Between Silent Hill 3, Max Payne 2, Beyond Good and Evil, and a little game called Call of Duty, 2003 was a busy year. At the time, IO Interactive was riding high on Hitman 2 Silent Assassin, with Hitman Contracts, one of the best and darkest entries in the whole series, set to follow a year later. Nevertheless, the future James Bond game studio found time for a small side project. Set in an alternate history where Soviet Russia beats the US to building the atomic bomb, and thus becomes the world’s dominant superpower, it follows a ragtag group of rebels as they launch a guerilla resistance against an invasion of New York City. Smart, fluid, intuitive, and with a terrific soundtrack, somehow IO’s superb new squad shooter failed to capture the market. 20 years later, Freedom Fighters remains one of the greatest games of all time – if you’ve never played it, or want to go around again, it’s on sale for less than $3.
The fact that Freedom Fighters didn’t become an enormous hit is a mystery to me. This is one of the best PC games ever. It looks great, sounds great, plays like a dream, and there was nothing like it before, and there’s been nothing like it since. Compared to the likes of Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon – at least, those series as they existed in 2003 – it’s a smooth, accessible, immediate, and vivid squad shooter that marries tactical planning with constant, unbroken action.
Though you command a squad of up to 12 fellow freedom fighters, there are no radials, no menus, and no lists of commands. Everything is done using three keys – one tells your troops to attack, one tells them to hold position, and one tells them to follow you.
It sounds limited, but in every single instance of Freedom Fighters – whether small-scale stealthy missions or huge urban battles – it works flawlessly. And of course, it becomes the perfect metaphor for your character and the premise. You’re not playing as special forces soldiers, using military jargon and well-drilled maneuvers. You and your squad are regular people, improvising surprise attacks and fighting in the streets.
The game takes place over the course of a year, beginning in New York’s sweltering summer, and closing in the harsh, blizzard-beaten winter. The environments and characters change over time, becoming more ragged and wartorn, and there’s a terrific sense of ardor and melancholy.
Combined with a career-best soundtrack from Jesper Kyd, who you might know from Hitman and Assassin’s Creed, and Freedom Fighters is easily one of the best overlooked gems. And now it’s available for just $2.82 / £2.29. I could rhapsodize about Freedom Fighters all day. But I’m just going to shut up and let you play it.