Big Brother is Watching You
I’m not an avid comic book or graphic novel reader, but I want to be one. I love their aesthetic; there’s something about the style that makes me wish my childhood had been full of more than just Archie comics (which I still love, but they don’t really count). So I was quite excited to get to play Atomic Wolf’s action-adventure game, Liberated. The game is, quite literally, a playable comic book. Liberated is quite unlike anything else I’ve ever played.
Compulsory Social Engagement is the Real Nightmare
Liberated takes place in a world where the worst fears about Big Brother have come true – and then some. Everybody is always under surveillance, their every move tracked. But it’s not just movements, contacts, and the boring drudgery of life that are tracked – it’s also your social engagement. Not posting enough to social media? You might get a visit from the police. Not attending public events? You’ll get flagged for non-compliance and anti-social behavior. It’s a dystopian nightmare, and it’s time for change.
Enter the Liberated, a group that wants to bring reality and truth back to the masses, so that people can decide for themselves what kind of future they want. The story plays out in several “issues” just like issues of a comic book. Each issue focuses on a different angle of the story and lets players take on multiple roles, from the liberators themselves, to the police trying to thwart them.
Each issue is divided into several pages, which is further divided into panels – just like a comic book. There are two types of panels: story panels, and action panels. In the story panels, you’ll watch the game’s story progress. The dialogue is fully voiced, and I have to say, the voice acting is incredible. I never found myself rolling my eyes or trying to read ahead so the actors would shut up. The voice actors in Liberated did an extremely good job, and really helped bring the experience to life.
Bang, Bang, He Shot Me Down
Alright, back to the panels. The action panels are where you actually get to control a character. Gameplay takes place on a 2D plane, where you can largely move left/right and occasionally up/down. The controls are pleasantly simple – the left joystick moves you about, the right joystick will aim your weapon, and ZR will fire said weapon. You can interact with certain objects with the A button when prompted, and you can jump with the B button. I usually have trouble remembering controls when anything involving shooting in a game is involved, so I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to become quite adept at making instant-kill headshots. I also enjoyed the little comic book sound effects whenever you fired your weapons, words like “Bang” appearing on the screen with each shot.
While each action panel plays out in a linear fashion, it works well – reading a comic book is a linear experience, and playing one aligns with that quite nicely. You can also play to your own strengths. If you’re better at sneaking around and quietly assassinating enemies, there are plenty of nooks to hide in, which let you wait for guards and enemies to pass by before you can follow an on-screen button-prompt to kill them without making a sound. This can be quite useful, since gunshots and yells can attract unwanted attention. Of course, if you prefer to go in guns a-blazin’, that’s fine, too. I attempted it more than once, and it can be challenging, but also ridiculously fun. There is some light puzzle-solving thrown in from time to time as well.
Dark, Dreary, Dystopian
Liberated has one of the best art styles I’ve seen in a while. It’s as dark, gritty, and depressing as the game’s story. Everything is in black and white, and it’s all got an incredible hand-drawn quality to it. Even when you’re playing through an action sequence, it still retains the incredible hand-drawn aesthetic, making it feel like the comic book is literally coming to life on your screen. Sound effects are done nicely – the rain sounds realistic, and fades in and out appropriately. Footsteps grow louder as hostiles approach, and fade as they walk away. The sound of your own footsteps changes depending on what you’re walking across. I have a feeling the experience would be further enhanced by wearing some good headphones.
Although Liberated has a lot of strengths, it has a few areas that could use improvement. Overall, it felt a little too easy. The puzzles you had to solve were fairly easy, mostly consisting of find switch A to open door B. Sometimes the formula is remixed with diving in water, or having to move boxes. The enemy AI seemed to be all over the map. At times, they were pleasantly challenging, but it was few and far between. The enemies were… dumb, to put it charitably. And this is probably just me being greedy, but I also wish that the game was longer. It definitely left me wanting more.
Liberated is a great comic book turned video game. Dark and dystopian, almost absurdly gorgeous visuals, and a compelling story make this a surprising, but welcome, entry in the Switch library. Although you can beat the game within a few hours, don’t let the short run-time turn you off. There’s a lot of game packed into that those few hours.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Walkabout Games; Developer: Atomic Wolf; Players: 1; Released: June 2, 2020; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: A Liberated review code was provided by the publisher.