When comic books meet video games, the result is often an intriguing mixture of stylish action and fun with the source material. In the case of Liberated, a noir cyberpunk story with hand-drawn art and platforming action, the comic aesthetic is front and center, sometimes to the game’s detriment. It’s much like jumping into the pages of a well-drawn, stylish, yet humdrum story that you can’t help but feel you’ve read several times over. This cyberpunk adventure is interesting enough on paper and even succeeds at making the whole “playable comic” shtick work, but at its core it’s a bit of a hack. Here’s what you’re getting into with Liberated.
A dystopian future
Liberated takes place in a dystopian police state in 2024, not too much unlike what things might look like in real life by the time we reach that point. Facial recognition scans are deployed at every opportunity. There are "citizen credit" points awarded for playing ball and doing what you're supposed to, such as heading to an annual memorial parade. It’s all part of a system called CCS, aided by an algorithm called Themis. Hit zero on your CCS account, and you could face corrective action from the government.
You play as a young man named Barry Edwards (AKA Duke Stroud), who seems like a regular guy who’s just late for his train. But he’s so much more than that. “Barry” is a hacker who’s accomplished some pretty impressive feats in his life. He’s also the son of Jeffrey Stroud, the Minister of National Security, so he's under more scrutiny by the government.
After a close call following a police run-in, he's picked up by Tim, a member of a “Liberated”, an underground anti-government organization who opposes using surveillance to monitor and track citizens. Barry must make the choice to live under the oppressive system the government has implemented or work to dismantle it from the inside. Guess which path he chooses.
I won't mince words. It's a derivative storyline through and through, right down to the technobabble and rebel group you end up joining. If that's up your alley, there's plenty to like here. Just don't expect anything particularly original.
From panel to panel
As Liberated's story progresses, you'll "enter" certain panels to play through a segment, like you're being transported into the pages of the comic. All the action takes place on a 2D plane as you have left-to-right scrolling platforming moves and elements to keep track of, which should feel familiar to anyone who's played games like Limbo or Inside before.
Sometimes you'll be faced with branching choices or quick-time events where you need to press buttons quickly to perform actions. This can include evading police, deciding whether to stand your ground or flee, or dodging bullets. You'll notice that, depending on what choice you make, several panels or entire pages of the comic book will be blank. It's a cool touch that's fun to take note of, but the choices don’t make that much of a difference.
While the setup is cool and it tends to work just fine, there just isn’t that much going on. Sometimes the game switches things up, as it has you climbing across gaps via tightrope, hiding from enemies, and shooting them (or drones). There are the occasional puzzles as well, like one where you need to figure out a numerical passcode. These break up the monotony of reading comic panels, but just when you start a section, it feels like it's ended. Then it's back to reading again, or whatever the game has planned for you next.
Honestly, the action segments just aren't particularly interesting. Sometimes, it felt like an eternity waiting for a soldier to complete their patrol so I could hop out from behind a hiding place and pull off a stealth kill. And after I got a gun, I just didn't feel like waiting around for them to disappear and pop back around again, so I started taking chances and shooting at them instead just to get to the next area. Lather, rinse, repeat. Your screen will be covered with more and more blood until you die, and it can take a moment to draw your gun (done with the right analog stick), so you do need to be careful with gunfire, but it's preferable to achingly boring stealth segments.
Sights and sounds
Aesthetically, Liberated looks pretty cool. I found the noir, monochromatic artwork easy on the eyes, though a little uninspired. Plus, the comic book aesthetic is interesting, but it's been done before, and better. The classic Comix Zone comes to mind, a childhood favorite where it felt much more like you were really in the pages of a living, breathing comic book. Liberated feels more like a game and tons of text shoved into panels between lengthy scenes. There’s very little animation to the comic panels as well.
Additionally, I would have preferred some sort of voiceover. The music added atmosphere, but it would have been much more immersive to hear the characters speak. I had to imagine voices for them, which is what you’d normally do when reading a comic, but voice acting would have improved the experience tenfold to help flesh out the characters.
A glitch in the matrix
One of my biggest frustrations while playing through Liberated were the 7 to 10 second pauses for loading when a panel was about to switch to the next, leading me to believe several times that my game had frozen. They occurred at odd times, instead of offering a quick bit of "loading" text. I understand this was likely done in a bid to keep the seamless comic experience, but it wasn't particularly great.
I also didn't like the fact that you can't skip scenes if you're not interested in watching them play out. I restarted the game a couple of times when I first started getting footage and screenshots, and having to sit through the same panels over and over put me right to sleep. You can manipulate the comic by changing speech bubble size and moving the analog sticks to control your camera angle, but there's no option to skip that I saw. This isn't a bug, just an oversight.
Liberated isn't a terrible game, but it's a painfully average one. Playing through it will undoubtedly give you a sense of deja vu, whether the play style, aesthetic, or narrative reminds you of some other piece of media. That said, it can be fun, but there's just not much to get excited about during your play through or after it, as there's little replay value.
I respect what the developers were going for and think the comic look is still cool, even if it is a bit lacking in other areas. The game works decently, in terms of mechanics. I can just think of plenty of other games you'd probably rather play more than this one. If you're in the mood for a relatively quick cyberpunk-tinged romp, though, Liberated isn't the worst you could do.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher. Liberated releases on June 2 on Nintendo Switch.
- Great artwork and comic book aesthetic.
- Interesting yet familiar narrative.
- Atmospheric music.
- Simple to get into for casual and seasoned players.
- Loading delays between panels feel like the game has frozen.
- Humdrum action segments.
- No voice acting.
- No way to skip scenes you don't want to view.
- Stealth segments are pretty boring.
Brittany Vincent posted a new article, Liberated review: Future imperfect