There are times when games and reality intersect to bring focus on an issue. An attack that can leave a person or multiple people dead, protests as a result, and heavy-handed crackdowns by government and police forces. We only need to look at what is still happening in Hong Kong as China tightens its authoritarian control, or the anti-racism protests that have sprung up in the US following the death of George Floyd, with countless more examples of police brutality fanning the flames of discontent.
Liberated pulls on similar threads and issues, focussing on both the police and liberation groups on either side of a mass surveillance and citizen profiling infrastructure that has been built following a terrorist attack. It’s an issue that is no less current or topical, with governments keen to track their citizens online activity more and more, and a social credit system already having been rolled out in China. Liberated leaps ahead a few years to look at how this could evolve and the two sides approach the issue.
It gets a little bit Minority Report, as the police use this system to arrest people who have been flagged before they’re able to commit future crimes. Opposing them are the Liberated, a group of freedom fighters who exist almost off the grid and are angling to find the truth behind the system and free people from its control. You switch perspectives through the game, jumping between a senior police captain who was instrumental in setting up the system, and a senior members of the Liberated.
Liberated frames its story as a four issue series of comics. The experience switches between players reading lightly animated panels and taking in the scenes, and panels that feature gameplay where sneaking and shooting are the main concerns. You’re given a choice in how to experience the game with Reader and Player modes. In Reader mode the action is minimal and easy to get through allowing you to flip the digital comic pages, whereas Player mode makes the gameplay tougher with more enemies spawning in and some areas will providing more challenge.
You’re given some leeway in how you tackle these action segments, with some of the side-scrolling scenes letting you hide behind obstacles to either let enemies pass you by or pop out and choke them out. Stealth is not an option across the whole game though, and shooting generally seems to be faster and more effective.
You don’t get to choose the weapons you have in hand, the game sometimes handing you a pistol early on, but later on giving you a machine gun or shotgun. Personally, I preferred using the pistol due to the precision and how it felt almost John Wick-like. The machine gun does play well in a particular stand off section, despite its hefty recoil, but the shotgun’s rate of fire and spread make it a bit too ineffective.
The shotgun’s lack of impact hampered me in one section where enemies had pistols so able to fire faster, leading to multiple deaths. This section was incredibly frustrating and forced me to switch from player to reader mode. You can do this throughout the game if you wish to do so. Aside from shooting and killing, there are environmental puzzles as well which require moving between rooms to find ways to flick switches to open up pathways to make progress.
Liberated’s design is eye catching. Its black and white colour palette gives it an almost film noir feel, while each panel has been well drawn and contains a great amount of detail. The gameplay sections retain the noir stylings, but the lighting makes it so that nothing is lost in the colour scheme, so you are never left wondering what you are looking for.
The main problem is that the story never really gets to explore its themes and the message it’s trying to relay, instead jumping from one climatic moment to another. You don’t spend anywhere near enough time with characters to build a strong connection, and the switching of sides and lack of pauses for reflection leave the experience feeling muddled. A technical nitpick is that the delay between switching to new pages with the pause lasting a bit too long.