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LaserRot #2: Freedom Fighter


(Apologies for picture quality, 80's Laserdisc mpegs, doncha' know?)

(Millenium Games - 1986)

One of the biggest problems facing eager developers, keen to leap on the laserdisc bandwagon, was that beautiful animation, such as that featured in Don Bluth's trilogy, was incredibly expensive to produce. It would be unlikely to recoup these costs in the fragile environment that was the mid-80's arcade scene.

Some developers decided that, rather than commission original animation, they would simply find animated movies that were unknown in the West, and re-edit them, out of context, to provide the illusion of gameplay. This method was utilised several times, most notably in Stern's Cliff Hanger (1983) which combined footage from the Lupin III movies Mystery of Mamo and Miyazaki's Castle of Cagliostro (We'll be looking at this title another day.)

One of the lesser-known examples of this "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you" modus operandi is 1986's Freedom Fighter, the first arcade game from plucky upstarts Millenium Games.

Millenium obtained prints of anime movies Galaxy Express 999 (1979) and Adieu, Galaxy Express 999 (1981) and, after crudely hacking scenes from the two films together, Millenium had a reel of footage with which to make their game. Obviously, anime films weren't as readily available in the West as they are today, and the consensus was that people would be none the wiser.

Freedom Fighter's story concerns a young street kid (literally called "Kid") who, armed with a laser pistol provided by some old guy, and helped by a taxi driver with no face, has to fight his way through what appears to be a post-apocalyptic city in order to catch a flying locomotive. Once aboard, Kid will make his way to the train's front carriage to confront mecha-man "The Guardian" who is apparently an evil despot of some sort.

Snowpiercer it 'aint..

Even readers attuned to my lazy-ass writing may have noticed that the last paragraph was hardly an in-depth dissection of the complex narrative, but it's the best I can do. Given that Freedom Fighter is a Frankenstein's monster of two films, sellotaped together, it's vitally important that Millenium provided little to no explanation of the game's backstory, as the footage used was never created to be part of this narrative in the first place.

As such, the game erratically cuts with frenzied speed from scene to scene with little to no continuity. Sparse dialogue is dubbed in to give the player some modicum of context, regardless of whether it fits the given situation or, indeed, if any character's mouths are actually moving (A common trait in Western dubs of 1980's anime.)

The gameplay itself consists of the player directing Kid through the story, choosing his path at intersections. This is punctuated with fast-paced and brutally unfair shooting galleries. Freedom Fighter manages to go one better than Badlands by at least affording the player a joystick and crosshair, but it's dreadfully sluggish and the android-cops and gun-toting ninjas really aren't of the "give you a chance" type.

Due to the clunky controls and batshit editing, Kid will eat dirt time and again, his all too frequent death punctuated by a newspaper headline proudly mocking his demise.

Scraping for positives, the game at least has multiple routes to choose from and many different scenes to see, some of which have multiple outcomes, which is novel in games of this breed.

The design and art standard is wistfully nostalgic to those with an eye for classic sci-fi anime. If anything, it can probably be celebrated that games such as these may have had a hand in encouraging Western kids to look elsewhere for their animated movies, and that the world doesn't end with The Jetsons Meet The Flintstones.

Freedom Fighter would prove to be Millenium Games' one and only release. The original cabinet is rare as all hell, ranking a ONE on the KLOV scale, with only three registered owners.

In 1992, Freedom Fighter was ported to everyone's favourite console, the Phillips CDi. Under the title Escape From Cyber City, The CDi's god-awful controller was no match for the hi-speed shooting sections, which rendered it a massively frustrating experience. Many scenes were also cut from the original version, believed to be chopped out and "saved" for use in an unreleased sequel #early90sDLCtactics.

Despite it's pseudo-availability as a home port, Freedom Fighter is one of the most forgotten and inaccessible games of the Laserdisc genre.
Currently, work is underway by several LD community members to homebrew an emulated version of the arcade original, one such member has even gone so far as to make a wacky YouTube conversion of the game.

When all is said and done, the game is barely even a footnote in arcade history. Freedom Fighter arrived very late in day and missed the Laserdisc's small but very profitable window, leaving behind it little more than an array of lost cabinets and an admittedly awesome-o intro sequence:

Thanks for reading guys n' gals. Hope you enjoyed a look at Freedom Fighter, truly residing in the "Where are they now" file. For the intrigued, The Galaxy Express movies, and the accompanying TV series, are available on DVD.
The floor is open, so grab the mic, friends..

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About Chris Moyseone of us since 4:22 AM on 06.18.2010

Chris has been playing video games since video games began... still terrible at them. Former Saturday Night Slam Master, rambles nostalgically like Abe Simpson. I ain't here to fight, so let's not waste our time.

Mind like an encyclopedia.
Face like a phonebook.

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"My pen shall heal, not hurt.”
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