Thursday, October 28, 2010

NES Month: Freedom Force

Freedom Force

  • Publisher: SunSoft
  • Developer: SunSoft
  • Release: NES, April 1988
  • Genre: Shooter
  • Players: 1-2, Alternating
  • Rarity/Cost: Common (US$1-10)

In my quest for the perfect Zapper-compatible game, I have come up with the following conclusion: they're all really short.  There are the games that repeat short levels endlessly, or those that have a finite story that is over before you get into it.  Today's subject, Freedom Force by Sunsoft, oddly has some of both of these qualities.  Although you only get five levels before looping back and doing them again, the prospect of earning the best ending by clearing it four times in a row should keep you coming back for more - if you can handle it.

The game itself is a glorified shooting gallery, specifically something like Hogan's Alley on steroids.  As you slowly pan through a location, you must shoot terrorists as they pop out from behind cover, while not shooting hostages and civilians as they do likewise.  These aren't cardboard cutouts, either; everyone's been given quite a few frames of animation, and there's even a tame amount of blood.  If you let an enemy go for too long, they'll start shooting at you and drain your health meter.  Empty either your health or ammo meter, and of course, your game ends.  Shooting an innocent, on the other hand, adds a point to your Error meter.  If you fill up your Error meter with six strikes, you go back to the first level with your score intact.

Keep your health and ammo high, but not your error meter!1
The only way to get power-ups in this game is to shoot the window in the lower-right corner of the screen as something pops up inside.  The Health and Ammo icons refill their respective meters, but nearly every time the Health pickup shows up, it disappears faster than you can even react to it.  Now that's just criminal.  It's easier to just score points to automatically refill your health, but you can only do this twice (at 20,000 and 60,000 points).  If an icon of a weapon shows up, you can shoot it to switch to that weapon.  There's no difference between the .38 caliber handgun and the .44 magnum other than what sound they make (but man is it a satisfying report).  The grenade launcher, on the other hand, takes out multiple people when you pull the trigger - and unfortunately, this includes civilians, so avoid this.  The final icon type makes the game harder by having more people appear at a faster rate.  If you pile on the Harder items, you'll be shooting almost constantly, which was enough of a challenge for a Time Crisis veteran such as myself.

The plot, paper-thin as it is, suits this game's genre well enough.  First, you rescue an airplane that has been hijacked on the ground, and then you proceed through the airport for the next three scenes.  The fifth and final scene jumps straight to the mastermind's hideout.  Like I said, this game ends before you start to get into it.  Clear this level, and you get what can barely be called a cinematic before going back to the first airplane scene.  You're supposed to get a different ending if you clear the game four times in a row.  I haven't made it that far, but it's a neat thing to work for and it give this game some much-needed replay value.

The Code Breakers mini-game.1
After clearing each second and fourth level, you get to play a mini-game called Code Breakers.  This is a Hangman-type game wherein you are given a category and must shoot letters to select them.  The catch is that you can only shoot letters that are lit up; this group of four letters cycles to the next each second.  Since the hit box for these letters is smaller than the people you shoot in the main game, if your light gun's accuracy is fading, it'll be hard to pick out the letter you want.  You're done when you make five mistakes (not including repeated or non-lit letters), run out of time, or finish the puzzle.  A time bonus is awarded if you complete the puzzle, but you don't lose anything if you can't make it.  There aren't that many puzzles, either, compared to thousands in each of the Wheel of Fortune games.  Execution aside, it's a nice little diversion that doesn't detract from the core of the game.

1992's Lethal Enforcers may have modernized the light gun genre, but many of its facets can be seen here, in a game four to five years older.  Even more shocking is the fact that, for the most part, it all works.  Concepts such as power-ups and hostages to avoid are things that have been ingrained into the minds of gamers who have ever frequented arcades in the 90s.  While I can't guarantee whether or not they first appeared here in Freedom Force, this is still well ahead of its time, and offers just enough replay value to interest a purchase from light gun fans.

Control: 3 Zappers out of 5
Design: 4 Zappers out of 5
Graphics: 3 Zappers out of 5
Audio: 3 Zappers out of 5
The Call: 75% (B-)

1"Freedom Force NES Screenshots".  MobyGameshttp://www.mobygames.com/game/nes/freedom-force_/screenshots.

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