Developer: Atomic Wolf, L.INC
Release Date: June 2, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: L.INC, Walkabout
As a massive fan of comics and graphic novels, I’m always curious to see how various developers choose to incorporate the medium into their games. Sometimes it’s just a stylistic approach, but Liberated by developers, Atomic Wolf has taken the idea of an interactive comic and combined it with an action shooter to provide an immersive gameplay experience.
Liberated takes place in the year 2024, where the government is highly monitoring the general public’s every move. Those that are seen as a potential threat can be fined, imprisoned, or possibly worse. “The Liberated” is a resistance group that has risen up to fight against the oppressive government, sometimes using violent tactics to achieve their goals. After a terrorist attack, The Liberated are the prime suspects, and a brutal quest for answers begins.
Liberated is broken into four chapters, each presented as a comic book issue. Scenes play out similar to layouts of some digital comics, with each panel progressing the narrative but with accompanied music and sound effects. At first, I was anticipating a more visual novel experience but was pleasantly surprised by the shooting sections, which make up the majority of the game. Although angles can change up slightly, the gameplay is mostly a 2D experience.
During gameplay, you can aim and ready your gun with the right stick and fire with the trigger button. A guided sight lets you know the trajectory of your bullet. Enemies can take several hits, but with decent aiming, you can get insta-kills with headshots, which are immensely satisfying to pull off.
There are three gun types that you can pick up on your journey that perform differently but are all exceptionally enjoyable to use. Each takes just a bit of a learning curve but ends up feeling pretty natural. Reloading effectively is also an essential move to time right, especially for sections that require crowd control. Luckily the game also automatically reloads for you, but if you misjudge your bullets, it can put you in real peril with enemies on several sides shooting at you.
A couple of shots are all it takes to kill you, so many sections require you to take out your enemies or sneak past them stealthily. It’s possible to duck behind specifically indicated structures to stay out of sight safely, and if an enemy is, you can execute a stealth takedown. However, human enemies aren’t your only obstacle. You will meet several attack drones that can do some significant damage and are much quicker than any humans you face.
Puzzle sections also pop up in each level, all offering a subtle change in pace from the shooting and narrative. I would have actually liked to see more of these puzzle sections, but I feel like the game is probably balanced nicely the way it is for the majority of its runtime.
Included in both levels and comic panels are quick-time events. It’s something you expect to show up in more narrative-driven adventures, but I was pleased to see that you didn’t need to be a speed demon to be successful during these moments.
The developers of Liberated are smart to realize that the narrative is more important than breaking it up too much with quick-time events. Most are forgiving, and the pacing of the story benefits from that. Some dialogue options and choices are given to the player as well. While almost every decision seems to lead you to a similar outcome, some sections of gameplay are only opened if you make the corresponding choice.
Liberated is depicted in a gritty grayscale that perfectly fits the game’s bleak world. Each comic panel illustration is beautiful and could rival any printed graphic novel on the market. Characters are stylized with heavy lighting and deep shadows giving everyone an exhausted and melancholy look. The Liberated themselves have a simple but sleek and intimidating appearance.
However, transitions between comic panels and load times will occasionally lag, possibly taking you out of the experience a bit, but none are unreasonable. Sometimes the gameplay graphics and renders can feel dated but were only jarring when scenes pulled in too close. The ragdoll effect added to downed enemies can be comical, but the style and tone of the game go a long way to make up for any of these minor shortcomings.
The idea of an interactive graphic novel is pushed further with each level taking place in an actual panel of the comic. World sound effects also show up with each significant action in the game, which was a nice touch. Playing subtlety in the background is a soundtrack focusing on the atmosphere and the occasional synths nailing the depressing world.
Even though the game is described as cyberpunk adventure, it feels more grounded than some other games in that genre. Technology in the game isn’t that far fetched, and like the in-game date feels like a reality that isn’t too out of the realm of believability.
Most affecting throughout, though, is the narrative Liberated unveils. Almost every level you play as a different character with contrasting views of the world around them. Like the color scheme of the game, each character operates in shades of gray. While you may not entirely agree with a character, it’s possible to understand their perspective. To say much more, I feel it would be a disservice to the story, but I really appreciated this approach and felt it made characters more complex and real.
The entire game will take around four hours or so to complete. While I would have been happy to keep playing, I didn’t feel disappointed in the length. Without spoiling anything, gameplay-wise Liberated did seem to end on a rather abrupt note, but the way the story concluded does fit the narrative and feels consistent.
Liberated presents an affectingly grim dystopian narrative stylized in a viscerally dark comic style. Transitioning from panels of illustrations to action scenes never gets old and is extremely enjoyable. Some in-game graphics are sadly dated with lengthy load times, and the short runtime of the adventure might leave some wanting more, but if you’re looking for a cautionary tale as compelling as it is cynical, Liberated is the comic and game for you.
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