Freedom Force: Combat and Character

So, let’s talk mechanics. In any mission, you have up to four characters, controllable independently. Clicking on stuff lets you assign actions like moving, talking to NPCs, picking up and throwing environmental object such as crates and automobiles, and most importantly, attacking the various thugs, monsters, and supervillains that try to stop you. All actions are performed in real time, although you can pause the action at will — in fact, bringing up the action menu automatically pauses the game. The whole UI is very well-designed, but I’ll get into that more fully in another post.

Now, every hero has a distinct set of powers, which are mostly attacks of various sorts. There are melee attacks and ranged attacks, ones that simply do damage and ones that do elemental damage and ones that cause status effects — in short, your usual assortment for a modern CRPG. Since this is a game that takes place in a three-dimensional space, knockback from attacks can be a significant factor, especially when you’re fighting near a cliff or atop a tall building. In general, specific attacks can be made stronger over the course of the game as the characters level up.

Most powers use greater or lesser amounts of “energy” (which basically means mana). A hero’s energy naturally replenishes over time, quickly enough that you never have to wait long for it to fill up, but not quickly enough to keep you from frequently running out during fights. Making the most of your energy is thus a big part of the game’s tactics, and it always feels like a big win when you can take out enemies without using any energy at all (for example, by hurling boulders at them). You can actually choose to spend less energy than normal on a power, if you’re willing to accept weaker effects, and likewise you can spend more energy than normal for stronger effects — there are five settings, with the default in the middle four settings, two above and one below normal power, accessible through an additional right-click menu in the action menu. I find that I frequently overcharge my powers and almost never undercharge them. As in Pokémon, efficiency in this game means favoring the one-hit KO, and overcharging is key to that. Furthermore, some powers only really become useful when overcharged. For example, Minuteman has an attack that sweeps an arc, knocking back anyone it hits and doing a certain amount of damage, but not as much damage as his regular attack. At normal power, this is seldom worth it. But turn it up to max, and the knockback becomes strong enough to send normal humans sailing through the air like cannonballs, taking substantial amounts of falling damage when they hit the ground.

The thing that really impresses me is the degree to which the designers managed to come up with powers that complement the heroes’ personalities. For example, Minteman is courageous. We know this because he’s always charging into the middle of the fray and emerging victorious — and the reason he does this is that his powers are mostly short-range melee attacks and defenses that allow him to ignore the people shooting at him. His only ranged attack does a very small amount of damage, but it has a large chance of temporarily stunning its target and can ricochet to multiple foes if they’re close together. In other words, it’s basically an aid to those melee attacks, a way to make it easier to get within striking distance without getting shot. Similarly, El Diablo, the Human Torch imitation from the barrio, is impulsive, reckless even. His chief attack, a blast of flame, uses lots of energy and only affects one target at once, so it’s easy for him to run out of energy, especially if he’s fighting multiple enemies by himself — which tends to happen if you’re not careful, because his ability to fly lets him get ahead of the pack. To make things worse, he doesn’t regain energy as fast when he’s airborne. Using El Diablo effectively largely means reining him in, not letting him use his powers to their full extent lest he get himself in trouble. It takes a few failures to learn this, and it’s easy to attribute the player’s learning experience to the character.

1 Comment so far

  1. Sean on 28 Aug 2010

    The thing that really impresses me is the degree to which the designers managed to come up with powers that complement the heroes’ personalities.

    That is seriously cool.

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