By Zorder, Save or Quit
Freeman: Guerrilla Warfare is quite possibly one of the boldest endeavors to ever appear on Steam Early Access. Why? You might ask… Well, because it is attempting to take the Mount & Blade formula and adapt it to a modern-day setting. So, does it succeed?
I am a big fan of first-person shooters, not only because the first games that I have ever played were Doom and Quake II, but also because within this genre there is quite a lot of diversity, even though a lot of it has been washed away in recent years thanks to major publishers dumbing down some of the most beloved franchises. Now, I like Mount & Blade, but I have to admit that I don’t really enjoy it as much as others that have spent countless hours throughout the entire series. Still, when I first saw this game on the Steam store, I was like “This is it, how could no one ever thought of this before?! It’s brilliant!”.
Now, if you have never played, or if you’re not familiar with the concept of the Mount & Blade, I’ll just go ahead and explain what it really consists of. You take on the role of a leader of a new faction that is fighting in a war of what seems to be an imaginary country located somewhere in Eastern Europe. At first, you only have a small group of followers, and both you and them are pretty ill-equipped and lacking all sorts of resources, but as you play the game, you will be able to increase your army size as well as boast all sorts of heavy weapons, armor, and even control your towns that will help your war effort.
Currently, the game offers a campaign mode where your final objective is to capture and hold 10 towns in total, while also having defeated three of the major enemy factions. However, this is no easy feat, as you have to work quite a lot just to reach the point where you can actually successfully take one of the less defended towns. First of all, do not be deceived by the game’s screenshots or any kind of footage that you might see online, as the game isn’t all about shooting, there is a strong aspect of resource management. For instance, your army needs to be fed, and you also have to pay them a salary, so you can’t really give yourself the luxury of doing nothing or just keep on spending all the money that you gain on the best equipment for yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best player out there when it comes to first-person shooters, you can’t single-handedly take down an entire enemy army.
Initially, you’ll start with a pretty small squad as I’ve mentioned, but if you play your cards right, those very same soldiers might accompany you until the end of the game. You can upgrade each soldier’s health and accuracy, as well as assign them new roles once they level up, and you can also give them new equipment. This ties in quite nicely with the way that the progression in the game is supposed to happen, because since you can’t possibly afford to go after the big factions at the start of the game, you can surely hunt down any bandits in the vicinity.
In the world map you can order your army to attack any town or enemies that you see nearby, you can go to different towns in order to trade or just sell the loot that you find after a fight, take on quests, gamble, as well as recruit new soldiers, but as time passes while you travel, your army will consume food and need to get paid. Further down the road, transportation can be made easier by acquiring vehicles, which makes moving around faster. The way engagements function is pretty simple, as all you have to do is click on an enemy army that is roaming around the map, and once you reach it, combat will commence. However, before that, there’s the deployment phase where you can choose where to deploy your squads inside a small specific area. The game will also indicate where the enemy squads are most likely heading so you can order your squads to move around, in an RTS style. You can also order them to quickly charge into the designated waypoints that you’ve established for them, or to proceed with caution. Besides that, you can also give them indications to fire at will, or to hold their fire, which can prove quite useful when setting up ambushes.
Combat encounters in Freeman are not won by a single soldier, like in most single-player shooters, you have to rely on your troops to do most of the work for you. Still, the AI seems to leave quite a bit to be desired. Whenever contact with the enemy is made, they usually just start shooting and go prone in order to try and get some cover, instead of actually going behind a nearby rock or tree. Likewise, the AI also seems to see through obstacles, as most often than not, you will find enemies, and allies, shooting through bushes and hitting you, and sometimes they will even attempt to shoot through the ground or walls. Nonetheless, for the most part, they do a reasonably good job of fighting each other, and seeing them react to the opposing side actions is sometimes rather amusing and immersive.
Despite all that, sometimes I find myself lost for a few seconds if I don’t open the map every now and then in order to keep track of my position. It would be nice to have a compass and use the bearings in order to quickly find your way around. With that said, most maps look like the same, just with some minor terrain variances or a few buildings here and there. There isn’t even any kind of forest area, just a few trees every couple of meters. The towns themselves also don’t really look like towns, but more like villages with about a handful of buildings that pretty much only you end up using, as the rest of the troops, both enemy and allied, will only use these as cover or obstacles to block lines of sight. It would be really interesting to see much more intensive urban warfare, instead of just fighting in open fields. This makes it so that your strategy doesn’t really need to be changed for most of the time, as having the high ground or a few trees to use as cover is usually all you need in order properly fight your enemies directly.
One thing that is worth pointing out here is that the game certainly does not hold to 2018’s graphical standards, it looks somewhat dated, but that is not really a reason to cross this game off your list. The game certainly isn’t the looker, with terrain and trees being the major things that stand out when playing the game, and while the character models also leave something to be desired, they are not as obvious since most of the stuff that you will see in the game is vegetation and terrain. With that said, I feel like the game runs worse than it should, considering how it looks. Sure, there might be times when there are a lot of characters on the screen and that is certainly taxing, but even when I was fighting armies in the range of teens, my frame rate would drop really hard, and this issue is only aggravated when there are weather effects in place/it’s raining. These performance issues are certainly not something that made the game unplayable for me, but they did reduce my overall enjoyment.
Given the way that the maps are designed, at least I must credit the developers for giving you a 5 minute window to find your enemies, after which the game will reveal their location with a red circle on the map, so you don’t have to run around like a crazy animal looking for your prey. Another great mechanic that the game has, and which is a valuable source of new recruits, is the fact that after a battle, you might find yourself with prisoners. These can be either tortured or fed propaganda, which may or may not be enough to make them come over to your side. If your efforts do not prove fruitful, you can just end up releasing them or executing them. Still, I don’t think there is any kind of consequence to either releasing them or executing them, which is a bit odd.
Soldiers have their own progression system, just like your character does. As you play the game, you’ll gain experience and level up, which will grant you points that you can allocate into three different categories that will improve your character in different ways. There are weapon points, which increase your proficiency with different weapon types, like SMGs or rifles. There are attribute points that affect things such as how much recoil you have when shooting, how fast you move, how many health points you have, etc. And then there are the skill points, which are associated with your army as a whole, and they can influence things like increasing your movement speed on the world map, increasing the amount of loot that you get after a fight, decreasing the death rate of your soldiers, among a few other helpful things.
Like I’ve mentioned previously, individual soldiers do not have such a high degree of progression and customization as the player character does, but once a soldier levels up, you can actually purchase upgrades that not only make them better overall, but they also specialize them in specific tasks, like being a medic, sniper, or grenadier. Besides that, these upgrades also change the way they look, just like when you change their equipment, which I am thankful for, given that in so many games upgrades are only stat increases and they are not reflected in the way that each character looks. There is also a balance to be found depending on each soldiers role in terms of what they have equipped. Different pieces of clothing and armor provide varying degrees of armor and camouflage, which are both vital for when you are fighting, as well as for when you are trying to sneak up on the enemy while remaining undetected.
Now, I’ve talked pretty much about everything there is to talk about the game besides one aspect, which is quite possibly the most important one, the shooting itself. I must say that while weapon variety leaves something to be desired, the shooting itself feels pretty decent overall. Ammunition is limited by how much you can carry on you to the battlefield, and this only intensifies the feeling that every shot counts. It doesn’t’ matter if I was using the starting Makarov pistol, a heavy machine gun, a semi-automatic rifle, or an AK, each weapon has a pretty decent amount of recoil, and thanks to the game’s bullet drop and compensation, fights are much more interesting and immersive than you might initially think. There are also attachments for the weapons that you can find, and some are really game-changing; you can’t possibly compare engaging an enemy squad halfway across the map while using iron sights versus an ACOG.
Probably one of the things that surprised me the most about this game was the soundtrack, it felt like I was listening to something that came out of Two Steps From Hell or something along those lines, even though I wouldn’t consider it to be as good… On the other hand, I find it a real shame that there isn’t any sort of diplomacy or political system, but maybe that will come at a later time. As far as bugs go, the ones that I’ve came across have been only graphical issues or getting stuck under the ground after dying, I haven’t encountered anything game breaking.
I might not consider Freeman: Guerrilla Warfare an original idea, but I certainly consider it an unconventional success in adapting an already existing concept to a new setting. For that alone, I think that the team over at KK Game Studio deserves praise. Be that as it may, while I already find the core gameplay of Freeman to be quite compelling, I still think that it has a long way to go before I would recommend it without having any second thoughts. Map design and weapon variety could really use a lot more work, as these are the basic foundations of this kind of game. If the developers manage to improve heavily on these aspects, I think that fans of first-person shooters and Mount & Blade would certainly love this game. Right now, I only recommend the game if you’re interested in the premise as long as you don’t mind the issues that I’ve mentioned so far.