Freedom Wars review for PS Vita

Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Dimps/Shift/SCE Japan
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes

Whatever flaws there may be in the Vita’s library, a lack of hunting games isn’t one of them. Trying to capitalize on the lack of a proper Monster Hunter game, numerous developers have come out with their own: Soul Sacrifice, Ragnarok Odyssey, Toukiden…all slight variations on the Monster Hunter formula, but all unquestionably part of the genre.

And now you can add Freedom Wars to the list. Sure, it may be aesthetically different, since it forgoes the typical quasi-feudal society in favor of something more futuristic and dystopian, but the end result is pretty much the same. You’re still working in teams to bring down giant creatures — the only differences being that those giants also happen to be walking prisons instead of huge monsters, and instead of saving society you’re trying to earn greater freedom within the Panopticon.

Freedom Wars 3

And what is the Panopticon? Arguably the one thing that Freedom Wars does well. Borrowing an idea from philosopher Jeremy Bentham (thanks, poli sci degree!), in this game it represents a giant prison designed to keep all citizens in line via constant surveillance. It’s where your character lives, working years off of a one million year sentence. Finish missions, you get time taken off. Turn in weapons and other goods you find on the battlefield: time off. And, conversely, do anything against the rules — walk more than five steps without a permit, talk to someone you shouldn’t, etc. — and time gets added.

In other words, it’s designed to be a dank, claustrophobic place, and the game captures that feeling extremely well. Every environment is oppressive and grey; even when you go outside, in battles or in the open-air areas within the prison, you still feel closed in. This may have been a design choice to get around certain hardware limitations, but, to Freedom Wars’ credit, it means that the developers were able to create better graphics than you’d get in some expansive, open field. I mean, we’re not talking Killzone-level graphics or anything, but it still looks pretty good.

Freedom Wars 1

Unfortunately, that’s the only part of Freedom Wars that could accurately be described as “pretty good”. The rest is pretty much what you’d expect from one of these hunting games. You form parties — locally or online, though when I tried the latter I found it to be almost completely empty — and you go into environments and just hack and slash your enemies until you win.

Admittedly, that description is a little reductive. As you’d expect from a modern, fantasy-free setting, the combat isn’t just spells or swords, but rather a mixture of sword-like weapons and heavy arms. In practice, though, that only means that rather than simply endlessly slashing away at the giants until they fall, you’re unloading round after round after round of ammo. The extra level of violence doesn’t really take away from the monotony that sets in after awhile.

Nor, for that matter, do the extra game modes. If you want to do something a little different, the game offers slightly different ways to play at times: you can race the clock to speed through an environment, for example, or you can run around an environent, dodging enemies and harvesting enemy cores. And while those are undeniably different, they’re not particularly interesting challenges. While you can face your enemies head on and try and find a little more loot, it doesn’t make a huge difference if you instead focus on the goals at the exclusion of the enemies — which means supposedly twenty- and thirty-minute levels can be beaten in under a minute, if you just feel like skipping the fighting.

Freedom Wars 4

And honestly, you might be better off doing that, since the fighting isn’t nearly as enjoyable as it is in, say, Toukiden. Sure, it’s fun to launch rockets and grenades at bad guys, but sometimes you want to just go in swinging, and in Freedom Wars, those times aren’t very good. The camera — whose limitations are handled so well when it comes to creating a claustrophobic atmosphere — has terrible movement, and tends to get stick in the least helpful angles imaginable. Of course, in this respect, the terrible camera movement only matches the terrible character movement, as you’ll find that up-close combat is a massive chore when your on-screen character has all the grace of a small boulder. You can chain moves together, sure, but half the time you only hit the enemies by accident.

Worst of all, though, is the miserable AI. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where your supposed allies are so completely and utterly hopeless. Admittedly, part of this is because I sometimes failed to issue commands, but it still would’ve been nice if they could do anything at all on their own. They may occasionally shoot at enemies, but only if said enemies are huge and in their immediate vicinity. Otherwise, they just stand around being generally useless.

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In a way, I guess, they’re kind of a stand-in for Freedom Wars as a whole. They — like the game — may look nice, and they may be part of a story that’s surprisingly engaging. But the moment they — or the game, for that matter — actually have to do anything, it all falls apart. It makes for a tremendously disappointing experience, and it’s hard not to feel like a game with such an interesting premise could, and should, be a lot better than this.

Grade: B-