Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Missed Classic 28: Freedom: Rebels in the Darkness (1988)

By Ilmari

Hey, this isn’t what I was supposed to play! What’s going on?
I’d like to consider myself a history buff. I love reading about past events, see how all the borders have shifted, learn about the lives of people in past ages. And I do enjoy also playing games situated in definite historical periods. Still, I couldn’t really muster up enthusiasm for the Oregon Trail.

It wasn’t just that the Oregon Trail was really no adventure game at all. It’s something about the setting itself that doesn’t really strike me as that alluring. I was quite into all the tales about the Cowboys and Indians, as a little kid, but when I grew up, it became quite clear that I had confused the good and the bad guys. Really, the supposed savages were actually just defending their own lands from an onslaught of people coming originally from across the Atlantic Ocean and settling in on someone else’s backyard or hunting grounds. But winners decide how the history is written, and we are more likely to hear of brave settlers battling the forces of nature, which apparently included also Native Americans. This historical whitewashing has so well hidden the truth that some loudmouth has had the nerve to suggest building a wall on Mexican border to stop the flow of the supposed immigrants. This is simply an outrage. If these supposed foreigners have even a tinge of Native American heritage, their ancestors in most likelihood walked few millennia ago through the lands of USA - on the other hand, the ancestors of this particular tramp were quite recently living in Rhineland.

Point of my rant is that a historical setting in a game loses some of its charm, if the player has to take the unjust side. But just let me play a rebel who will throw away her chains, cut the throat of her oppressors and lead her enslaved people to freedom and I am hooked.

Now this is what I am talking!

But that guy... he looks like Hulk Hogan on steroids and full of fake tan. And jeans?

It is debatable which is the greater crime in the history of the American continent: the brutal treatment and even extermination of the indigenous civilizations by the colonists, or the equally brutal shipment of Black Africans to work at the plantations, just because the indigenous population didn’t have the stamina for the hard work. We’ve already seen Muriel Tramis’s take on the consequences of the latter atrocity at the beginning of 20th century in the island of Martinique in Mewilo. This time, we’ll transport back to a time century earlier, when slaves rebelled. It's time to play the next game Muriel Tramis made for Coktel Vision, Freedom.

I have to admit, calling Freedom an adventure game is a bit of a stretch. But hey, French Wikipedia does it too, so it’s not just me… And if Oregon Trail found its place on our blog, Freedom should surely get it also. It is just so rare to see games with an important message, so let’s be inclusive this time, shall we?

Just like with Mewilo, Martiniquean writer Patrick Chamoiseau has created all the texts in the game. Indeed, some of the characters have familiar names - for instance, you might get to rebel against Arnaud de Ronan, whose ghost we met in Mewilo.

Freedom does have characters, since both the oppressed and oppressing side consist not just of nameless units. There are clear roles in the plantation, like the priest, and there are usually two or three character options for each role. The manual describes in detail the various characters, and presumably having different characters in your and the opposing team makes the game somewhat different - one priest is stronger in some area than the other.

One possible set of characters

There are four possible options for the leader of the rebellion, which you’ll get to choose at the beginning of the game. Two of the choices are a bit stereotypical: there’s Sechou, strong, but tongue-tied caveman, and there’s Solitude, weak, but charismatic woman. The two other options are more average, Makandal and Delia, with somewhat different skill sets. In practice, I did not find that much difference between the two average types, probably because I played on the lowest of the three difficulty levels, and some of the skills seem to be of use only in the higher difficulty levels.

The farthest I got was with Solitude. Yes, reason beats brute force

The main game screen

After determining your character and the difficulty level, you are instantly dropped to the map above. Yes, it’s colourful and very hard to decipher, even when you are playing it. The player character, and her gang of rebels, is represented by one of the moving dots (Can't see the dots? I had also the same problem). The other moving dots are chien or dogs roving around the plantation. These dogs aren’t deadly, but if you walk too close they tend to bark. At best, you only make yourself more prone to being detected by losing your cover, at worst, the bark reveals you to Martinique militia, which means an immediate game over.

The result of the encounter with the dogs, just like almost everything else in the game, is based in some manner on various numbers. Part of them you can see on the main screen, part of them can be found in another screen, together with some details of how you’ve progressed, and I guess there must be some hidden variables also. There’s numbers for your stealth, for the power of your group of rebels and so forth - I am not going to go through them in detail.

What I could mention is the torch on the left side of the screen, which represents the playing time - take too long and the sun goes up and rebellion is over. If you are doing great, there is the possibility of encountering Manman-Olo, a goddess of the sea, who will be glad to turn the course of the sun few hours earlier, so you’ll have more time to plan your revolution.

Nude goddess - what more could you expect from the makers of Emmanuelle?

While moving about the plantation, you can stop at some point of interest and press Enter to get a close-up of where you are. At first, you might be interested of visiting the slave quarters, where you can try to rally the other slaves to your cause. The more charisma and fame you have, more eager your friends will be to join you. Of course, the more rebels you have in your team, more easily you will be detected.

You’d think one slave would be equal to another, but apparently some slaves are more equal than others. At first, you’ll only be able to get some low-level slaves to join, but when the rebellion moves forward, chief slaves will also be interested of your project. The most difficult to get to join the gang are the domestic slaves, who live near the master of the plantation - so difficult that I haven’t yet managed to convince anyone of them to my side. Yet, having them is apparently quite essential, since the masters are not so eager to fight with their beloved nannies.

Brothers! I have a dream!

There are two types of sorcerers (one more modern, the other more traditional) and two possible characters for each type in the game, with each character having different special skills. It’s possible to get only one sorcerer into your gang, but so far I’ve found it easier to have no sorcerer. They can give you advice, which is about as helpful as tips given by your advisers in Civilization. The special skills might be of use, but the sorcerers are also very prone to die in combat - and death of your sorcerer means that a large percentage of your followers returns to home.

“Be careful! Bosses never leave their swords.” Yeah, I’ve noticed.

So, now that we have our ragtag gang together, let’s go and make some havoc! The number one priority is to burn some fields, which will make your fame rise easily. There are also storage buildings that you can burgle or climb into, but at least in the lowest difficulty level this seems pointless (I guess you could find weapons in them when playing in higher difficulty levels). Then again, you can also burn the storage buildings.

Fire, walk with me.

Beside fulfilling your pyromaniac fantasies, you can also contact your oppressors - or they might see you and want to have a word with you. It’s not just friendly chitchat, but you usually have the option to fight them - or then you are forced to fight them. This is probably the silliest part of the game. In the easiest level, you’ll automatically have the same weapons as your opponent, so it’s either a fist, sword or pistol fight. Fist and sword fights are like those classic karate games - you push buttons with no rhyme or reason and hope that you’ll somehow beat the bad guy (or at least that has been my preferred tactic). With a pistol fight there seems to be no control, but the game decides according to some predetermined criteria, which side will win.

Local priest is trying to intimidate us with his prophetic skills

And he goes down before saying Hail Mary!

Massacre? You and what army?

Say, you and that priest must have same tailor

We ain’t harvesting any sugar for you, guvner!

 Darn, he’s quick with that pistol!

Once you have beaten the gentleman you’ve fought with, you’ll get to decide whether you’ll want to keep him a prisoner or whether you’ll just hang the guy. Both options have some pros and cons. If you have a hostage, your oppressors might not strike you as hard in the next battle. Then again, the prisoners have a tendency to escape, especially if the size of your rebel group drops drastically. Furthermore, some prisoners can convince slaves to return to their homes.

The final aim of the game is to convince the owner of the plantation to set you free. The manual gives clear conditions for doing this - certain percentage of the plantation must be wasted and all four dogues must be killed. These dogs are sent eventually set after you, when the higher class people finally get enough of you. They are not the sweet chiens, who merely bark at you. No, these dogs bite. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet been able to kill all the dogs. It’s quite easy to destroy three of them, but killing the fourth seems impossible, even though I have reduced the emulator speed to its minimum. Chances are:

  • It’s a bug
  • It’s an intended feature, meant to teach you cruelly that rebellion never pays
  • There’s something wrong with the copy I’ve been playing
  • It’s a clever copy protection that will fail you at the very last minute
  • I've still missed some implicit winning condition

 Three down, one to go

And I fail again

Since I haven’t been able to get to the end, I sadly don’t have any pictures to show of it. The first one who manages to play the game to its final end (no matter which version used) will get 50 CAPs for their story and screenshots.

Final rating

Puzzles and Solvability

On retrospect, I might have been a bit hard on Oregon Trail, when I gave it just 0 for puzzles - although it didn’t have traditional adventure game puzzles, it did have some type of problems to be solved. Almost the same remarks apply with Freedom, since the problems you have to solve are more like problems in a strategy game. Should you rally some more slaves or would it just break your cover? Should you try tackling with the priest or instead go burn some fields?

Score: 1

Interface and Inventory

The interfaces of Mewilo and Emmanuelle were far from optimal and Freedom isn’t an exception to this trend. Let’s say you want to ask an advice from a sorcerer. You first have to push “ESC”, in order to activate the menu at the top of the main screen. Then, you can’t just cycle through menu choices with arrow keys, but you have to take the cursor with the arrow keys or the mouse to the Advice-button - and if you accidentally have tried to move the cursor without pressing “ESC” you are actually moving your character in the screen. Like in Mewilo, there’s no in-game save mechanism, but considering how different Freedom is, I don’t think this is a real fault.

Score: 2

Story and Setting

With Oregon Trail I complained that there wasn’t that much of story and even what the game had was a bit inconsequential for the actual gameplay. Here, the plot is far more important. You have an intriguing introduction - plantation owner is sleeping restlessly, because of a rumored slave rebellion, but who will lead it? The plantation itself is a setting that feels alive, with different characters living in different places. There are various ways how the rebellion might fail, all explicated with text boxes. And while I did not get to the best ending, it surely would have been epic (I guess everyone puts on their best dress, dances and sings “Freedom has come, freedom is fun!”, ). Still, it’s far from the complexity of Mewilo.

Score: 4.

Sound and Graphics

Freedom does have some individually rather decent pictures, even if some of the character graphics were clearly lifted from Mewilo.Yet, the main map itself was so hard to decipher that I cannot really praise the graphics. Compared to Mewilo, there was precious little music or sounds to be heard.

Score: 3.

Environment and Atmosphere

This is clearly the best aspect of the game. Once you get the hang of the interface and actually understand what is going on, the game becomes a veritable source of suspense. Trying to find a good spot to run between the guard dogs, being caught and having to fight a much stronger opponent - it’s all geared to make you feel like a rebellious slave and boy does it make your adrenaline flow.

Score: 6.

Dialogue and Acting

Patrick Chaimoiseau is as professional writer as ever, and the various characters again have a distinct voice - all oppressors are not of the same mold, but there are scared cowards, violent brutes and even compassionate friends of slaves. Due to the nature of Freedom, there’s just so much less dialogue than in Mewilo and you’ve quickly seen the majority of it.

Score: 5.

1 + 2 + 4 + 3 + 6 + 5 /0.6 = 27. Because of the historical importance of the theme, I am going to give Freedom a one bonus point, making the total 28.

While Freedom does then beat Oregon Trail, it clearly doesn’t fare well in the PISSED rating. I was waiting it would have scored better, but there seems to be a common theme running through Coktel Vision games - great or at least interesting ideas with a lot of potential combined with a good story, but with frustrating interface and severely lacking in the actual gameplay. We’ll see whether these flaws get corrected in the future.


  1. Delia and Makandal are in Lost in Time too. I didn't know there were so many connections to other games.

    1. I know I've played Lost in Time, but I can't remember any of the details - just that there was some ship and time travel. It will be interesting to see how that game fares in couple of years.

  2. First I skimmed the title and thought you'd be reviewing the Spectrum adaptation of the first Lone Wolf Gamebook, Flight from the Dark:

    Then I read on and between the setup and the contrast with Oregon Trail, wondered if I could put MECC's Apple 2 escape-from-slavery game Freedom! on your radar:!_(video_game)

    1. This second Freedom! seems quite interesting. It's still couple of years blog time, before we get there, but I'll surely have to remember this.

  3. What platform did you play on? If it is a bug blocking you from winning, maybe it's version-specific.

    Alternately, in terms of a hidden necessary win condition - maybe you need a sorcerer?

    1. I played the ST version with Steem. I might try the Amstrad version at some point, but if one manages to do it quicker than I can, I'd be glad to know the results.

      I am pretty sure that I tried carrying a sorcerer with me when I met the dogs. I'd guess it most likely the domestic slaves I need to get to my gang, but I just haven't been playing well enough to convince them to join.

  4. Totally different both in gameplay and story, but reading this review did remind me of the Freedom Cry DLC from Assassin's Creed IV – where you spend significant time 'liberating' plantations and recruiting slaves

  5. "which is about as helpful as tips given by your advisers in Civilization" - surely you can't be referring to the super-useful Civilization II advisors...

    1. Indeed I am. Has anyone ever benefited from these dudes, who often contradict one another?

  6. Head's up. The 3rd image is 404.