When I played and reviewed the previous Strategic Mind game to surface on the Xbox, Strategic Mind: The Pacific, I wasn’t massively enamoured of it. But never ones to let a dissenting voice sway their release schedule, the next game in the series has limped onto the big black Microsoft box, from developers Starni Games and the Klabater publishing team.
The big question we have to ask ourselves though is whether this new instalment, Strategic Mind: Fight for Freedom, is any better than the last one, or whether it is a case of new theatre of war, same old gameplay?
Looking at the story of the game first and there are two perspectives possible in Fight for Freedom, depending on who you choose to side with at the start of the game. You have the choice of being the British, with the action taking place at the beginning of the war, with Hitler rolling into Poland, or you can choose to be the Americans; the action in their campaign takes place towards the end of the war.
Whichever you choose, there aren’t many surprises to be honest, as we all know how the story of the Second World War ends, but at least with the American campaign, there is a little bit of a “What if…?” scenario at the end, with imagined battles between the USA and the USSR. Apart from these flights of fancy, the action is rooted in historical fact, and so the story is pretty set in stone.
Now, the presentation and, frankly, there is no kind way to say this, but the way that the voice overs play out in Strategic Mind: Fight for Freedom is practically criminal. I haven’t heard such dodgy voice overs since the original Resident Evil on the PlayStation, with the famous “You, the master of unlocking” and “Hope this isn’t… Chris’ blood!” lines sounding like a production from the Royal Shakespeare Company compared to what is on offer here. The British generals sound like they are from Hungary, the Americans possibly from Mars, and the lip syncing for the cut scenes is even worse.
The sound is bad, there is no doubt, but when we come to the way the game looks, it manages to get worse. Sometimes, the action is viewed from a distant perspective, on a hexagon covered battlefield, and here the action isn’t too bad. However, every now and then, the action will zoom in on your unit as it performs whatever action you have selected, and then things get worse. For one thing, why is my tank the size of a town? And why does the camera dive into the landscape and refuse to come out until another unit has been selected using the shortcuts at the bottom of the screen? Other than that, the graphics are serviceable at best, yet not a patch on Command & Conquer from twenty five years ago, mind.
Yes, the presentation of Fight for Freedom is woeful, but we can overlook this if the action is engrossing, right? Well, hold on to that thought, because there are issues here too. First of all is the complete lack of any kind of indication about how to perform basic actions. In most games, you select a unit with A, then choose what to do with said unit, be it moving or attacking. You’d then press A again to confirm, yes? Well, not here. I sat there for a good five minutes, pressing every button on my Xbox controller until I finally stumbled across the correct combination of buttons to make things happen. So you don’t have to worry, here is my top tip – select the unit with A, as you’d expect, then use the Y button to make the unit perform its action.
That works initially, but then the second mission for the British is even worse, as you need to “Deploy a headquarters unit”, by which it means an aircraft carrier. I cannot for the life of me figure out which is the “deploy” button, and so the British campaign very much stalled. Luckily the American one is a bit more straightforward. Not much, just a bit.
Coming from a PC background, as Strategic Mind: Fight for Freedom clearly does, you’d hope that the developers would have done a decent job of translating a keyboard and mouse onto a controller map, wouldn’t you? Well, relax, because they haven’t. Moving the units around with the left stick is not too bad, because the hexagons are quite large, but trying to get your units to actually attack the enemy is an exercise in frustration, as if you aren’t on exactly the right pixel, the unit will just move up to the enemy and get shot to pieces. Trying to get an aircraft to shoot another one? Good luck!
Now, you may feel that I have a bit of a downer on Fight for Freedom, and that is for a very good reason – it is a massive disappointment. I love a strategy game, having played many, from the simple such as Advance Wars, to all the Command & Conquers and so on and so forth. I love the idea of trying to recreate a World War 2 setting, and I really like the idea of reimagining some of the battles from that era. I just wish that someone with some idea about how to make a game work on the Xbox had taken this on.
I’m sure that on PC, Strategic Mind: Fight for Freedom could well be a fine game, but it just doesn’t work on the Xbox, and that is a big problem. I honestly thought it would be impossible to make a poorer game than Strategic Mind: The Pacific, but unfortunately it seems that it is possible.
Do yourself a favour, and find something else to play other than Strategic Mind: Fight for Freedom. It is truly bad, and truly, truly disappointing.
Strategic Mind: Fight for Freedom is on the Xbox Store