Freedom Wars
| Freedom Wars

For those following its development over the past year or so, the idea of Freedom Wars has been as tantalising as it has been mysterious. The concept seemed so bizarre - what was it all about? Would it be any good? Would it even be released in Western territories?

Well, here we are at the tail-end of 2014, and we've finally seen it surface. Now, maybe, we can eventually wrap our heads around it.


Freedom Wars begins its story, like so many other Japanese games have, with your character in a state of amnesia. But here it actually holds some significance, aside from just being a handy shortcut for reducing a lead character to a position of powerlessness and making tutorials feel more natural.

You see, Freedom Wars takes place in a futuristic version of the world, which is governed by an all-controlling and oppressive selection of laws known as The People's Charter. And, as it turns out, amnesia is about one of the biggest conceivable breaches of said charter.

Amnesia, we're told, is the reckless loss of 'state-owned resources that reside within the individual', which is a crime punishable by no less than a million years of penal servitude. Yikes.

And so, having named and customised your character, and chosen your Panopticon - essentially the capital city in which you want to be placed - you're immediately lumped in with a group known as 'sinners', who endure 24/7 surveillance and have to fight for every little scrap of freedom.

Freedom Wars does a great job of really steeping you in its dystopian world. In the game's opening, you'll find yourself incurring penalties which further your already lengthy sentence in a completely accidental, unthinking way. Pacing your cell incurs a penalty, sprinting around your Panopticon incurs a penalty, and even having the audacity to recline on your bed incurs a penalty.

And that's brilliant. Freedom Wars understands what comes naturally to gamers - it understands that you'll want to roam your cell and explore the nooks and crannies, it understands that you'll want to immediately use the sprint button when given half a chance to do so - but it takes these natural instincts and criminalises them. It feels wonderfully unfair, and that's very much the point.

Community service

However, should you want to claw back some freedom - and you will, unless you fancy staring at cell walls for countless hours - then you'll have to complete missions for the 'greater good' of your Panopticon.

In such missions - known as 'contributions' - you'll usually be teaming up with fellow sinners (AI or human) to free valuable citizens from hostile areas. Citizens differ from sinners in that they're educated. They provide practical skills for the good of society, outside of simply killing stuff. They're a better class of people, and the game makes no bones about that.

Completing contributions will knock years off your sentence, as well as giving you the opportunity to slowly forge a slightly more free existence. Spoilers: you get to sleep lying down.

But, as characters in Freedom Wars often say, contributing to your Panopticon is its own reward. And indeed, there is a basic fun to be had here. Sinners are kitted out with both ranged and melee weapons, rapidly switching between rudimentary cover shooting and frantic hack-'n'-slash.

Mostly, your ragtag crew will be taking on Abductors - beasts with massive bodies and even bigger health bars, who are out to seize citizens.

Taking them down is a real team effort, and a slog which thoroughly tests you as a unit. And this is where Freedom Wars shows both its worth as a co-op experience, and its limitations in solo play. You can give commands to your AI chums, but you'll often feel like they're simply along for the ride.

It feels a little reductive to bring up the game's likeness to Monster Hunter, but it is significant. Just like in that series, which shunned Vita for 3DS, you'll be taking on enemy behemoths, grabbing loot, and upgrading your skills. Preferably with friends.

But, even if you're slogging it alone, it's worth sticking with for the immersive setting and simple, enjoyable feedback loops. It's a long walk to freedom, but ultimately an enjoyable one.

Freedom Wars

George Orwell meets Monster Hunter in what feels like one of Vita's oddest and most significant exclusives yet