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Last Updated: Friday, 15 April 2005, 07:28 GMT 08:28 UK
Wannabe superheroes sign up here
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website

Screengrab from Freedom Force, Digital Jesters
Minuteman preps his trusty shield of justice
The first time I threw a car to knock out a cackling supervillain was when I realised that this game was a bit different to the first person shooters and strategy games I had played before.

In fact I would go as far as to say that Freedom Force v The Third Reich is a bit special all round; I have certainly never played anything like it. And that is a good thing.

It is a hugely refreshing change from the grim, gun-heavy frag-fests that many shooters degenerate into. It is also far, far away from real-timestrategy games that often become a race to gather resources rather than test who best uses the battlefield.

Dream team

The game revolves around a group of superheroes, The Freedom Force, that are tasked with stopping numerous supervillains, mainly Nuclear Winter and TimeMaster, from laying waste to various parts of the world and, in this particular game, tinkering with time itself.

None of the superheroes have ever appeared in any comics so you won't know them, but they all sound authentic which reflects the care that has been put into almost every aspect of this game.

Everything is pitched almost perfectly. Villains spout cheesy dialogue, cut scenes are animated, the narration is breathless and authentic looking comic book covers illustrate each episode of the single-player campaign.

FREEDOM FORCE
Screengrab from Freedom Force, Digital Jesters
Graphics: 8
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 8
Enduring appeal: 8
Overall: 8
Format: PC only
On top of that is a huge cast of superheroes to choose from, an experience system to turn them into super-duper heroes, detailed and varied environments and enough foes to please even the most thump-hungry gamer.

FFvTTR is a follow-up to the original Freedom Force which did decent, if not spectacular, business and this sequel cleans up some of the niggles and expands the whole thing.

The first couple of episodes are pretty much training sessions that novices and old-hands will probably welcome.

Playing the game is simple. Each mission you get to choose the heroes you think will do the best job then you enter the fray and proceed through a series of scripted encounters, completing objectives on the way.

Strategy guide

This sounds straightforward but on the later levels it can be tricky to manage the fluctuating power levels of your heroes and get everything done. Spend too much time zapping goons and you could be left flat when the supervillains make their appearance.

Screengrab from Freedom Force, Digital Jesters
Choose your team carefully for each episode
You can pause the action to give orders to your heroes which makes them use their powers against the enemies. It is worth experimenting to find out what works best against particular foes.

Completing all the tasks means you get experience points to boost the powers of your heroes.

The ways you can complete a level, for which read KO the foes, are almost endless.

Which is where throwing the car comes in.

The hardest part of the game is appreciating just how much freedom being a superhero gives you. The characters you control are not limited to using their fists or energy rays.

If you want you can swat a baddy with a bench or bring the house down on top of them. Almost everything can be attacked, broken or used and the physics means it all falls apart convincingly too.

But be careful if you pick up a streetlight and use it as a club. I found to my cost that it has a pretty wide swing which meant I knocked out some of my own team rather than the rampaging bad guys.

One problem with the game is that it can turn into a bit of a clickfest if you have to deal with wave after wave of low level goons. You can spend a lot of time mopping up the minor characters rather than getting your superheroes to work together to beat up the big bad villains.

But it is a minor complaint and everything else is so well-balanced that Freedom Force is a joy, and a challenge, to play.


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