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A dystopian future, one where technology is exploited by a totalitarian government to oppress the masses. Truth is replaced with propaganda, constant surveillance keeps people complacent, with only a brave select few rising up…Oh, you’ve heard this before? Sounds like something straight out of 1984? Well, you’d be right, but I’m not referring to Orwell’s dystopian classic, but instead to Atomic Wolf’s stylish cyberpunk side-scrolling platformer, Liberated.
Rendered entirely using a comic book-style format, Liberated takes you through four issues that tell the story of a rebel group’s fight for freedom (or a government’s fight to end terrorism) through shootouts, puzzles, decision-making, and readable pages. You play multiple characters, including members of the resistance and veteran police officers, and uncover information about the events that led to the government creating a system of 24/7 surveillance.
While the plot is somewhat tired with the recent rise in technological dystopia media, it does have shifts in points of view, which I found refreshing. Yes, being part of a rebellion is cool – and often the right choice in these types of games – but knowing why people side with the oppressors is also important to the narrative.
Liberated has great graphics and art design that’s dark, gritty, and choppy, staying true to the noir style and the pessimistic plot. It does a wonderful job bringing the pages of a comic book to life by incorporating gameplay into the panels of the comic and adding elements of comic books into these playable moments, such as using onomatopoeia when firing your weapon. After reading through a few panels of character dialogue, you’re put into the scene itself to play. You creep through dark streets or warehouses, encountering a number of enemies you can hide from and attack stealthily or take head-on using a gun.
After a while, you’ll run into puzzles to solve, usually in the form of guessing a code or turning tiles, that will open a door so you can continue your investigation. In the warehouse areas, backtracking becomes important. That door on the third level that seems unopenable? A lever on the first level will crack it open! That platform is a little too high to reach? A block in the previous room will give you a boost! It may take a bit to find the solutions, but figuring them out is so rewarding – especially after feeling stuck for so long.
However, the gameplay can also be a little rough. At certain moments, such as after climbing ladders or landing jumps, the game will sometimes lag for a few moments. This causes a huge problem in areas where enemies are alerted to you immediately after landing or climbing and leads to plenty of deaths. In some areas of the game, this can be avoided through stealth and letting the enemies pass. However, places to hide are often few and far between, so the best option is to ask yourself if you feel lucky that particular run.
The controls for aiming can be a bit awkward and hard to get the hang of, and it’s often easier to just keep your weapon drawn and steady the aim instead of having to draw it every time you see an enemy. Drawing your weapon can also cause glitches or lag on occasion, by the way, so watch out on those heated shootouts.
Aiming isn’t a huge issue, however, because Liberated offers the player the choice between modes: Player or Reader. In Reader mode, you don’t have to aim and enemies are far less trigger happy, leaving you to focus on the story. It also eliminates some of those pesky lags and glitches.
Despite its faults when it comes to gameplay, Liberated compensates with fantastic art, challenging hacking puzzles, and an interesting (albeit common for its genre) plot. The shooting portions can be fun if you love a challenge and more than a little frustration, and running through the warehouses flipping switches, pushing crates, and collecting hard drives is honestly pretty entertaining. If you’re looking for a quick cyberpunk pick-me-up with a cool format, Liberated just might liberate you from boredom for a few hours.