Have You Played… Freedom Force?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Freedom Force is the best superhero game ever made.

Sure, some might prefer the swinging Spiderman or the smashy-smashy of Hulk, or even the Lego games and their whimsical take on all things Marvel and DC. And there are the Arkham games as well, of course, which might be about a man in a bat-suit rather than an actual superhero, but I’d say they still count.

None of them capture what I love about comics in the way that Freedom Force does though, with its bright colours, villainous villains and heroic heroes. There’s very little inner-conflict, just righteous justice in the defense of Patriot City.

That’s not to say the setting and the characters are the main selling point though; it’s the way that the game puts the focus on teamwork that really sells me on the theme. It’s a tactical game and while I’d have preferred turn-based combat to the real-time system that the game uses, it allows for careful use of powers and encourages you to use your heroes as a squad, each covering the others’ weaknesses and playing off their strengths.

I’d love to see another sequel (there was a sequel, Freedom Force vs The Third Reich, and it’s good) or remake that brings in the Geoscape of XCOM and allows for strategic team management, recruiting and the squashing of escalating threats all across the world.

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  1. Gandor says:

    Another gem from the past. I still get goosebumps when I look at characters’ secret origins at YouTube.
    Awesome games.

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      Lars Westergren says:

      Yep, on my top 10 games ever list.

      First time I tried it Captain America Minuteman plus sidekick annoyed me, but if you get through the first tutorial levels you quickly get more heroes so you almost never have to see him again.

      Loved how all levels that seemed difficult were so because there were some special strategy on that level or hero combination tactic I hadn’t figured out.

      Would love for a sequel to come.

    • Zekiel says:

      I really was awesome. A game with a *fantastic* cast of characters – both the heroes and the villains. I particularly loved Manbot, Minuteman and the architect villain whose name I can’t recall…

      There really were a lot of great characters and really affectionate homages to Silver Age comics, including a storyline that felt utterly appropriate to its source material.

      I played it (and its sequel) in a pretty dry time for games, and this game made it a lot less bad.

      • Zekiel says:

        Um… that should be “It really was awesome” not “I really was awesome”. Now I look like an idiot. Thanks, brain.

    • McGuit says:

      “Freedom Force is the best superhero game ever made.”
      Yep, that is true.
      Great game!

  2. mogwins says:

    Was it b@stard hard? I seem to remember thinking it had a lot of promise, then getting completely stuck a few missions in.

    • Shuck says:

      It was difficult enough that after playing it for a while, I thought, “I don’t have time for this nonsense” and uninstalled it. But I have a(n increasingly) low tolerance for such things.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Not really hard. Not all team combinations were viable though and if you put a physically weak team together it might be hard.
      El Diablo was usually always in the team for his area attack, flying. Minuteman was great with decent speed a knockback attack, jumping on buildings etc.
      I didn’t like the “fast and weak” and the “slow and strong” characters.

      • theblazeuk says:

        Bullet here! You can beat every level with me and El Diablo or manbot. Sprint in, hit hard, dance back and lure them into explodable scenery

      • Zekiel says:

        I recall it being hard near the start because for some reason the designers decided to give you El Diablo at the same time as fighting Nculear Winter’s cold-themed minions. They were weak to his attacks; he was weak to theirs. And he was a glass cannon at the best of times. Result – easy for him to get knocked out. And he was a third of your team. Mentor was sadly another third. Good job Minuteman was so good!

        • zacharai says:

          Mentor was awesome once he leveled up quite a bit (classic mage). Minuteman was great at the beginning, and alright at the end, but wasn’t nearly the force of some other characters.

          Man O’ War was my favorite. Not the best, but just about any of them got good if you put enough points in.

    • TeePee says:

      I also remember losing interest a few levels in because I was getting my ass kicked and didn’t entirely know why. Would probably get a lot more out of it these days, but my backlog is quite long enough already.

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        I also have a long backlog, but decided to try the demo on Steam. Got the very unhelpful error message “blabla.exe has stopped working”, so I’ll get it some day on GoG.

    • N'Al says:

      I remember it being challenging, but never really that hard.

    • Urthman says:

      The game seems to be designed assuming you’ll pause frequently and manage each individual hero’s tactics individually rather than just giving a few attack orders and letting it play out. Fast & squishy characters need to hit and run rather than just stand there and trade blows with tough guys.

  3. Ignorant Texan says:

    If my faulty memory is somewhat accurate, Ken Levine said in an interview that he felt the combat was intended to be played as “real time with pause”, and that Irrational had failed to emphasize that.

    • Arathain says:

      Pause was on space bar, and the game definitely worked better played that way. There was an option whereby instead of pausing it slowed the action down to 1/16th speed, which I really liked. It was slow enough to effectively have the same function, but characters and projectiles would still by flying through the air in dramatic slow motion.

    • Urthman says:

      Real Time With Pause was great with this game. You have time to really think about your tactics, to study the board and plan your attack. The difficulty is tuned assuming you will frequently “micromanage” heroes, pausing and giving individual orders to attack, flee, defend, grab a car to throw, etc. It’s not intended as a game where you just tell the heroes to attack then sit back and watch.

      RTwP also allows you to frequently catch comic book “panels” in action as you pause and spin the camera around to catch to see the perfect angle on your hero smacking a villain with a streetlight.

    • Manco says:

      TIL that Ken Levine was also a major part of FF. And now after googling Levine he seems to have been influential on severa

    • Manco says:

      TIL that Ken Levine was also a major part of FF.

      Makes me wonder what he’ll do next.

    • Transmit Him says:

      Yeah, I used to pause it so much it practically was turned based. Bit like MechCommander for me in that respect (the upcoming sort-of sequel to which is going fully turn-based, fittingly)

      I adored this game though. It came out just when I was first getting into American comics, partially through reprints of Lee/Kirby stuff, so it really struck a chord with me. The sequel, less so. Mixing Golden Age and Bronze Age elements was a bit weird and the stuffed up European release by Digital Jesters (who locked away all the game files so you couldn’t use any of the intended mod features) left a sour taste.

  4. Drib says:

    I think an XCOM-esque turn based combat style would have suited Freedom Force perfectly. Though the combat was fun, it did get a bit clustered.

    I miss fun superhero games. This, City of Heroes, I dunno. What do we have now? Champions Online is dull as dishwater, and Arkham games, while sorta interesting, are depressing and grimdark for no reason other than bat-angst. Booo.

    • likefunbutnot says:

      Man, I miss City of Heroes every single day. I played from beta until the minute they shut down the servers. I’d run a server myself if I had the binaries to do it, even if it was just so I could wander around Perez Park again.

      The main thing I liked about Freedom Force was destructible terrain. Pick up and throw a car, swing a lamp post, toss somebody through a building. Other super hero games haven’t done much along those lines, which really does contribute to how super the characters feel.

  5. NetharSpinos says:

    Freedom Force is an oddity for me; the premise and the execution mean it should be one of my favourite games; yet it sits unloved within the bowels of my Steam library, its only history a paltry 4 hours somewhere back in 2009. It is rare for me to abandon a game so fully without going back to it, but something about FF completely killed my interest for it.
    A turn-based XCOM system would be grand, ideally in a system where we could create our own heroes (or villains! Gods do I miss CoV) instead of playing with trademark-established peoples.

    • Gordon Shock says:

      You can create your own heroes in FF.

      • Sparkasaurusmex says:

        IIRC you can’t really do it within the game. You can but you have to select from one or two default skins that don’t look very good. It wanted you to skin models on your own and import them into the game.

    • Urthman says:

      There was an incredibly prolific mod community for this game, making skins and custom models for *literally* every comic book hero you could think of and plenty of original ones too. There were at least a dozen artists who would make you a custom skin for your invented character if you asked nicely.

    • Urthman says:

      And speaking of mods, it is my duty for every Freedom Force post to mention the Strangers mod.

      link to fundamentzero.com

      1. It’s a full-length campaign that adds so much new stuff to the original FF gameplay that it feels like a true sequel and makes FF vs. the Third Reich feel like an expansion pack.

      2. It has a great story that is crammed full of homages to classic Marvel and DC characters and storylines, yet with all original characters in a hugely fleshed-out world that feels as big and cosmic (and as small and streetwise) as Marvel or DC at their best. It reminds me of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City that way.

      3. It’s fun. Fantastic, inventive level design, powers, characters. Scary oh-shit-not-that-guy villains. Maybe the best boss battle in any video game ever.

      It starts a little slow. I found the art and costume design a little offputting, and it can be difficult (play it on easy if you haven’t played FF in a while). But if you liked Freedom Force and you like superhero comics, I swear on Alan Moore’s Supreme you’ll like the Strangers.

  6. Gordon Shock says:

    Right makes might!

  7. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Opposite to everyone I want more real-time with pause games like Baldur’s Gate, Freedom Force.
    Or hybrids like Fallout tactics which you could switch.
    There’ll be Original Sin 2, TB. There’ll be Numenora – TB, despite being the spiritual successor to Torment (RTwP).
    And Original Sin 1, all XCOM. Most dungeon crawler are TB if we count them.
    RTwP there was recently only Pillars which was ok+.

    • Cronstintein says:

      I’m with ya, bud. It was aggravating to see how many people were pushing turn-based on Obsidian while working on Pillars (which turned out mediocre for other reasons imho).

      We get so few rtwp games!

    • Press X to Gary Busey says:

      I wish Fallout Tactics had a pause function for the real-time. It can get out of hand quickly.

      Another good real-time-with-pause is Xcom Apocalypse since it has actually useful squad AI if you learn to tweak aggression levels and balancing the teams properly so you can let them handle the details on their own instead of micromanaging everything.
      It helps that it’s horribly unbalanced in turn-based too with insta-murder brainsuckers and hyperworms that can cross the map in one turn. Balance is thrown the other way when you get toxiguns and fire double-digit shots per turn.

  8. geldonyetich says:

    Played and beat Freedom Force 1 and 2, twice! Lots if fun, but it is a bittersweet reminder of how awesome Irrational was, and they’re not around anymore.

  9. Stugle says:

    I believe I got this (and its sequel) in a Humble Bundle sometime ago. Perhaps I’ll give it a spin this weekend. Any tips for a beginner with little time and (sadly) an ever-decreasing tolerance for putting in the time to learn control schemes?

  10. N'Al says:


    Never its sequel, though, to my shame.

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    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    I have not, but I do have a jewel cases copy that I found in the dumpster out back as the electronics store next door apparently decided to toss out all their old games that have been collecting dust for the last 10 years.

  12. jgf1123 says:

    Installed it on Steam but it keeps crashing on start-up. Oh well.

  13. SenorRoboto says:

    I would love an HD remake of this, I remember having control issues the last time I tried to play it. The game is cool it just felt cumbersome.

  14. fearandloathing says:

    Oh, I remember how I was burned alright. First world ***s won’t get this, but in the other parts of the world where videogames were either too costly or simply unavailable, we relied on pirate-cd shops. So, I got this game (or its sequel) somehow, guess was a gift, and man imagine the frustration when I found out the cd only included artwork and stuff. With limited internet, and dictionary-bound English skills, I remember spending precious hours to get the game work, with first disc missing.

  15. warrenac says:

    I loved these games! I’m on a superhero kick right now, and I can’t recommend the Sentinels of the Multiverse mobile/steam game enough. Definitely on the complex side, but that makes for half the fun of finding all the unexpected interactions. At some point the included a “rewind” function that lets you go back a couple phases, so you now you can just try things out and rewind if you’re surprised. Still leaves me hankering for a turn-based Freedom Force game though … XCOM or even Darkest Dungeon simplified tactical style.

  16. Anthile says:

    Have I? Adam, I’m not a Republic Serial villain. I did it thirty-five minutes ago.

  17. theblazeuk says:

    Xcom + Freedom Force would be all I want in the world. I always thought Stormwatch would be a good basis, maybe Strikeforce Morituri as a big influence (though fighting aliens again may be derivative of xcom, but could be super terrorists or something) or even X Men as a licence if needed to get it going.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      X-Men is really unlikely right now because Disney does not own the movie rights to that franchise. They are only interested in pushing characters that they can turn into hype feed for their movies. Even the X-Men comics aren’t really supported anymore.

  18. Zekiel says:

    What’s your favourite character? Mine’s Manbot. He’s got that splendid pathos thing going on. He’s also actually REALLY interesting once you’ve levelled him up enough. At the beginning he just stomps around hoping enemies won’t run away. Once you’ve levelled him up he can fly, shoot enemies (and knock them over iirc?) and act as a battery for other heroes, which is really useful. And he can stomp people too.

  19. 13tales says:

    Freedom Force is excellent. The cheese, the origin stories, the glorious level music (I can never get the ominous chorus of “Nuclear Winter, Nuclear Winter, you’re moving too slow!” out of my head, from the level where you fight… Nuclear Winter. Who’s a soviet villain with ice and radiation powers, obviously.) I think the most unsung heroic touch by the developers, though, is that every single object, prop, or piece of scenery has an appropriately alliterative description when you hover the most over it.

  20. BooleanBob says:

    That’s a funny way to spell The Wonderful 101.

  21. syllopsium says:

    I preferred FFvTTR because I enjoyed beating it, whilst following it with FF I think I’ve managed to put points into the wrong place and am stuck on a particular level (one of the boss ones, with buildings falling down). I get the distinct feeling that I need to go a few missions back to find the solution, this is the same reason it took me years to get started in Baldurs Gate 2.

    I don’t look kindly on games where it’s easy to fuck up, and difficult to fix, without wasting your time.

    • Urthman says:

      You can probably get past with lots of pausing, hit-n-run tactics, using scenery for weapons, and making best use of power-up/healing canisters.

  22. poliovaccine says:

    Oh man, this was a glorious favorite of mine, and I still go back to it for a level or two of nostalgia sometimes. I was frankly never a big superhero reader, if you said “comics” I said “Calvin and Hobbes,” but of all things, this was the first game that showed me the appeal, or at least an angle that appealed to me: in a morally uncomplicated universe, you can happily relish in “righteous” destruction. Though at the time that basically registered as thinking it was really cool, the extent of destructability to the props, even buildings. And you could wield a lamppost like a baseball bat and huck cars off roofs to explode on dudes’ heads. This is high level fun we’re talkin..!

  23. dare says:

    Replayed this the other year. Still the best. Sometimes I still wish Irrational hadn’t found their cash cow in the IMO very much overrated Bioshock, and instead just done more with this amazing, lovely, just-right superhero game.

  24. AmazingPotato says:

    Played most of the original FF with a self-created hero who exploded everything he touched, which added an unnecessary level of chaos to levels but always made me laugh like a loon. I loved the fact that FF let you do this and it was still a viable option, though.

    For some reason, I keep bouncing off the sequel. Maybe because it feels too samey…? I can’t really say.

    I do wish we had something similar these days. I wonder if it’s just not a popular idea? And/or can anyone recommend anything?

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