Freedom Force: Bad Guys

Nearing the end of Freedom Force, I have a pretty clear idea now about the breadth and scope of it. It’s a bit unusual. Most superhero games, whether based on comics, based on movies based on comics, or just featuring original characters loosely inspired by comics, focus on a single hero (or at most a small group of related heroes), and on the situations and enemies natural to that hero. Superhero comics cover a range of scales from the mundane to the cosmic, but specific heroes tend to fall on a specific spot on that spectrum, some defending a single city against lawlessness, others safeguarding the entire planet against alien invasion, yet others dealing in the realm of gods and mythical figures. And so a game about a specific hero will tend to focus on what’s appropriate to that character, but, in so doing, lose a big part of the character of the comics. I’m talking about the weird juxtapositions resulting from crossovers and team books. 1The Scott Adams “Questprobe” adventures are a notable exception, being even more chock-full of weird juxtapositions and non-sequiturs than the comics themselves. Spider-Man has been to other planets. The mighty Thor takes time off from Asgard politics to pick on street gangs, sometimes as part of a team that also includes Captain America. The weirdest thing about comic book universe continuities isn’t just that they simultaneously contain cyborgs and sorcerers, gods and ghosts and gunslingers and space aliens and talking gorillas. It’s that they all know each other.

Freedom Force is a simulated shared continuity. It tries to vary the scale and scope as much as it can within the constraints of its mechanics (ie, no space battles), but it’s necessarily an abbreviated form, with only one or two major villains per niche. At the most ordinary level, you’ve got Pinstripe, a mobster mutated by Energy X but otherwise simply functioning as a mobster. An escaped lunatic calling himself Deja Vu is the closest thing to a silver-age Batman villain, giggling and talking in rhyme and making the team solve riddles. Turning things up a notch, we have an army of city-crushing giant robots courtesy of Mister Mechanical, a snubbed and resentful architect who really has it in for the buildings rather than their inhabitants. Behind them all stands the space-opera villain, Lord Dominion, conqueror of a thousand worlds, whose main motivation here is amusement: he could easily crush the Earth, but he’d rather watch the earthlings do the job for him. But even Lord Dominion is a pawn for the Time Master, whose goal is the destruction of time itself. And somehow the god Pan is involved too, to bring in the mythical element — I expect that will make more sense after I’ve cleared a couple more levels, but there have already been mutterings that interplanar travel and time travel are really the same thing. This isn’t a complete list of the villains in the game, but it’s pretty close.

The one sort of bad guy that the game is really missing is the individual bad guy, the one who doesn’t need henchmen to be a menace, like Bizarro or the Green Goblin. Everyone here has an army of some sort. Pinstripe has his goons, Deja Vu his evil duplicates, Pan his confusingly-named “Bacchites” (perhaps the god was recast during development?). Anyway, it’s true that some superheroes habitually fight large numbers of anonymous grunts — Batman and Captain America come to mind — but it’s not nearly as universal as you’d think from this game. But that’s not even a problem with this game in particular. Aside from one-on-one fighting games, most genres of game that reasonably accommodate superheroes have a basic structure that involves fighting a bunch of lesser enemies before you get to fight the boss, and sometimes it’s a real stretch to provide that. (I think of the various Spider-Man games in particular. Most Spider-Man villains do their villaining as solitary individuals.) At least Freedom Force gets to make up its villains from scratch, rather than shoehorn established characters into an inappropriate format.

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1. The Scott Adams “Questprobe” adventures are a notable exception, being even more chock-full of weird juxtapositions and non-sequiturs than the comics themselves.

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