Liberated Review: A Gorgeous Dystopia That Fails to Engage

Dystopian stories have a familiar feel and visual language. If you close your eyes, you can see it right in front of you: police lights flashing blue and red over the hum of some fuchsia neon in a rain puddle. Liberated might not have the colorful aesthetic of something like Cyberpunk 2077, but the oppressive mood is there on full display. Leaning into that world, rendered in shades of grey, is one of the game’s biggest strengths. However, moving through this gorgeous game makes for a strange time, even with the superb art direction on display.

If it sounds like I handed you a DVD description of many cyber-noir movies from the last two decades, that’s not a coincidence. We are treading on thoroughly packed soil with Liberated. But, to the game’s credit, the visual style of the game is an absolute stunner. It’s a true noir tale with the different shades of dark rendered in a gorgeous ink-scale rendition of deep blues and white light sources. Rain is plentiful and falls quietly in the background, which adds to the somber feel. The comic book styling doesn’t end there, though. Each scene plays out in a panel and then transitions to the next panel through the gutters. Style is on display in cutscenes and short narrative segments, too. Speech bubbles and other narrative devices of the medium are in hefty supply as players get to control multiple members of the organization throughout the story.

Actually playing the game is another story, however. Running from pursuers feels simple enough as you high tail it out of danger for much of the adventure. But the second you get handed a gun, things slow to a crawl. Now, the player is tasked with some rather limp firefights. Headshots quickly down enemies, but lining up the shots can feel like luck sometimes as you try to aim your laser sight while taking on a hail of bullets. Stealth also provides a respite from these moments as the takedowns aren't really game-changing, but do work pretty well. Liberated uses its art direction to great ends when you're behind a pillar waiting for a guard to walk by. Flashlights pierce through the shades of grey presented by the backgrounds and offer a clear view of what your enemies can see. With that knowledge, it is easy for players to duck behind cover, wait, and take the patrol out. However, this can be a bit limiting as stealth sections can result in quick deaths if you get caught in the open walking too fast.

Lining up a shot doesn't always feel natural in Liberated either, due to the Joy-Con mapping. Using that left stick to target and shoot with the same trigger is a normal exercise on console FPS games, but being on a mobile platform has its challenges. Players should be constantly aware that pushing that button while maintaining the target can be a bit challenging. Running through the game and fighting only when necessary is how some sequences were designed. To Atomic Wolf and Linc's credit, they included a mode where you can watch the story without having to worry about the controls. The cinematic experience of watching this gorgeously rendered story unfold is enticing, but some players might want a little bit more from the playable portions of the game.

Light puzzling also exists with hacking mini-games. These short sections break up the combat and consist of pleasing collections of rotation tile puzzles and number code sequencing. Some genuine joy can spring from coming up with the correct combination as a fictional timer ticks overhead.

Quick Time Events have a pronounced presence in the game, as well. In some of the cutscenes, you have to react to developments. Branching paths are also tied to these decisions, but they more or less just add a little combat here or there. For example, choosing to run from the authorities or surrendering early in the game came with one small change for the fleeing player. They do move the story along and force players to pay attention during stealth takedowns, but the QTEs can’t help but feel like something from a bygone era.

Liberated is a beautiful-looking, stylish game where story is first and foremost. If you’re looking for a game that ultimately evokes the feeling of playing a graphic novel in the vein of V for Vendetta or Frank Miller’s other works, this is your chance. The combat system has some rough edges, but the length of the game is enough to look past some of these decisions. People who love dystopian fiction in comics will probably enjoy the story of the game a great deal, but they will have to be willing to navigate the sometimes-frustrating combat system to see the gorgeously painted tale’s conclusion.

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Rating: 3 out of 5

Liberated is now available for the Nintendo Switch. A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Disclosure: ComicBook is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.