Prior to Christmas, I downloaded the Freeblade game application to my mobile device. In short, I wanted something to play with on my travels around the UK that was categorically nothing to do with my work and hopefully something to also help me switch off; proverbially speaking.
Freeblade was released late November 2015. In a nutshell, it features the player as the pilot of an Imperial Knight supported by the Dark Angels space marine chapter. It enables the player to face off against threats like Orks and their machines through a series of missions, whilst adding in a mixture of resource management, upgrades, and general levelling up.
I'm going to start with the very obvious strong point of the game: the graphics. The graphics are absolutely amazing. I've played so many games over the years, ranging from BBC micro computer games like Repton 3 (I'm showing my age here), through to modern massive multi-player online roleplaying games such as Guild Wars 2.
Freeblade is up there with the best of them in terms of the graphics.
The Imperial Knight is beautifully animated, and the player can customise the colours of the Knight right from the start. That said, some of the colours needs to be unlocked - much like some of the Knight's other abilities - throughout the game.
The setting is similarly beautifully rendered and animated. The Orks are green, their machines are mean and feature a gritty, grim-darkness, neorealism that strongly evokes the absolute feeling of the far flung future in which war is the only way of life. Surrounding them are plentiful buildings and semi-rural scenes that come directly from built up hive cities, towns and their surroundings. I won't spoil the game itself, but suffice to say that all of the enemies are just as well rendered as the Orks and their machines.
Really, I cannot overstate how impressive the graphics and animations are in this game. They're simply beautiful with not much to rival it anywhere. On top of this, its all on mobile devices - not a desktop or a laptop, which makes this doubly impressive to my mind.
In terms of gameplay, I really enjoyed the upgrades that were available. Each and every bit of armour has a separate and distinct upgrade possibility (like the head, the calves, etc.) in terms of its statistics that can influence the game. The weapons can be swapped in and out for different things -- thermal cannons, battle cannons and so forth.
To control the weapons, there are three fundamental taps to do on the screen. Holding down on a specific location will fire the minor hull-mounted weapon at that location until it needs to cool down -- typically after several seconds. This is good for taking out infantry enemies. Holding down two fingers and releasing activates the main weapon. This is generally good for taking out heavily armoured tanks, or ground based infantry that just have to die in a very large blast. Then there is the missile launcher that is activated by a double tap. It launches heaps of missiles at everything on the screen that is nearby. In other words, its excellent at clearing a space.
Although it takes a little getting used to, the game paces the introduction of these three weapon types over the early chapters of the game nicely, and it becomes easy enough to control.
The full game is an excellent shoot-em-up style arcade experience brought right up to date. I can't complain about that!
Look, I'm going to be honest here. The adverts in the game are a pain. At first, they're not such an issue. After several sessions, they really interrupt the game flow in a very peculiar and painful way though. For example, one gets that chance to watch an advert video if one wants to obtain some upgrades for the upcoming mission. These are usually power boosters, loot improvement, or similar.
It is worse than that though. Almost every upgrade revolves around adverts ultimately. If the player does not want to watch the advert, then there's always the option to pay for extra resources. Clearly, paying for micro-transactions is nothing new in this day and age. Yet it amounts to the usual meme of paying to win.
If, like me, you do not wish to expend any money on the game, then you need to expect a harder, tougher, more time consuming grind to get the requisite materials to upgrade your Knight and beat the levels. That involves watching adverts. Many of them must be viewed to make good progress if I'm honest.
Speaking of levels, there are some really tough ones in the game as well. Early on, for instance, I personally got a bit stuck just before the missile launcher rack became available to me. I needed to spend about an entire session repeating previous levels to grind out upgrade materials, crafting better equipment and generally levelling up to be competitive.
As a lesser complaint, the boosters have to be used as soon as they're obtained. There doesn't appear to be a way of storing them for later!
Ultimately, the grind coupled with my desire to not spend a single penny or cent on the game meant that my progress was halted. I'm not a bad player, I'm not the best either: but my lack of progress was incredibly frustrating. When it just became a bit much to watch yet another advert on the bus or train, I was done with the game. The adverts are so completely integrated with the game that it is a huge detriment to it, in my opinion. Hence an experience that started off as a 4 or 5 star game for me rapidly deteriorated in to a 1 star rating game.
How could the game be improved? I think I would only play it again if it were available as a premium game. That means that I'm willing to pay for it so long as I don't have to endure stupid integrated adverts and that the micro transactions are completely removed. That latter would entail having to re-balance the game though. Hence I'm not expecting it to happen any time soon. It would, however, make the game truly awesome, rather than the current pay to win.
It is such a pity really. I had very high hopes and expectations for this game. Its downfall and ruination came from the monetization and commercial nature of it. I will not be playing it again personally and I've deleted it from my devices. These are just my personal opinions though.
[Image Credit: Official Freeblade Trailer]