Review: Freedom Wars (PSV)

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Title: Freedom Wars
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (1.5 GB)
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: JAPAN Studio, Shift, Dimps
Original MSRP: $29.99
ESRB Rating: T
Freedom Wars is exclusive to PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation Network download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Golden Minecart Award Winner 2014:
– Best Action/Adventure Game (PS Vita)
– Game of the Year (PS Vita)

Freedom Wars takes place on Earth, many years in the future. The world seems to be ravaged, and since resources are limited, countries have split up to become large city-state entities called Panopticons. These Panopticons must gather and retain scarce resources, but many have resorted to stealing the rival Panopticons’ citizens, machinery, and military forces. Resources are so limited, a sort-of martial law has been put into place, and citizens are severely punished for any type of waste – including their very lives.

Gameplay:
After a battle between a team of military personnel and a large glowing robot, you witness a character being beaten and carted off just before you’re knocked out. After you wake up, it turns out that you have lost your memory, which is considered property of the Panopticon, and thus you are now sentenced to one million years of imprisonment to redeem yourself for your sins. (Since the Panopticon spent many resources on training you, it’s a grave sin to lose your memory, and this is why you are punished).

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From this point, you’re taken to a character customization screen, where you can choose your sex, height and weight, as well as hair and eye color. You’re also given an “Accessory,” which is an Android who chaperones you around at all times, even aiding you in battle. From the character customization screen, you’re also able to customize your Accessory in the same way as your main character.

The storyline of this game is really unique and interesting. Once you choose your Panopticon (from a selection of real cities around the world), you’re introduced into the very confined state that your main character has been thrust into. At the very beginning, your entire experience is extremely restricted, and you can be punished for many mundane things. For example, if you take one too many steps inside your prison cell, your Accessory will charge you with an infraction of wasting time (since in this world, you are a resource of the state, and any action you take is taken as a cost upon the state), so you are charged and a number of years are added to your sentence. Another example of the strictness of the law, is that you must be careful and respond to the dialog options quickly, because if you take too long to answer, you’re wasting time and you will be punished with twenty extra years if you do so.

Another really interesting aspect of the game’s storyline is that it is made very clear that you, and other sinners (prisoners) like you, are the lowest of the low. There are also citizens who are a bit more free than sinners, but for the most part, the Panopticon’s needs are paramount. As you do battles and find various resources, you’re strongly encouraged to donate any items to your Panopticon for the “Greater Good.” When donating to the Greater Good, you’re rewarded not only with years off of your sentence, but also entitlement points.

Although the game starts out very unforgiving and strict, you will have many opportunities to redeem yourself, and thus have some of the rules more relaxed. When you open your menu, referred to as the “Personal Accountability Portal,” you can elect to do missions. Each mission gives you an overview of what is involved, the number of years off of your sentence you will earn back, as well as other information. Once you complete the mission you are taken to a screen that shows all the items you’ve found. From there, you can donate them to the Greater Good to gain years and entitlement points.

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Inside your cell, one whole wall is a gigantic computer screen called the “Window on Liberty”. It’s through this separate menu system that you can spend your entitlement points, customize your clothing, and donate to the Greater Good at any time, among other things. Entitlements, along with years off your sentence, are used as a sort of currency in the game. As you progress, new Entitlements will be made available and include things such as being able to take more than five steps in your cell (freedom to pace), leave your cell, talk to other sinners, etc.

At the beginning of the game, it’s explained that each “sinner,” or prisoner of the Panopticon, has a specific CODE level. There are up to eight CODE levels and you’re instructed by your Accessory what conditions you must pass to attain the next CODE level. The higher your CODE level, the more entitlements and freedom will be afforded to you. It also happens that, as you progress in CODE rank, the battles and missions you are given become much tougher.

The missions you go through are fairly varied. Some missions will include rescuing citizens from giant robot-like creatures called Abductors, while other missions will have you take down one of their Abductor’a (this type of operation is called liquidation). Since resources are extremely limited, the people who are the most talented are granted citizenship. These people are highly specialized and do various things for the Panopticon, such as weapons technology research, medical technology research, and more. The Panopticons are so in need of the citizens’ expertise, they have resorted to constructing huge robot Abductors to steal citizens to come work for their Panopticon. The really cool thing about these Abductors is that they’re specifically designed to go in and capture a citizen (or citizens) in these orange glass enclosures. So when you go into a citizen rescue operation, you not only have to take down a gigantic robot, you have to break these citizens out of the glass enclosure and escort them to an escape transport (usually under enemy fire). If you’re skilled enough, you can even break open the glass enclosure to steal the citizen from the Abductor before it’s been destroyed. However, once it’s revived, be prepared for a fierce response by the robot.

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The battle mechanics of the game are somewhat similar to the ones used in the Lost Planet games; you have two main weapons, plus a grappling weapon called a Thorn. These Thorns are made with this glowing strand-type technology called Will’O. The Will’O technology also is the same material that the giant Abductors are made out of. They look like giant robot parts held together by glowing strands.

This Will’O technology is a really neat concept, since it’s used for all kinds of things in the world of Freedom Wars. Each sinner on the battlefield is equipped with a Thorn: a type of vine, made of Will’O, wrapped around their arm. Not only are the Thorns used in battle, but they’re also used as a grappling hook to propel you through the environment. Your Thorn can attach to pretty much everything in the environment, from walls and ledges, to enemies themselves. When you latch on to a structure, you press the trigger again to propel yourself and stick to the structure. Once you’re attached to a structure, you can use the new location to attack enemies, grapple to a different location, or jump onto the top of the current structure (depending on what you’re attached to).

There are three types of Thorns: binding, healing, and shielding types. After you advance enough, you’ll gain the entitlement to wield other Thorn types as well as upgrade your Thorn. The binding Thorn allows you to grapple an enemy and attempt to immobilize them. To use the binding Thorn you target an enemy Abductor, grapple them, then press the indicated button repeatedly to immobilize them. While you are very vulnerable when attempting to bind an enemy, if you pull it off, the giant abductor will be frozen for a period of time giving you a chance to attack them or free a citizen. There is also a charging mechanic for Thorns where you hold down the trigger to charge your Thorn. If you successfully charge it long enough, the color will change and will perform the special charge ability once you release the trigger. The charge ability for the Binding Thorn is a trap that will ensnare any enemies that walk over it.

The second type of Thorn is the Healing Thorn. With this type of Thorn, you can select and whip an ally to give them heath. If you hold down the R1 trigger, you’ll go into two charge-up cycles which can deploy a green Will’O tree that heals all allies within a radius.

The third type of Thorn is the Shielding Thorn. This Thorn gives you extra defense and has a charge-up ability to create a barrier to protect yourself and your allies from enemy fire.

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Other than the Thorn grappling ability, you have access to two weapons that you can take into battle on any given operation. There are a great deal of weapons at your disposal, but the main two types of weapons are guns and melee. The types of guns range from submachine guns, mini-guns (called auto-cannons in the game), sniper rifles, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, and more. Each weapon has a level, rarity, power rating, clip size, and maximum rounds that you can carry.

The other type of weapons are melee weapons, which are composed of large knives for cutting and slashing, and impact weapons. Smaller, lighter cutting melee weapons are used to saw off parts of the Abductor robots. Once you latch onto an Abductor part, depending on what it is, you can hit a button to begin severing it. To do this, you must repeatedly hit the Circle button as a gauge is depleted. After depleting the gauge, the Abductor part will be cut off and fall to the ground. This is very effective against some Abductors, particularly the ones with shields or rocket launchers. Many times you can use your guns to damage different parts of the Abductors, then leap upon the part and easily sever it. When the parts fall off, they can be harvested for resources. The other two types of melee weapons are used primarily for attacks: once you target the Abductor or enemy, you can launch yourself and slice or hit the enemy part to damage it.

Weapons are found throughout the battlefield and when an enemies drop them, but they can also be created at weapons facilities or by purchasing them from the weapons dealer. Later in the game, perhaps after CODE level two, you gain the ability to create facilities. These facilities can be used to create, upgrade, and fuse your weapons to create enhanced weapons. Other facilities create health regenerative items and munitions (i.e., grenades and mines).

There are many more aspects to this game, especially as you increase your CODE level and advance the story and you get introduced to many more abilities. Overall though, the battle system and missions are pretty fun. The Battle Operations start out not too hard, but can get extremely tough in the later CODE levels. Probably the most frustrating aspect of the Battle Operations would be the citizen rescue and the escort missions. However, one good thing is that you can order your Accessory to carry citizens to safety for you if you don’t want to carry them yourself.

The controls are not too bad, but I do have problems with the camera controls. It seems that there is no button that you can press to re-center the camera behind the user, so I find that many times, I’m forced to run directly into the camera without any way to adjust it. For example, when you lock onto an enemy, the right analog goes from controlling the camera to selecting the spot to target (usually on a giant Abductor robot with several target points). So, if you’re locked onto the robot and you’re facing a heavy attack, there’s no way to see where you’re going – especially when you’re directly underneath the Abductor’s feet. Many times, I found myself getting pummeled by enemies and having the camera locked on the enemy straight up in the air. It becomes very frustrating if you’re not used to quickly unlocking from the lock-on mode, and sometimes you just don’t have time to unlock from the target.

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The targeting mechanism is also another problem for me. As mentioned above, when you lock onto an enemy Abductor, the right analog stick is used to switch to the various targeting spots on the giant creature. I’ve found that this targeting/switching feature is a bit difficult to use since you’re limited to cycling through the targets by moving the Right Analog stick. This problem becomes extremely frustrating when you’re trying to break your Accessory out of an Abductor and can’t lock onto the right target. Many times, I’ll have to toggle my lock-on ability off, move where I want to target, and then lock-on again just to get the right spot. Trying to do all of these actions, while getting attacked from all sides, is very painful and frustrating.

Another slight issue I had was with the saving mechanism. The only time you’re allowed to save the game is within your cell, where you must talk to your Accessory in order to save your progress. You must also be aware that several of the missions will auto-save the game, so if you want to be able to re-load your previous save, your only option is to upload your save data to the PlayStation Plus cloud before heading into a critical mission. This can be done at any time by going to the load screen and clicking the PS+ icon to upload the game save file. I accidentally forgot to upload my save, and ended up losing quite a bit of resources and time when I was forced to reload my game save from the cloud.

As far as story and atmosphere is concerned, this game is really fantastic. The developers did a fantastic job creating the world of Freedom Wars and the game really gives you a sense of being ruled by an authoritarian state. The character development is also pretty good, and I began to really get into each character’s story and began to really care about them. The game itself has a pretty lengthy single-player campaign. As of the time of this writing, I’ve managed to get to CODE level four (out of at least eight levels), I’ve done all of the extra optional operations, and so far I’ve clocked over twenty-three hours.

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Visuals:
Freedom Wars looks really great for a Vita game. I played most of the time on my new PlayStation TV with a DualShock 4 controller. Probably the closest game that I can compare it to, as far as graphics are concerned, is Akiba’s Trip or even the HD remake of Metal Gear Solid 2. The graphics are a blend of cel-shaded 3D models, but with slightly more detail than Akiba’s Trip. While this is a beautiful game, it isn’t perfect. There are quite a bit of jagged edges and lots of anti-aliasing, but it’s not any worse than other Vita games, and I’m not expecting PS4-level graphics for this game.

I found that, when playing the game on either the PlayStation TV or on the Vita that there was a lot of frame-rate slowdown when I was exploring the prison area. The slowdown is most apparent when you get into the “Warren” area near the shops. When you get close to the entrance of the shop, there’s a person standing there that will speak to you to advertise the shopping establishment. Right when you walk up to the person, the game freezes just for a few seconds as you walk by. Also, there is quite a bit of pop-in when you’re running around the environments.

Even though I had the frame-rate problems in the prison area, I didn’t have any problems within the actual battle mode. When in the battle mode, the game runs very smoothly even when there are enormous enemies attacking you.

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Audio:
I unfortunately did not get to experience this game in Surround Sound, but it sounds great in Stereo. The soundtrack is really good, and later in the game, you can change up the battle music.

As far as the voice acting is concerned, the entire game is in Japanese with English subtitles. There unfortunately is no English voice track.

The only problem that I really had with the audio is when using a Bluetooth headset, but this seems to be a limitation with the Vita and PlayStation TV. There’s no ability to output only the chat to your headset but have the game output to the TV speakers. While I was able to use my single in-ear Official PlayStation Bluetooth headset, it played all of the sound through the headset. I ended up switching to my Sony Bluetooth headphones with a built-in microphone instead and it worked perfectly.

Online/Multiplayer:
Along with the co-op play, there are also different leaderboards in the game. Every time you donate resources to the Greater Good, it goes towards your Panopticon’s GPP (Gross Panopticon Product). Each Panopticon throughout the world has its GPP tallied on a giant worldwide leaderboard. The Panopticon I chose is Taipei, Taiwan (which is the capital of my wife’s home country), and at the time of this writing, we’re sitting at number three in GPP following Hong Kong and Seoul, South Korea.

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For the co-op play, Freedom Wars has several modes. The game can apparently support up to eight players in the versus mode, with each team consisting of four players with their Accessories.

There is also a mission co-op mode, where you can take up to four players into the various missions to help you through the game. This co-op mode, along with the Panopticon leader boards, are the two online features I used the most. The game is a lot of fun in single-player mode, but is much more fun when played with four human players. When playing with other members of the PlayStation Nation staff, we were able to do some tough missions, as well as reclaim my Accessory that got captured in an unsuccessful raid. One thing to note, when doing the four-player co-op mission, is when you do not have enough players, the remaining team members are filled in with your regular companions from the single-player game.

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As far as performance goes, the online play went fairly smoothly with some occasional pop-in of the other players (most likely because of their connection). It was a bit tough to get started, because you have to set your minimum CODE level to match your friends levels, but once it got going, it was pretty seamless. I was able to create a room, have Rey from PS Nation join, and we were helped by two random players. Another thing to note is that when you first enter online mode, you must un-mute yourself. Also, you cannot be in a group chat and have it continue to work during the game, which is a bit unfortunate.

All in all, the co-op seems like the way to play, since you can get many more resources and earn quite a few more years off of your sentence when you play as a group.

Conclusion:
Overall, Freedom Wars is a great game. The different missions become very challenging and don’t seem to be too repetitive. The game is packed full of content, way too much to go into here, and is well worth the full price. For gamers who really enjoy mission-based third-person battle games, co-op multiplayer, collecting resources, and upgrading items, you’ll find this extremely fun and quite entertaining with a few minor frustrations. Even with the learning curve for the controls, I was able to adapt to them just fine.

The multiplayer seems pretty well developed with a few minor glitches here and there (mainly pop-in that’s probably due to each player’s connection), but overall it’s a lot of fun to play.

With just the single-player mode alone, I’m having a great time playing this, and I highly recommend it to people who are looking for a Vita game to play on their new PlayStation TV.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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Written by Jason Honaker

Jason Honaker

A software developer for over 15 years, originally from St. Louis, MO and currently living in Seattle, WA. Started gaming in 1979 on the Atari 800 8-bit PC. I play all sorts of games, but am partial to RPGs and 3rd person brawlers and shooters.

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  • Jahonius

    Extensive, and eloquent, I thoroughly enjoyed the review – more so than the actual game itself!

    I see major outlets trying to PR the game to death – deservedly so, since Vita needs some sale

    • Jason Honaker

      Thanks, but I do actually like the game a lot, not trying to PR it. Plus, I try to make sure the summary in our official review policy fits every thing I wrote, and I do truly feel the game is fantastic with a few flaws.

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