Plenty of people still see gaming as a ridiculous pastime. They see nonsense where we see narrative, they see the mundane where we see structure, and they see the immature where we see childlike wonder. Freedom Finger, a crass, surreal, cartoon-y shoot ‘em up, is not the kind of game to show to these people. They’re the ones who’ll be missing out though.
You are airman Gamma Ray, pilot of the Eagle Claw, the most high-tech aircraft the United States has ever built. It just so happens that it doesn’t look so much like a claw, but like a hand with a raised middle finger. You’re accompanied by the exceedingly loud and impressively foul-mouthed Major Cigar, and your more sensible tech-guy who’s also the sole voice of reason amongst the chaos. If this already sounds like it might be the funniest game you’ve ever played then please, read on.
It soon becomes clear that all the hyper-patriotic vitriol spewed by your commanding officer Major Cigar is all just part of Freedom Finger’s carefully selected satire. There’s actually some well thought out commentary on the nature of war, American patriotism, and the dangers of unthinking leadership that feel ever more relevant in the real world by the day. There’s – thankfully – a lot more going on here than you might find on the surface.
The Campaign mode which throws these things at you in fully voiced and animated form, with Wide Right Interactive having put together an incredible line-up of voice talent including Nolan North, John Dimaggio, Sam Riegel and Eric Bauza to bring it to you. It really is a lot of fun, and it sounds as though they’re enjoying it too. Alongside that, there’s an Arcade mode that allows you to drop into any of the forty levels to try your hand, which is perfect for those chasing high scores, or if you’ve got tired of being stuck on a section of the Campaign.
The Eagle Claw has two central modes of attack: the Fist and the Finger. The Finger fires a constant stream of laser-y destruction, while the Fist… well, it punches things. In space. Alongside those two attacks, there’s also Grab, which sees your handy-craft reach out and touch somebody – it’s supposed to be mainly Chinese terrorists – and you can either fling them back to where they’ve come from, or use their own weapons against them as an on-the-fly power-up. I swear all these puns are the game’s fault.
The gameplay jumps from straight down the line space combat – albeit with a ship in the shape of a hand – and steadily gets weirder. Buses with wings, Russian robots and alien snakes that look like they’ve been ripped from Futurama eventually give way to an alternate dimension where you experience your birth, with the ship becoming a sperm flying through a body. That’s before a childhood level where you fight off toy soldiers and stacking rings, swiftly followed by “Vietnam ’69: In The Shit”, a brilliantly well done 8-bit shooter. To say it’s eclectic would be the grossest understatement.
Freedom Finger loves to subvert your expectations, and just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it throws something new in your direction. It is fundamentally a playable concept album with Mike Judge and John Kricfalusi-style hand-drawn visuals. It’s wonderfully scrappy, with those wild cartoon stylings accompanied by garage band tracks, segueing into Com Truise synthwave, before hitting psychedelia and hip-hop, and the track listing is generally superb, including the lion’s share of the brand new songs from Aesop Rock.
Freedom Finger does some very cool stuff mixing the music with the on-screen action. Obstacles move in time to the beat, shifting in a way that’ll immediately have your head nodding along, but at times musical stops or stutters freeze the enemies and projectiles in time. It’s lovely, but not overdone, really making these moments stand out.
The downside to its position as a shoot ’em up concept album is that you’ll find yourself having to replay some of the levels and listening to the accompanying tracks many, many times in order to progress. Even on the normal difficulty Freedom Finger is no slouch, punishing you for even a moments hesitation. It’s the purest form of shmup, requiring absolute precision and pattern learning for the length of a whole musical track, so it’s perhaps no surprise that one or two of them might wear a little thin, despite their quality.