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The PlayStation Vita has become home to quite a few hunter games over the past couple of years but, if my hands-on time with Freedom Wars at E3 2014 is any indicator as to what the full game will have to offer, there may be a new competitor primed to battle for the genre’s top spot.
Amidst all of the big console games, VR headsets and countless free T-shirts during the most recent E3 showing, it may have been easy to forget that the PlayStation Vita is still alive and kicking on the portable market. Sony barely touched on the device during its big press conference, yet loads of games were actually playable on the showroom floor, including the high-flying action title, Freedom Wars.
Hot on the heels of games like Soul Sacrifice, Ragnarok Odyssey: Ace and Toukiden: The Age of Demons, Freedom Wars is the latest in a growing list of hunter games for the PlayStation Vita, developed by Sony Computer Entertainment Japan Studio and heading to North America later this year. Like all of those other games, Freedom Wars allows players to team up with a group of buddies in order to raid maps, destroy enemies, collect loot, craft better gear, wash, rinse and repeat. Quite a few factors set this offering apart, though, including an online competitive mode for up to eight players, a heavier focus on story and maps that offer more verticality.
The PlayStation PR booth this year offered a selection of PS4 and Vita titles for the press to take for a spin, which is where I had the opportunity to get in some quality time with Freedom Wars, which in turn went on to became my “game to keep an eye on” for the portable console.
Set waaaaaay in the future, Freedom Wars takes place on an overpopulated planet Earth where the human race is forced to live in underground cities because the surface world has become too inhospitable. Here’s the extra twist: Anyone who commits a crime automatically receives a one million year sentence, which can only be reduced by contributing to society. In this world-gone-slightly-mad, though, contributing to society means you’ll be armed to the teeth and forced to wage war against a group of monsters called Abductors, which rule the wastelands humanity once called home. Fulfilling missions not only takes years off of your sentence, but it also opens up more freedoms for your character to enjoy, including additional areas to explore and more ways to spend your time when you’re not fighting rampaging creatures to the death. There are other ways to reduce your sentence, too, including turning in loot that you don’t want to use for your own crafting and upgrades.
For my demo, my partner and I were dropped into a section of the city where we needed to rescue three terrified or captured citizens. We each had an AI teammate at our disposal, too, who we could have assigned to sticking around a certain area, carrying hostages or attacking the enemies. We pretty much ignored those guys for our mission, though, instead doing all of the dirty work ourselves.
At our disposal were a variety of tools including a melee weapon, a ranged weapon and a nifty grapple tool called a “Thorn.” You’ll be able to change your weapons as you play but, for our session, I was rolling with a futuristic sword and a machinegun. With the sword equipped, I had the ability to unleash light, heavy and charged attacks. Switching to the machinegun, the controls shift to a standard third-person shooter scheme, allowing me to fire from the hip or aim down the sites for more precise shots. Even the characters move like they’re in a third-person shooter, able to vault over or duck behind waist-high cover as they please.
The Thorn, though, is what really sets the game apart, as it allows you to easily whip around the level at the press of a button. Need to get up to a second story? Just aim your thorn, fire it and launch yourself to new heights. Want to climb onto a particularly large Abductor? Fire away and watch as your character hurls themselves up and onto its body. Once mounted, you can even start hacking away at the enemy. The Thorn has additional abilities, too, including ripping off mounted guns or limbs and pulling a foe down to the ground to attack it more aggressively while it’s dazed. Think Attack on Titan and you’ve kind of got the idea of how this particular device operates.
As limbs fall off of the baddies, they can be collected for their resources and then used to upgrade your own gear or, like I said earlier, exchanged to take years off of your sentence.
Our hands-on time with Freedom Wars started out simply enough, involving some basic shooting or slashing to take out some patrolling drones. Once we came upon an Abductor, though, things really got interesting. My guide demonstrated various techniques for taking out these behemoths while I did my best to keep up. The Abductors we faced actually had human hostages in their chest cavities and, once the monsters were weak enough, I was able to grapple up onto their sternum with my Thorn and pull the poor soul to safety. While my partner drew the enemy’s fire, I high-tailed it to an escape pod with the hostage slung over my shoulder.
I walked away from the Freedom Wars display ready to dive into another mission, and I still haven’t even seen what the competitive play has to offer or what the main hub area makes available. The gameplay was fun, though, and far more varied than some of the traditional entries in the genre that simply have you whack a collection of enemies until they fall to the ground. Coordination goes a long way in Freedom Wars, and the various tools mean that players will be able to tackle their objectives however they see fit.
Due out late next week in Japan, we’ll be able to get a more thorough rundown of Freedom Wars once the Japanese press gets its hands on the game. As for me, though, I’d say it’s shaping up to be one of the most intriguing Vita exclusives to make its way to the console in quite some time.