A big-budget hunting game from Dimps, Shift and Sony that introduces plenty of new ideas nearly all of which work well and despite a couple of issues, provides a truly memorable experience.

Developer
Publisher
Franchise N/A
Genre
PSTV Yes
Physical English Yes – EU/NA

 

World-building & Story

Taking place in the distant future where people live in giant walled cities known as ‘Panopticon’ under the ever-watching eyes of the state (big brother style), Freedom Wars places you as a custom-built ‘sinner’ who is sentenced to one million years imprisonment for the crime of losing his memory and wasting the resources put into him by his higher ups. To reduce this sentence, the sinner must undertake dangerous missions to recover citizens captured by giant mechanical creatures known as ‘abductors’ (created by rival Panopticons) as he slowly unravels a conspiracy that runs deep to the heart of the society he finds himself in.

2020-04-27-225538Undoubtedly, the main draw of Freedom Wars and the element it absolutely nails most is its setting and atmosphere. Right from the opening few minutes, you’ll feel the sense of oppression – you’re flung into a tiny, dank cell and constantly watched by cameras and your ‘accessory’ (a robot monitoring your sentence), while every action you take is analysed and assessed in some way. You have to ‘earn’ all of your rights in this game – meaning that if you want to run, sleep or walk away from your accessory you’ll have to take on missions and buy those entitlements, or else your sentence (which is constantly displayed above your head) will be extended.

I loved how much Freedom Wars commits to this (at least early on) to the extent that it almost feels like it get in the way of the gameplay at times. Things slowly opens up over time as you meet other sinners and form bonds – whether it be the cocky, unlucky-in-love young man Mattias or the wise older teacher Uwe, you’ll quickly begin to feel a sense of community in this dystopian world. Luckily, you’ll be able to escape to the Warren in between missions which is a small hub consisting of a bar and a weapons shop and there’s a surprising amount of people to interact with here, all of whom have their own back-stories and things going on in their lives.

2020-05-04-233920Characterisation is where Freedom Wars shines – I found myself become attached to people like Mattias or the kick-ass female sinner Nina and was bringing them on missions with me, caring about their ultimate fates as the plot continued forward. Unfortunately, some of the characters don’t really get enough of a chance to shine (among them is Uwe’s prodigal daughter Elfriede and a civilian who you form a bond with called Julian) but what I like is that most of these people you meet don’t play much into the main plot – they’re just there to help add to the feel of the world.

The main story is sadly rather disjointed and flits all over the place – it centres on a young woman named Beatrice who comes from ‘On High’ (a place for the privileged and wealthy) and her quest for her father, alongside an invasion by a rival Panopticon led by a terrorist named Abel who steals a powerful artifact known as the ‘casket’. The protagonist also has mysterious cryptic dreams where he is visited by a woman named Aries – there’s plenty going on here, but ultimately it takes a long while for the story to go anywhere and when it does, the payoff doesn’t seem worth it.

2020-05-08-095332Part of this is because the Freedom Wars abandons its early ideas for a more anime theme as things progress – at the start you’re dealing with an ongoing war between Panopticons, being fed propaganda by a cheerful yet creepy mascot known as Percy and having hundreds of years added to your sentence by a stern enforcer known as Natalia. Once the game veers away from this into more traditional tropes and introduces some of the more two-dimensional late-game characters, it becomes far less interesting and loses a lot of its luster.

That’s not to say there’s not moments later on (I particularly enjoyed the Code 7 exam against Natalia, which finally opened her up into being relate-able) but it ends with a disappointing cliffhanger even if there’s still plenty to do once the credits roll. Overall, the plot could have used a bit more polish and focus to fully deliver on its initial promise.

 

Presentation & Sound

It’s undeniable that the developers went all out for Freedom Wars in terms of presentation – this is a gorgeous game that stands tall as one of the prettiest on Vita that thankfully has rock-solid performance too.

2020-05-17-224845To begin with, once you boot up you’ll be treated to a surprisingly in-depth character creator that lets you change the appearance of your sinner and accessory based on whatever whim you feel like (later in the game you’ll be able to buy new outfits, hats and glasses, hairstyles etc. and basically look however you want). In general character modelling is brilliant – the game truly achieves that clean-anime style that titles like God Eater and Tales of go for and even though at times things look a little bit too doll-like, there’s some brilliant creativity in the designs here.

In game, things look even better. When your squad of sinners run around an environment, you’ll see their thorns flying across the screen in a sea of green and red, fighting their way towards the towering abductors that you need to defeat. Enemy designs are pretty fantastic – the long-limbed biped abductors look like horrifying humanoid experiments, while the more conventional winged Ramosa still impressed with its sharp fangs and fast movements. I would have appreciated a little more variety in designs – the same ones get used over and over and are mostly just re-coloured, but at least they’re impressive enough to begin with.

2020-05-05-204249In terms of environments, Freedom Wars is an absolute stunner – you’ll be running through gorgeous deserts with sand shimmering in the sun; ruined post-apocalyptic cities with propaganda in the background; industrial factories in the dead of night lit only by the glow of abductors or the indoor cells of a panopticon being invaded by enemies. Little details are all there too and each area is helped by being just as vertical as it is horizontal, meaning you can explore upwards and find new hidden areas – although (just as with abductors) environments get overused a little and you’ll get tired of them before the end.

Other aspects of the design stand out too – menus have a cool futuristic feel to them and I loved that you access one of them from a screen in your cell that’s filled with propaganda, while some of the places you’ll be able to visit in your home base such as Zakka (a weapons shop) have really cool pre-rendered elements to their backgrounds that reminded me of the glory days of titles such as Final Fantasy VII. It’s also worth noting that I didn’t really encounter any performance issues when playing – there might be a slight stutter if lots of explosions go off at once in a mission, but generally things are rock solid.

2020-05-17-233954To my surprise, there’s also an absolutely killer soundtrack here – I wasn’t completely sold at first as it goes for an industrial feel for the first few levels to set the mood, but as you progress there’s some incredibly catchy and memorable tunes here. It’s a shame then that’s it’s drowned out by the constant chatter of your accessory in Japanese when playing, alongside the screech of the enemy abductors.

Soundtrack highlight – Bugat

 

Gameplay & Content

Taking the base gameplay of hunting titles such as Monster Hunter with the post-apocalyptic setting of God Eater means that Freedom Wars might seem derivative at first glance – but under the hood is one of the most enjoyably addictive gameplay systems I’ve played in years.

2014-11-09-112520When the game begins, you’ll have to create your sinner and accessory using the detailed character customisation options, which are among the most in-depth I’ve seen in a Vita game. You’ll then wake up in your containment cell, a tiny room fitted out with only a bed and a propaganda screen, with your accessory providing a hawk-like gazing eye over every movement you make. You’ll quickly discover that your one million year sentence is only going to be extended whatever you do – lying down, running or sleeping will earn you extra years as all of these entitlements have to be bought.

Despite this oppression, you will be able to slowly explore your immediate surroundings. Outside of your cell, you’ll find yourself in a Panopticon – a gigantic walled prison-like structure which houses thousands of sinners, each with their own sentences shown brightly above their heads. Although it can become (rightfully) depressing and repetitive running down these corridors, you’ll be given a bit of respite by being able to visit the Warren which is basically a mini-hub where you can chat freely, visit the local bar and buy items and weapons and the shop.

2020-05-18-230419It won’t be long before you’ll need to start undertaking missions though, in order to earn the entitlement points to help buy your freedom.. These are chosen from the contributions menu (rather confusingly, the game has three different menus – one accessed from the start button, one accessed by interacting with the screen in your cell and one accessed by talking to your accessory) and will allow you to prepare before you head out, analyzing what enemies you’re going to come up against and picking your equipment and teammates.

Once you’re out in the field, Freedom Wars morphs into a wholly different beast than the stifling surveillance of being in the panopticon. See, each sinner has access to a ‘thorn’ (a literal clump of thorns wrapped around their wrist), which acts as a grappling hook to allow almost limitless movement around every area – you can attach to the buildings, containers, walls – basically anything you can see. It’s more reminiscent of something out of Attack on Titan or The Amazing Spider-Man than a traditional hunting game and adds a fantastic layer of maneuverability to the combat.

2020-05-11-205929Thorns have other uses beyond movement too – you can use them to grab items from the environment, or revive your team-mates by firing it at them (which made things so much more enjoyable than the traditional running-over-to-them to get them up). You can also use thorns to attach to your enemies and this comes in particular use when fighting abductors, the main enemy of Freedom Wars – these gigantic beasts come in many shapes and sizes from towering bipeds, ram-raiding spiders and huge floating coffins. At the very least, you can use your thorns to pull them down by attaching and mashing circle, an ability which is incredibly useful and amplified when team-mates assist.

Abductors are absolutely the stars of the combat system, as fighting them usually requires strategic thinking and good resources. They’re all made up of components – legs, arms, weapons etc., with a central shell that can be targeted to inflict massive damage. What weapons you bring with you will change how you can approach them – light melee can be used to saw off parts by using thorns to attach and then severing them, or you can use a long range gun to slowly unload firepower into them. Alternatively, you can bring a heavy melee and strike whenever they fall – there’s a tonne of variety which is very much appreciated.

2020-05-06-223907In fact, Freedom Wars feels as much a game about shooting as it does about melee, which works very well for it. Guns are plentiful and come in so many types and you’ll find them particularly useful when coming up against the second type of enemy – other sinners. See, as the game is set against the backdrop of wars between rival panopticons, you’ll regularly come across sinners who pose a significantly different challenge than abductors – fast and nimble plus with their own accessories, you’ll likely have to adapt your strategy to outwit them.

It’s here that Freedom Wars presents its first real stumble – although combat is generally tonnes of fun, there were occasions where I felt the mission balance became a bit skewed which leads to some frustration. Early on you’re taught how to take down solo abductors or invasions of sinners, but later on you’re tasked with fighting both together, or multiple abductors plus additional smaller foes. Although a plentiful challenge, these often devolve into annoyance as you’re constantly knocked down by various off-screen hits which feels a bit cheap.

2020-05-11-184456With that said, the game more than makes up for this by offering a solid variety of missions and always giving you something different to do. Generally you’re asked to defeat abductors, but beyond this you might have to break out trapped citizens who have been taken (which means severing the abductor core then escorting them to an evacuation point), capture control points against an army of other sinners (which plays more like an online shooter than I expected) or sneak through an enemy stronghold without being killed.

If there’s one mission type I didn’t enjoy, it was the boring stealth sections in the cell garden (a poorly-explained dungeon within the panopticon) that felt out of place and far too frequent. These are required as part of the main story progression (which sees you taking progressively more difficult CODE exams to earn your freedom), but thankfully didn’t really show up at all during the post game or optional content which makes up the bulk of the game (although the story alone will likely take you a good 20+ hours).

2020-05-05-212218As this is a hunting game, you can expect an in-depth crafting system which is fully present – you collect parts severed from abductors to upgrade your weapons, or you can fuse them together to have a chance of inheriting the best attributes from both. It works well enough, as does the ‘facility management’ system which is a bizarre mobile-esque thing where you can craft items using resources which takes real-world time (I expected there to be microtransactions involved in this, but thankfully you can just assign citizens you rescue to help reduce crafting time).

There’s lots of neat little touches in Freedom Wars too which I appreciated – the best example being that you confirm things by pressing your thumb down on the corner of the touch screen, which replicates a prisoner pressing their thumb down. Thankfully, more than six years after its launch I did get to try out the online too – which worked smoothly and allowed me to take on even more difficult missions with a team of other people and felt much more natural than fighting with the four AI you can take with you (although I do have to say that generally AI is good in this game, as long as you issue them with the proper commands).

2020-05-18-160435There’s so much to say about Freedom Wars and although I have expressed disappointment at points, overall my impressions of the gameplay are extremely positive – this is a well-made title that mixes combat and movement mechanics seamlessly and offers one of the most enjoyable hunting experiences I’ve had. It could have done with a few more tweaks to balance and slightly more abductor variety, but the joy of just playing it more than makes up for this.

 

DLC

Freedom Wars comes with a tonne of DLC packs although most of this is cosmetic items for your sinner to wear, or combat items for you to take into battle. As such, there’s nothing really to recommend – you can invest if you want, but there’s no substantial content to be gained (as it was all added with free patches instead).

 

Conclusion

With its unique and memorable world, jaw-dropping graphics and incredibly enjoyable and flexible gameplay loop, Freedom Wars offers a hunting experience that sets it apart from the crowd on Vita and is something that’s well worth investing your time in. There are elements that need a little polishing – the main story is somewhat anti-climactic and the mission balance could do with some work, but these aren’t issues that sullied the brilliant time I had with it overall.

8.5/10