Liberated is a unique story-based game from Polish developer Atomic Wolf. The game centers around a dystopian city in the near future that is run by a social credit system. A rebel group called the Liberated have taken it upon themselves to bring the system down and free the populace. The entire game plays out in comic book panels and features action and puzzle sequences in addition to the traditional comic book form.
Story – A Liberation Front
Welcome to the year 2024. The world lives in absolute peaceful bliss. Posting to social media, hanging out at barbecues, and enjoying sports with each other. Police have few problems to deal with as the CCS, or Citizen Credit System, can predetermine criminal activity before it happens, and help officers keep track of citizens every day activities and whereabouts. It can be likened to the Sibyl system from Psycho Pass, for those familiar. The game takes place over four ‘issues’, each one continuing the the story of the last in true comic book fashion. Ultimately the game centers around the CCS, the police that regulate it, and the Liberated, an anti-governmental rebel organization, trying to dismantle it. More specifically, and without giving too much of the story away, the Liberated are interested in exposing the perpetrators behind the event that eventually leads to the creation and implementation of the CCS.
Along the journey, players will see from the perspective of multiple characters from both sides of the struggle. We’ll meet the many characters that helped create Thermis, the underlying program of CCS, and even see some of their evolutions and backstories. We don’t get to see much of the imaginary city, and most of the settings we experience are inside of buildings which doesn’t give much variety. On the other hand, the overarching story is plenty fleshed out and the vision for the game is clear enough.
Throughout the game, there are several instances where the story beat, albeit interesting, missteps or overlooks something important. For instance, in issue 1, Meg, one of the Liberated leaders, explains that we can’t have any collateral damage, as we’re supposed to be the good guys. However, the following scenes are nothing but gunshots, death, and explosions, which seem to contradict what she wanted done. Most of these issues it seems have arisen from the fact that video games and comic books are two different story-telling mediums. We see the same types of problems come up when movies try to adapt video games and time after time fall flat.
Gameplay – Or Lack Thereof
While the story of Liberated is quite intriguing, it does leave a lot to be desired on the gameplay side of things. By that I mean it lacks almost all actual gameplay. The game works like a comic book. You start in a frame and it gives some dialogue and then it moves to the next. Eventually a frame will show up that lets you play through it. In the first issue, this is actually quite enjoyable. You get to see the different mechanics at play like shooting, sneaking, hacking, quick-time events and even some dialogue options. Unfortunately, everything past the first issue becomes nothing more than a gloomy run and gun with no challenge. Quick-time events and dialogue choices completely vanish from the game in issues 2-4. Enemies can be killed in about three shots, and sneaking is out the window as the enemy AI is so egregiously simple that it’s unnecessary.
At one point in the game I noticed I wasn’t needing to reload at all. I decided to test my theory and shot at a wall for about 10 seconds non-stop without the character needing to reload. It seemed the reload button was maybe only there for the sole purpose of optionality. From that point forward, I simply ran through the game and continued shooting non-stop hoping for something new to happen. It never did. There are no real puzzles to solve in the game, and only 6 total hacking moments to break up the shooter monotony.
In one segment of the game I found myself eternally frustrated by a sudden, and likely unintentional, difficulty spike. During issue 3, Frank has to ascend floors in an elevator. On the way up, he’s met with Liberated enemies on either side of the elevator, 6 in total. This 15-second elevator ride turned into 15 minutes of absolute irritation, ultimately resulting in me having to change the difficulty from ‘Player’ to ‘Reader’ simply to pass this one segment. After that, not once was there another issue with difficulty or enemies leading me to believe the balancing hadn’t been worked out for that particular section of the game.
Graphics and Audio – The Icing, But No Cake
If Liberated gets applauded for anything, it’s certainly the game’s incredible art style. While games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead made the foray into the comic book art style, Liberated took it a step further and made the actual comic book itself playable. The grim, defeated atmosphere given off through the entirety of the game is unmistakable. The iconic noir tone is perfectly encapsulated throughout the entire title. The cyberpunk side of things made its way in the form of more narrative notions than graphical or gameplay elements, but there were certainly moments, like in-game wanted signs or hacking segments, that helped bring the cyberpunk into the noir setting. Irrevocably, the game made a strong case for itself in its art style alone.
The game, of course, is not without its occasional graphical issue. For instance, early in, there is a scene where one of the gun models phases through the roof of the car during a chase scene. Issues like these are few and far between and easily forgivable. The largest issue, from a graphical standpoint, stems from the ability (or inability) to read the text. Whether the Switch is docked or not, I had issues reading the tiny text on several occasions. I had even used the option to change the text bubble size to as large as possible and it didn’t help. In a game that is meant to be a digital comic book, this can be a major downturn.
In terms of performance, there were definitely several optimization issues. The gamma transition between the game docked and undocked was drastically different. Undocked, I needed to turn the game’s brightness all the way up. Docked, it seemed to be a reasonable adjustment slider based on my TV’s settings. In addition to minor gamma issues, I noticed on several occasions that loading between pages would take a while. This could often break the immersion, especially during tense frames. At one point, I had waited nearly 30 seconds to move from one page to the next, making me believe my game had frozen. On top of both of those, the game had serious frame dropping problems. Rampantly throughout the entire game, I would have frames drop, lagging me across a room.
When it comes to audio, Liberated made a solid performance. The rainy, dreary atmosphere really shone through with the well-crafted sound effects. Gunshots sounded like gunshots. And the dim music nailed in well to every scene it was meant to elevate. Even emotional scenes were brought out, such as a later scene with Frank and Harry in Issue #4. The audio is probably the only part of the game that comes out of this review unscathed.
Liberated was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch, with a review key provided by WalkAbout Games.