Superheroes and videogames. Just think of the possibilities. Beat 'em ups. Action adventures. MMOs. It's not hard to come up with something that should work. Getting it to actually work seems to be harder. There aren't a load of absolute must-play superhero video games, so it's a good job if you like superheroes and role-playing games because Freedom Force vs The 3rd Reich exists.
I must admit, I had no idea that it did. At no point in the past five years of going through this 1001 list have I actually bothered to find out just what on Earth this game is all about. Now I have. Superheroes and role-playing games, like Neverwinter Nights or something. Superheroes fighting Nazis.
I don't even know where to begin.
This is what we're greeted with when first loading Freedom Force vs The 3rd Reich. It'll probably have a better aspect ratio for you, but I'm an idiot who insists on filling the ultrawide, even if it makes character models as wide as they are tall. Apologies for all of the screenshots, in that case.
What you notice is that the Freedom Force seem to hail from an age of comic books well before they became what they are today, and as they scroll by, their rivals seem to come straight out of the Second World War. Captain America fought the Nazi's, so why shouldn't Minuteman get the chance? Who is Minuteman, anyway?
A basic, barely animated video introduces us to the gang. An evil dude thought turning people into supervillains with a mysterious form of energy would be the best way to deal with the planet Earth, but the heroic Mentor stole some and gave it to upstanding citizens so that there would be some superheroes to fight these supervillains. Those heroes are the Freedom Force. Men, robot-men, scantily clad women, and annoying little kids.
These videos are all narrated and voiced with love. The voice artists know it's corny, but they play it straight. The lines feel like they're ripped straight out of that age of comic books. We're straight into the action, with Man-Bot essentially sacrificing himself for the good of everyone else. That time portal must have been mighty important.
The camera subtly zooms into one of the other heroes, the voice-over hinting at things to come.
And this is it. This is Freedom Force vs The 3rd Reich, in all its stretched-out glory. What is the Alchemiss doing on the floor?
If I didn't know what to say when I found out that this was a superhero RPG, I definitely don't know what to say with all this stereotypical language coming out of the characters. I know comic books, especially of a certain age, leaned on that sort of stuff heavily. Is this a throwback to that age, or just as easy way to get the point across?
Whatever the reasoning, I am interested in seeing where it goes. Something doesn't sound right - does it ever, in a comic book?
Despite the look - and its very comic-booky, as you'll see - this really is a point and click RPG. It's so much like one that it even allows you to pause the action and cue up commands to your party, before watching the fight unfold on its own. If you wished for fantasy dungeons to replaced with superheroic cities, you might just have had your wish granted.
Clicking on a thug, The Alchemiss wallops him on the back of the head, chipping away at his health bar as he tries to whittle down ours. The animations are there, but it's all to mask the random number generator doing the work behind the scenes. We watch until something eventful happens.
You have several attacks and abilities at your disposal, from melee to ranged, defensive shields and other superheroic stuff. It's quite in-depth, to be honest. Stronger attacks cost more points to pull off, but your reserves regenerate and can be restored with pick-ups. It just means you can't spam all the cool stuff.
Working our way through the park, swatting thugs with our arcane bolts as and when we come across them, we find another member of the Freedom Force, El Diablo, terrorising the locals. That's not right.
The heroes are acting like villains, and as the tutorial to our powers continues, we find out that the Alchemiss can fly, and not only fly but force push threats off buildings. This took an unexpectedly great turn.
Other than my poor choice of aspect ratio, you may have noticed that the camera angles aren't the greatest in Freedom Force. You can zoom and pan the camera around, but it's not great, and nothing really gives you any indication of what's ahead better than just walking straight into it, which is a little concerning.
After felling a few more of our (former?) friends - thankfully an easy task; either the Alchemiss is insanely strong, or these guys aren't fighting at their best - we stumble upon a caged Man-Bot. The plot thickens.
Further Fun Times
Not only does he seem to know what's going on, but he also joins the party to give us more attacking options. On the slow side, I'm going to guess he can take as much damage as he can dish out. Let's put that to the test.
Whoops. Still, for a single right-click to select an attack, and a left click to point and execute, that was quite the impact from Man-Bot. Not content with destroying buildings, he picks up traffic lights and even whole cars to batter and throw at his opponents.
Did he just cause a car to blow up? From a single disrupt ability? And he's a good guy? The Freedom Force sure are a strange bunch of characters, but what could be going on to cause most of them to turn on the city?
Well, that would explain it. It was all a dream, or perhaps a vision, or a mix of the two. It's definitely all very comic-booky, and it concludes the basic tutorial. We've clicked, we've attacked, we've seen some plot. What does the next issue have in store?
In between missions, we can use the experience we've collected to upgrade our heroes, strengthing the abilities we make the most use of and unlocking new ones. It's almost ridiculous how much stuff is going on with the Alchemiss. If you were expecting a light superhero game, you won't find it here. I don't know how heavy it is, and how much you need to invest in all these points, but I bet you've got to think just as hard about whether the Alchemiss gets her Purgatory ability as you would with whether your Wizard learns Fireball or Chain Lightning.
We also get to see some information on the characters we've met, both friend and foe, including their origin stories. Where did the Alchemiss come from?
You might think that any superhero that hasn't found themselves in a Marvel movie to have a silly origin story but let's face it, superhero origin stories are often bonkers. The Alchemiss' origins are as ridiculous as her costume, but the whole thing is played with a serious tone that it's quite admirable. Whoever developed this team of heroes knew how silly it all was and embraced it, and Freedom Force shines because of it.
What other game can pull this sort of dialogue off?
There's a lot of dialogue. It's a shame it doesn't look more like a comic book with a load of panels. Even Max Payne managed that. Here, with minimal animation and practically nothing in the way of cinematography, Freedom Force is phoning it in. But it's quite a well-crafted phone call if that makes any sense.
Clearly, there's a comic book universe here, with its own backstory to uncover. Who are the villains? How many times have we fought them already? What's their goal this time around?
Something about a freeze ray. Sorry, Minuteman. I zoned out. Shall we just walk around until the enemies die?
There are multiple degrees of difficulty available, and a combination of the normal level and my approach to combat is causing a few problems.
Enemies are weak to certain types of attack, and your heroes, too, will have weaknesses that you should avoid. The Alchemiss can fly, and deal with enemies on rooftops while the Mentor and El Diablo deal with foes on the floor, but the presentation of the game gives me the impression that it should all be easy to do.
What actually happened is that I was concentrating on the Alchemiss, until she got frozen in midair, and then saw the others just trying to punch their target instead of manipulating their brains or burning them to a crisp or whatever fancy superhero abilities these guys have.
Freedom Force wants you to plan ahead, set your party up to utilise its strengths, but then dumps you into a world you can't see, with too much going on at once.
As a result, I was getting utterly trampled upon. While the Alchemiss was usually fine, on account of me controlling her more than most, and flying out of the way, the Mentor and El Diablo were dead on the floor, needing a precious Heroic Revival to return to action - at a worryingly low level of health.
It wasn't long before I was swamped by some kind of Yeti. I should have paused the action and planned out my attacks, but the speed at which everything fell apart, I doubt even that would have helped me. In the space of half a level, I've gone from thinking Freedom Force was better than it looks, to feeling like it's a kick in the teeth. Do I want to drop the difficulty and try again, or do I want to just lay here for a while?
I decided to lay here. Actually, I went for a walk in this lovely sunshine, but the point is I left Freedom Force vs The 3rd Reich where it is: in my Steam library, awaiting another chance.
In all honesty, I don't think it'll get one. I prefer my RPGs to be more dungeon-y, and my superheroes to be more... well, more like those I already know and like. If I end up playing a load more games of the Neverwinter and Icewind ilk, then maybe I'll be more comfortable getting back to Freedom Force, having played the type of games the gameplay is designed for and then finding it easier to enjoy the superhero skin applied on top.
It's a far better game than I expected it to be, but I did into this one blind and with no expectations. It's very much a hidden gem for someone, but I'm not quite sure who that someone is. I suspect there's a fair amount of crossover in the superhero and fantasy RPG fandoms, but enough for a crossover game? It's a tough sell.
But, this is what I love about the 1001 list. New and surprising games that I would never have known about had they not been pointed out to me. We need more Freedom Force's in gaming. With a better camera, preferably.
Try it out. It's easy to get going, but it's going to need the effort to keep going.
"Nuclear Winter steals Time Master's inert body and uses it to steal nuclear missiles from the Cuban Missile Crisis in an effort to start a nuclear war between the United States and the USSR." And that's all you need to know about the plot. You onboard for more?
Freedom Force vs The 3rd Reich, developed by Irrational Games, first released in 2005.
Version played: PC, 2005.