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Retrospective: Freedom Fighters

IO's actioner was ahead of its time

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Team tactics

Issuing commands is a doddle, a single button press sending one fighter towards the target area, while holding it a second longer sees an entire group head that way. It's an elegant system designed to make things much easier for console audiences unfamiliar with more tactical shooters, though if it seems effortless in play, it was a challenge to implement.

"We had to try lots of different things to make it work," says Prahm. "We had multiple iterations, and [ended up with] the fourth or fifth version of the squad control. Earlier, we had systems that were a lot more complex, where you could pick individual guys and give them different orders."

In fact, an early prototype that the team experimented with could have turned it into a very different game indeed. "There was even a sort of real-time strategy mode where the camera would elevate to a higher position, so it almost turned into this 2D RTS game where you could move your guys around from above," Prahm explains. "In the end the one where you basically just point and click was the one that survived."

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If getting the controls right was a test, it proved even trickier when porting the game to the GameCube, with a pad layout very different from that of the PS2, the lead development platform. "Creatively, the biggest challenge was to get all those buttons and stick controls from the PS2 controller down onto the GameCube controller," Prahm says, which explains why the pad's little-used Z button gets to do an uncommon amount of work, here accessing the radial menu for item selection. Still, working with the Cube had its benefits for Io's future work. "One interesting thing is that porting to GameCube helped us port the engine eventually to Xbox 360. Some of the technical details are very similar, believe it or not!"

The controls were one thing, but the game's entire conceit would have fallen apart without Io getting the artificial intelligence right. Thankfully, they did. Rare pathfinding issues and the occasional suicidal tendencies of squad mates - who seem blissfully unaware of the concept of a 'blast radius' when C4 is planted nearby - detract little from some remarkably smart AI.

Your brothers in arms take up positions well, and can certainly handle themselves in a firefight. Rarely do they need nannying, and even if you simply want to get on with the business of shooting up the Russian invaders yourself, you can happily charge in and let them follow in your wake.

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You'd certainly never think that implementing the artificial intelligence was a bit of a rush job, but as Prahm reveals, "it was something that we started working on relatively late in production. We had a lot of levels built before the AI worked well and that wasn't so good for the whole development process." Yet a bit of friendly in-house competition may have made the crucial difference. "One funny thing is that the two sides of the AI - in other words, the Russian soldiers and the freedom fighters - were developed by two different programmers that actually didn't work very closely together in the beginning. In a sense, you could say it was a fight for real between the Russian AI and the freedom fighter AI."

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