freedom-loving team! On their way back to their headquarters their craft is struck by a strange wave of energy, and they are forced to crash-land on the outskirts of Patriot City… only it is no longer Patriot City! Instead, it is Port Blitzkrieg, in the control of the Third Reich! Can our heroes quell the timestream and return the shining beacon of hope to the city? Only time will tell!
More reminiscent of strategy war games than a role-playing game, each level is a large-scale map with a number of objectives to complete, which usually involve the righteous softening-up of some selected bad guys or the destruction of some nefarious device. Alongside primary objectives are secondary and the occasional hidden objectives, completion of which will afford you more bonus prestige for your heroic team at the end of a level, which can be used to recruit yet more good-doers. Characters that take part in each map are awarded more experience than those not, allowing you to form a favorite team and work to make them your core group.
Within the level itself, control is relatively simple; you only ever have four heroes total, so managing them is a relatively easy affair. Each character has a number of special moves with which they can perform a variety of effects on the enemy, and some characters are able either to fly or else leap if not over, then onto tall buildings. If things get too hectic the game can be paused to better pick out targets and decide what needs to be done for justice to win out. But lo, you might say, surely heroes need to do truly heroic things? Of course they do. Cars, streetlamps, other thugs, each is a viable weapon against the forces of darkness and each can be wielded and hurled at an alarming array of toughs with guns. If there’s a bunch of thugs clumped together, throw a fireball at them and watch them get scattered in every direction, safe in the knowledge they cannot threaten the populace any more! Just, er, watch out for the aforementioned populace when you do, otherwise it might be a little detrimental to your team’s reputation.
The battles can drag slightly, since most are resolvable without even thinking of resorting to high-powered moves, and characters never actually get more powerful through the game; merely access to more special moves. Fortunately, there’s generally enough going on in the levels – be it plot or gimmick enemies – to keep things fresh, but…
The real fun comes in planning and creating a custom hero. The create-a-hero system is filled with all manner of fun options to play around with; fansites have a wealth of different models and meshes for you to use for a custom character’s appearance, and any attack you can think of can be made by modeling the attack’s effects within a template; a punch is a melee attack with a little knockback, while a fireball is a beam or thrown attack with a wide area of effect and a large amount of knockback, and so on. Stuns, deafness, fear, confusion, hypnosis… there are all manner of status effects and possibilities you can give your characters, which sadly makes it very hard to make a balanced and fair character for either single or multiplayer. While multiplayer characters can, if desired, be restricted to a certain amount of points, there’s nothing to stop you making a drastically overpowered character and saving up prestige points in multiplayer and proceeding to stomp through the entire game.
There’s a good amount of variety in the levels, and each of them is filled with enough fun and humor to carry the absurd premise of the entire game. Once moment your squad might be trying to pick their way through some caves, the next fending off a soviet tank as it trundles through a small base. Throughout it all, though, the characters are infinitely more important than the story. Each of them has their own ‘Secret Origin’ movie, and each of them has such rich characterization that it’s both impossible to hate them and impossible to know which to choose for a mission. From the all-American hero Minuteman to Alchemiss and Man-Bot – yes, all of these are real character names – to Black Jack and Tombstone, each hero is clearly inspired by a classic comic book character but has the game’s unique twist and something to absolutely help bring them to life.
Along with the cheesy plot, the best part of the game is the cheesy voices. Every single voice actor in the game has played a tour-de-force here, and with it every character is completely brought to life. Even despite the fact that there’s barely any notable music beyond the occasional jarring chord, the audio is perhaps the most memorable part for the sheer array of accents and shouts that spring up during battle. On the visual side, graphics are simple but effective; bright, cartoony colors and tall buildings and color-coded bad guys. There are a bewildering array of graphical effects to choose from, but as you might expect there’s one common thread that links most all of them – large letters. Yes, you guessed it. THWACKs, ZAPs, OOFs, and UURGs are in full evidence and it’s fantastic fun to see, in the middle of a superheroic fight, all of the sound effects you might remember from old cartoons.
That’s the way the whole game feels, really. It is a nostalgia trip, a salute to the Silver and Golden ages, and a wonderful piece of whimsy. It is at the same time humorous and heart-warming to see all these familiar and old concepts. And, above all, it is great fun to lead a superhero team to go duff up some bad guys and save the day. Consider picking up FF:TR if you’re looking for an unusual, quirky strategy RPG for your PC; don’t miss it for a second if you at all enjoy old comics and good old 60s supervillains.