Liberated is part comic book and part side-scrolling shooter. The comic book part is excellent and tells a powerful dystopian story. The game part? Not so much.
Liberated is split into two pretty separate experiences. One is an engaging comic book about a dystopian world where Big Brother is everywhere. The second is a 2.5D action platformer with cool-looking visuals, but repetitive, bareboned gameplay.
A Real Page-turner
Liberated tells a familiar but powerful story. It is set in a world where Big Brother is everywhere. The government is always watching, and everything you do is logged away somewhere to be used against you should you become “non-compliant.”
The story, which is told as a comic book, follows a group of resistance fighters called “The Liberated.” Their goal is to encourage the people to rise up against the Orwellian regime and take back their freedom.
As I said, it’s not a particularly original concept, but it’s told well. I kept wanting to see where the story goes and was eager to flip through the pages of another digital issue.
What does give the story a bit of a twist is the characters you play. You start off as a new recruit in the Liberated but quickly move on to play the local chief of police, hunting the group. Getting to experience both sides of the same story is a cool concept and one I love ever since first encountering it in Quantic Dream’s Indigo Prophecy.
My only issue is that you spend most of the game on the side you’re clearly supposed to be rooting against, which is confusing. Spending more time as one of the Liberated would’ve helped the story feel more impactful.
Whenever the game decides you need a break from all the reading, it transforms into a side-scrolling action platfomer.
Frankly, I don’t have a lot to say about the gameplay. You walk, climb, sneak, and shoot your way through a few locations – and it’s all technically functional. It’s just not particularly enjoyable.
The combat is straightforward, and any challenge you might encounter comes from the controls that don’t always respond as quickly or smoothly as they should. You can also choose to sneak behind enemies and take them down swiftly and quietly with the press of a button, but there’s little reason to do so (apart from when the game forces you to).
The enemies you face aren’t very smart. They never react to seeing their dead friends, and will blindly follow you if they spot you. You can easily stay in one spot and lure them in one after the other, only to kill them one by one. My favorite thing about the combat is how enemies turn into ragdolls when they die, which is always fun and can lead to some hilarious results.
From time to time, you’ll need to solve a quick minigame to hack into a server or unlock a door. These are actually quite good and offer a much-needed break from the mind-numbingly repetitive combat that goes on way longer than it should.
That’s actually the main flaw of Liberated – the comic part and the action part feel too separated. You spend a long time reading the story, and then a long time meandering to the right of the screen, mindlessly shooting at guards or slowly pushing a box. Switching between “comic book mode” and “game mode” more frequently might have made for a more engaging experience.
A Comic Book Adventure
At least Liberated always looks like a comic book, whether you’re reading one or playing one. The visuals are consistent throughout, and the game never breaks its “interactive comic book” look.
Even the action takes place inside a comic book panel, which is a neat idea. In theory anyway. In practice, it means the panel itself takes up a part of your screen, so you feel like you’re playing on a smaller screen inside your screen. It’s not really an issue on PC or when the Switch is docked. However, if you’re playing the Switch version in handheld mode, it can be straining.
It’s not always easy spotting the little details, like a thin cable you’re supposed to grab, when playing in handheld mode. Clearly, the developers were more concerned with immersion and trying to bridge the gap between games and comic books. It’s a valiant effort, but it probably could have been done better (like zooming into the panel when the action starts, and back out when it’s time to flip a page).
All-in-all, though, Liberated looks excellent. The black-and-white visuals enhance the dystopian themes of the story, and I love the comic book’s dark, noir art style. It’s definitely something I’d like to continue reading.
Do the Reading
Liberated is better as a comic book than it is a game. It’s not necessarily surprising, as it focuses more on being an engaging interactive comic book, and it succeeds at that. It’s an interesting step by developer Atomic Wolf. I’m intrigued to see if they can polish it in future issues.
As for the whole experience, I’d say the game is a bit of a hit-and-miss. The story is great but often feels too disconnected from the action and the characters you’re playing. The gameplay itself starts off very promising, but quickly devolves into a repetitive action side-scroller, saved only by its minigames. And yes, by its visuals as well.
Developer: Atomic Wolf
Publisher: Walkabout Games
Release Date: Jun. 2, 2020
Our Liberated review copy was provided by the publisher.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.