The original Freedom Force showed that superhero games could actually be fun. It took Silver Age 4-color heroes and dropped them seamlessly into squad-based, real time strategy. And it had the perfect blend of humor, cheese, and stylish game play. So how does the sequel stack up? Very well.
Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich picks up a year or so after the Minuteman and his team saved the world from the machinations of the Time Master. In that time, Happiness and Justice prevail and the Freedom Force finds itself almost out of a job. Many of the heroes go their separate ways, doing Good on their own. But soon, Evil once again rears its ugly head, and the heroes are called back to save the world and Reality itself. The plot is quite a hoot, so I won’t go into too many spoilers. However, as the title suggests, the Freedom Force finds itself traveling back in time to join forces with some Golden Age heroes in a battle against Nazis, Communist super villains, and several familiar rivals.
Game play changed little from the original, which is a Good Thing. Players control a squad of up to 4 superheroes, each with a wide array of powers. The field is laid out in a 3D isometric view, and this time around things are much more detailed and polished. The control scheme is little changed as well, although characters are a little less helpless when left by themselves. In Third Reich, characters will drop into AI control and use their basic attacks if left unattended, rather than just stand there and take a beating as they did in the original. While this sounds good in theory, in practice it’s still necessary to baby-sit and micromanage each of the characters at all times. This really isn’t a problem, though, since (in single-player) the game can be paused at any time for issuing orders. And with an incredibly simple layout of hotkeys and controls, directing the characters never gets too hectic.
Each mission begins with a briefing, laying out all the primary and secondary objectives at the outset. Players select a team of 4 from the dozens of heroes, and jump into the action, chewing through the bad guys and scenery. This time around, there seems to be less of a penalty for destroying the buildings, so a lot less care is needed when battling the forces of evil. This is actually quite freeing—superpowers result in things getting broken. It’s just a fact of life. I found myself much more willing to drop a building on the baddies’ heads, and I had a lot of fun doing it. The campaign missions themselves were very well laid out, with almost perfect pacing and design. It really felt like I was playing a comic book.
Characters gain experience during a mission, even if they sit on the sidelines (although the bench gets less). Between missions, each hero can spend experience on buying new powers or increasing the effectiveness of their old ones. In this way, each character is quite customizable. And with such a huge selection of characters, the campaign can be played many times over, concentrating on a different hero selection each time, bringing a different feel to each play through. Unfortunately, the only way to level characters up is through the campaign itself, so several plays are needed to see the most impressive powers for each character. This, in fact, is one of my few complaints in the entire game. Thankfully, characters level up much more quickly in Third Reich, so our heroes are throwing around the really big powers much earlier.
After completing the campaign, players can skirmish against the AI or other players, using either leveled-up characters or their own creations. A fairly robust character generator is included to make that perfect superhero. While I toyed with the generator for a little while, the huge selection of pre-generated characters was more than enough for me.
The game looks incredible. The graphics have had a huge overhaul since the original, and although they managed to keep the style spot-on, the improvement is obvious. The physics engine also got a whole lot cleaner, which is quite an accomplishment, given that there are flying characters, thrown cars, bolts of energy zipping about, and explosions galore to keep track of. Even with all the chaos, everything moved smoothly in its 4-color glory. Each of the heroes and villains also look great, chock-full of personality.
As good as the visuals are, the sound is even better. This is some of the best voice work I’ve heard. Each of the actors is spot-on in their over-the-top deliveries. The dialogue is first-rate, full of all the glorious cheese I’ve come to expect. The music is also perfect. Nuclear Winter’s anthem once again set me to laughing hard enough to lose a mission. And the sound effects, from the “Zap!” to the “Boom!” and everything in between just captured the 4-color world perfectly.
Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich felt a bit shorter than the original. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there is quite a high replay value using different teams through the campaign. Regardless, this game is a complete blast. I highly recommend this to fans of the original, and to anyone with even a mild interest in superhero games. Heck, it’s also quite a solid squad-based strategy game, so those leery of the superhero genre could be brought into the fold. In short, give this game a try.
All the 4-color goodness of the original. One of the best superhero games out there, and a very good squad-based strategy game as well.