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Games You Should Steal From: Freedom Fighters

The most creative games of all time have stolen their elements from something else. Iím starting this weekly column featuring games that innovated in ways that havenít been duplicated, and need to be. Each week Iíll cover another game that contains some element people need to steal. If you have suggestions for future columns, let me know. On with the showÖ

IO Interactive made me realize there is no God.

I understand thatís a lot of weight to give a developerís actions, but itís true. Only in a godless, ugly world could Kane and Lynch get a sequel while Freedom Fighters remains one of the most criminally underappreciated gems of last generation.

Freedom Fighters was a third-person action shooter was released in 2003 to critical acclaim but disappointing sales. The story was set in an alternate history where the Cold War never ended, merely escalated until the start of the game, where Russia invades New York. Main character Chris Stone escapes to the sewers during the invasion, and soon finds himself helping other fugitive New Yorkers to overthrow the Russian regime. As you work with a ragtag group of freedom fighters (get it?) and rise through the ranks, the movement grows, until soon youíre going guns-blazing to kick the Russians out for good.

Bottom line, this game was (hell, still is) awesome, and remains not only a great third-person shooter, but also one of the best games centered around commanding a squad that Iíve ever played.

You see, as you perform heroic deeds, you gain influence. The more influence means the more people who are willing to fight by your side. Early in the game you can only command two soldiers, but by the end you will control over a dozen.

This leads to the first thing that should be stolen:

1: Squad Controls

To this day, I have never encountered a game with simpler and more efficient squad controls than Freedom Fighters. In most action games, commanding your squad is unwieldy at best and disastrous at worst, with clumsy, overcomplicated command menus and dumb-as-a-brick AI hampering the game.

In Freedom Fighters, you can command your soldiers with few button presses than using a healthpack.

How? Simple. Square is follow, Triangle is attack, and Circle is defend. Tap a command once for one member to do it, hold it down to make everyone participate.

On paper it may sound confusing, but in practice, itís sublime.

Hereís the scenario: A helicopter fueling station sits in the middle of a dockyard, surrounded by a dozen soldiers. It needs to go. Instead of coming through the front gates, you and 3 teammates sneak your way in through some shipping crates. The crates surround the fueling station, providing ample cover.

You tell one of your men to defend the upper right corner of the dockyard. The other two naturally follow you around crates and cranes, jumping, climbing, and sneaking as you do. You drop into another corner, and tell your number 2 man to defend. Then you circle around to the other lower left portion of the dock, and tell the last man to defend. You get yourself into position at the fourth corner, hold down the Attack command, and voila: Each of your men rushes to the center from a different side, so that there is literally no cover for the enemies. In seconds the whole platoon is eliminated, giving you ample opportunity to place your explosives and get the hell out of dodge.

This system is both incredibly intuitive and effectiveóso why has no game stolen it? Part of me believes itís because this requires naturally good AI: without smart teammates, the game falls apart. In Freedom Fighters, if you sneak, your soldiers sneak. They know to take cover, help out your fellow soldiers, circle around the enemy, and to retreat when they are out of ammo. Theyíre smart enough to take care of themselves yet not so intelligent that your presence isnít necessary. In a word: perfection.

2. Mission Structure

Freedom Fighters structures levels and missions in a way games rarely do, and more should.

Here is a basic idea of the structure: The game has 8 chapters, with a few levels in each. At the beginning of the chapter, you stare at a map of several locations in New York City (each of which is a level in themselves), and can pick what youíd like to do first.

For instance, one level might be destroying a power station to cripple Russian communications, or freeing prisoners from an execution camp before they are put to death. Complete each of level objectives, and you move onto the next Act.

But thatís not the important bit. Each level has side-objectives that you donít have to complete, but can drastically change the way you play the game. For instance, you may come across a helicopter-landing pad in a level, and if you blow it up, there will be no helicopters harassing you when you tackle the next mission. Or you might find an enemy reinforcement camp that is sending troops out to the other areas. Destroy it, and the number of soldiers in the next level will drastically decrease.

This type of structure is unbelievably gratifying. It letís you play tactically, changing the battlefield conditions as you see fit. It also strikes a good balance between giving players the freedom to tackle levels as they wish, while still keeping a tight, concise game flow.This type of structure is relatively easy to implement, and adds considerable replay value to the game (important to Freedom Fighters due to itís short length). To this day, I have not played a game that copied this ingenious design.

So there you go game industry. You want something to steal? Take those ideas and put them in another blockbuster.

Next week, we take a trip to DubaiÖ
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About silent1234hillone of us since 12:55 PM on 06.17.2012

My name's Nick and I'm a recently graduated, semi-employed bum (writer), living in New York City. My eventual dream goal is to work as a narrative designer, but in the meantime I'll have to settle on playing through ( read: jerking off on my copies of) Silent Hill 2 and Deus Ex for the eleventh time.