There’s a certain type of Xbox 360 Live game that is so difficult to find these days. Sure, there are loads of games actually on Xbox Live, but the sort of game I’m talking about…well, I see them as more of a genre than just a marketplace special. You’ve certainly encountered a few of them in the past nearly exclusively on the Xbox 360. Those low-budget indie games that generally turned out to be surprise hits; the Explosion Mans and Shadow Complexes of that generation.
I know, Xbox 360 Live game isn’t exactly a genre but there was something about these games that made them all feel a little related. Maybe it was the lower levels of polish and presentation that could be overlooked for strong mechanics and interesting ideas or the fact that they weren’t chunky downloads that never got physical releases. All vague terms of description, yet playing through Liberated made me think how perfect a game like this would fit into the category of Xbox 360 Live game.
Its smaller scope, highly stylised presentation and blend of 2.5D gameplay alongside comic book panel storytelling just fits a style of game that doesn’t get made any more. Unfortunately, Liberated isn’t exactly the game to bring back the Xbox 360 Live game genre because to spark such a rekindling of a dead format it would need to be a decent experience which it most assuredly is not.
Presented as a “playable comic book”, Liberated pulls no punches in evoking the work of dystopian noir writers. The blood of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and Frank Miller’s Sin City are pumping through this game’s veins and while the setting of a surveillance state future being dismantled by freedom fighters isn’t exactly a new idea, as there’s plenty of style in Liberated’s presentation. The greyscale tone of the game certainly doubles down on the kind of story it’s trying to tell and switching between playable panels and drawn cut-scenes all boxed like a conventional comic book is admittedly a cool idea. There’s even some great art in the panels and covers of the four issues you’ll play through, showing that the developers were clearly doing their best to establish a theme and carry through on it.
Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing I actually enjoyed about the game’s presentation because beyond the style there’s very little substance and even less polish. Choppy and unfinished animations, constant bugs with environments, enemies spawning out of the aether; after just an hour with Liberated it doesn’t sell itself as a finished product. Instead, it comes across as a game that needed a few more months in the oven because it feels profoundly unfinished.
Which can be said for the gameplay too, offering little in the way of interesting mechanics beyond “move left, shoot enemy”. That’s what you’ll be doing for 90% of your time in Liberated, with 10% of that remaining chronal energy dedicated to a poorly implemented stealth system that involves hiding behind a wall and clicking a single button when an enemy walks past. There’s no way to distract guards or draw their attention either, it’s just a waiting game finalised with a button prompt. Oh, and there are a handful of Quick Time Events sprinkled into the mix that adds very little to anything, seemingly taking one of the less interesting parts of the previous generation of action games and using them in a manner we all became sick of years ago as you carefully time a button press and watch some awfully animated cutscene play out. Liberated plays like a game where a single core idea was pitched and then never elaborated upon. Which can work if that single suggestion or mechanic is interesting but simply moving left and aiming a gun with the right analogue stick is not only boring but its been done way better in the past. There’s nothing in the way of collectibles or dynamic enemy encounters, with most foes just standing still and shooting when they see you. They’re easily disposed of too unless the game spikes its difficulty for a single encounter and forces you to take on four guards at once. It’s unsatisfying and, once again, reeks of unfinished development.
Having said all this, I’m also one that tends to be forgiving on the gameplay front if the story is able to carry its own weight around the track, something which Liberated gets close to but ultimately fails at delivering in any satisfying manner. The plot and pacing of the game feel choppy, switching back and forth between events that you know should take place in close proximity but feel so disjointed that nothing quite meshes. None of the characters exhibit interesting personalities beyond one half going on about the damn coppers and the grizzled detective moaning about freedom fighters just not getting it, man. Look, that’s obviously a gross over-simplification, yet the overall plot of exposing some kind of corrupt government system wasn’t compelling in its own right and wasn’t held aloft by memorable characters. Leaving us with just the same old run left and shoot enemies a few times, barely caring about anything.
The thing is, I still like the idea of Liberated. I kept coming back to the presentation, desperately hoping that something more would be done with its unique art style and yet it never goes past the original point of conception. It’s a playable comic book, that much is true but that’s just a concept, not a game. Liberated needed more time at the drawing board and even longer in the oven to deliver an experience that was engaging. Unfortunately the final product bolts off the starting line at the crack of the pistol, set to impress the crowds and unceremoniously trips on it’s unkept laces, face planting into the black and white mud.
Last Updated: June 1, 2020