Hunting with a side of grappling hook
Ever since it came out in Japan earlier this year, Freedom Wars has been high on my list of anticipated releases. Being from the illustrious SCE Japan Studio, the game found success overseas as one of the Vita's answers to a lack of the market-leading Monster Hunter franchise, which jumped platforms with the advent of the Nintendo 3DS.
As a hunting game, Freedom Wars certainly stays true to the heart of the genre, but differentiates itself enough to claim its own spot among the giants.
Freedom Wars (PlayStation TV, PlayStation Vita)
Developer: SCE Japan Studio / Shift / Dimps
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release: October 28, 2014
Freedom Wars takes place in a future uninhabitable Earth, in which groups of citizens take shelter in underground Panopticons. A Panopticon is a city-state that functions based on the contributions of its citizens. Naturally, this has lead to an intensely Orwellian society. Big Brother is always watching, except here he's an adorable teddy bear mascot that spreads propaganda and cheers on the player to risk their life fighting giant monsters. Citizens are monitored through their Accessories, which are law-spewing robotic companions that never stop watching over them.
The player's character has been stricken with amnesia in battle, but, hear me out, Freedom Wars puts an honest twist on the trope. Everything in this universe is a crime; laying down while resting, allowing silence in conversation longer than five seconds, running too much, and a multitude of other offenses all hinder the advancement of the state. Biggest of all is losing one's memory. Physical resources are tight, but nothing is more precious in this world than knowledge. This leaves the player with a million-year long sentence for losing just that.
Outside of the core gameplay, managing this sentence is the most prominent mechanic of the game. Completing missions takes many years off, and any resources donated or held back from the state can subtract or add years (if the player is not yet entitled to said resource), respectively. All those ridiculous crimes mentioned earlier are absolutely real infractions the player can commit. They don't add too many years back on, but act as an effective reminder about the setting the player is in.
Want to run for more than five seconds without receiving an additional twenty year sentence? Buy the entitlement for it. Want new clothes? There are entitlements for that. The freedom motif is really driven home. To obtain these entitlements, the player simply has to save up entitlement points by being a productive member of the Panopticon. Completing missions and donating resources are the two main ways to accrue entitlement points. The more achieved, the more entitlements become available.
Freedom Wars is a hunting game through-and-through, so the main missions break down into a few different categories and that's really it. If variety is the spice of your life, you just won't find an abundance of it in a hunting game. The enemies that attack the player are called abductors, and, as their name implies, they abduct citizens as punishment for being sinners. Hunters are given the option of saving citizens from abductors, straight-up fighting abductors, or participating in firefights with enemy Panopticons.
The main weapon types are melee and guns. Melee breaks down into one-handed/two-handed swords and polearms; assault rifles, portable artillery, and autocannons make up the ranged weapons. The player can take any combination of the two of these into battle. Most hunting games emphasize personal style and preference, but the focus of strategy in Freedom Wars is knowing when to use these weapons. For example, melee is the most effective way to take down an abductor, but the same is definitely not true when facing opposing hunters.
Verticality is Freedom Wars' most appealing gameplay element, and it comes by way of the player's thorn -- a vine-like lasso that can be used for movement or attack. Trap, healing, and shield are the available thorn types that offer the benefits their names imply. More exciting, however, is that the thorn allows for zipping around the environment and grappling onto abductors themselves. Taking down giant monsters with a sword is cool, but latching onto them and severing limb by limb is even more satisfying. The thorn does a great service in improving the gameplay of Freedom Wars.
Characters met throughout the game's progression can be taken along on all missions, but the entirety of it is playable through local and online co-op. The companion AI does a decent enough job, but will only follow exactly where the player goes, and thus doesn't ever act on its own. Obviously, co-op is always more fun and is what the game advises, but with that said, the Freedom Wars can be played solo just fine. End-game missions just don't work with AI companions, however.
The plot structure can be completed somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen to twenty-something hours, give or take depending on if the player participates in everything else there is to do. Hunting games are all about finally upgrading your favorite weapon, obtaining even better weapons, and finally getting that sweet new armor (in this case, outfit). Personal achievement is the name of the game, and Freedom Wars has no shortage of it.
Weapon crafting and upgrading is nothing new here -- gather basic resources and/or weapons, and this allows the player to use those to upgrade, modify, and create new weapons. It's as addictive as it is in any other game. I found myself more engrossed in the aesthetic customization, as I'm a sucker for it. Every aspect of physical appearance can be changed at any time. There are tons of clothing, accessories, and color palettes to unlock and choose from. These can be used on both the player's model and their Accessory. Fighting monsters for the good of the state is great, but looking good while you do it is even better.
Freedom Wars looks stunning. Character models are crisp and detailed, with their textures looking particularly nice. The game handles motion like a champ, and seemingly never suffers from slowdowns while fighting the biggest baddies (particularly impressive considering the amount of maneuverability at play).
Even on the PlayStation TV, the game really holds its own on a large HD display (as well as feeling great played with a DualShock 4). Strangely, the main section of the hub world suffers from really bad character pop-in and framerate stuttering while that's happening. It's an odd problem considering how small that area is and how big the gameplay environments are.
Freedom Wars starts off painfully slow, but picks up after around the first few hours. The narrative progression is kind of strange during this time, and doesn't add much to the experience at all. It's quite an investment to finally see payoff, but it is worth it to stick around. Loading times are fairly long, and there are a lot.. I could have done with less of them as there is just way too much time spent looking at loading screens as it is.
Freedom Wars has an intriguing setting, solid hunting action (with an always welcome grapple hook), insane amounts of customization, fully supported co-op, PVP, all through a beautiful presentation. There are numerous hours of content to keep you coming back again and again. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but, by that same token, there's nothing else quite like it.
It's the PS Vita's biggest release this year, and likely will be for some time. If you own a PlayStation Vita or TV, you'd be crazy to pass up Freedom Wars.
Freedom Wars reviewed by Brett Zeidler
Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth most people's time and cash.
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