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Retrospective: Freedom Fighters

IO's actioner was ahead of its time

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horny issue

After the shock of the attacks themselves, Prahm admitted that he wondered whether it was game over for Freedom Fighters. "We thought: can we make a game about fighting in the ruins of Manhattan after this?" he says. Eventually, it was agreed that the project should continue, but with a few tactful adjustments. "We ended up actually taking out a few levels - the one with the World Trade Center, obviously, and another with a crashed plane in the middle of the street."


Despite these alterations, Io's game struggled at retail, and while some thought perhaps a game involving terrorism in a ruined Manhattan may have discouraged some players, Prahm doesn't think 9/11 had a significant impact on sales. "We've always had a lot of theories about why the game didn't sell," sighs Prahm, "because it was actually critically well received. But it didn't do so well, and that's down to a lot of different factors. It was definitely theorised about the impact of 9/11, but I'm not sure that's how gamers make up their minds to buy games. If they've heard a game is fun I think that's the main thing, not that it's set in a ruined Manhattan. I didn't hear many critical comments in that direction anyway."

Indeed, Freedom Fighters didn't see too many critical comments in any direction, with most reviewers rightly impressed with its skilful integration of simple squad mechanics in an already solid shooter. Yet Prahm is honest enough to admit that the balance was not all that it could have been, and suggests that time constraints were a factor in a home stretch that, while exciting in its escalation to ferocious, large-scale street battles, might not be quite as finely tuned as the early game.

"It was quite challenging to get the balance between the player and the freedom fighters versus the enemies," he admits. "That's because the fighters are as powerful as the player, and so if you're playing it one way, you might only have one or two followers, while someone else who has done everything perfectly could have 12 guys on their side. I don't think we had the right tools at the time to really look at what the player was doing and tailor the enemy [activity] towards that so that the players who were really good at the game would also get a lot of resistance."


Also cut for time was a planned two-player mode. "I'm really, really sorry that the campaign co-op mode didn't make it in there," says Prahm. "Just after the game released, we had a prototype of that up and running where you could play in split screen, so player one would be the main character and your friend would play one
of the freedom fighters. Either player could take control of the squad and play tactically - it was quite a lot of fun."

The development of a co-op prototype after the game's completion is clear evidence that Io had hoped to develop a sequel, which is borne out by the story letting the bad guy get away at the end. "Yes, there was definitely a lot of hope that we would do [a sequel]," admits Prahm, "and so we didn't want to kill off all our characters before we had a chance to see how we could use them in a possible sequel."

Little wonder, then, that Prahm would love to revisit the game he describes as "an early career peak", though he believes a new Freedom Fighters would need a fresh focus. "I think the big challenge now would be how to really make an online multiplayer out of it. Because I think the multiplayer modes that we had in Freedom Fighters were experimental at best. We had a lot of fun playing it in the office, but I don't think many people have played them that much, so getting that right would be the key with any sequel."


Play Freedom Fighters today and you might just be struck by how prescient it is. With last year's news frequently dominated by the Arab Spring uprisings, there's a sense of eerie familiarity about the scenes of carnage, even if they shy away from the full horrors of war. With that in mind, you sense that any potential follow-up would have to tread a very fine line. The original is, then, almost certainly destined to be a one-off. Its place in gaming history may be little more than a footnote, but like the revolutionaries it celebrates, its name shouldn't be forgotten.

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