STAFF REVIEW of Liberated: Enhanced Edition (Xbox One)

Friday, May 20, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Liberated: Enhanced Edition Box art If you’re a fan of gritty graphic novels and action games, Liberated: Enhanced Edition is now available for Xbox, bringing some fantastic hand drawn visuals with a story told as if you're flipping through a comic book. As the story unfolds (see what I did there?) you’ll enjoy the stylized aesthetic, then get thrown into levels where you’ll be running, sneaking and shooting your way out of bad situations, but mostly shooting as there’s no real reason to sneak and hide.

While you may have played Liberated on PC when it originally released back in 2020, this new release is the Enhanced Edition. So what exactly is new you ask? It has “enhancements in gameplay and content”, whatever that means, full voice overs for English and two new epilogue chapters, “For the Homeland” and “Glory to the Heroes”. I’d question how much was really added as an overall package from its original release, but alas, it’s new to console players, so here we are.

A comic book with a gritty noir setting, Liberated is set in a dystopian future where the government wants complete control of its citizens, violating their human rights and privacy wherever possible. If you’ve seen that Black Mirror episode about having a social score, it’s along those lines where every citizen is ranked on a variety of factors, and if they fall below a certain score they're put under the microscope of the government. The ‘Liberated’ is a group that aims to shed light on this practice, exposing what’s going on for it's people and the world to see.

Would you want your every moved to be tracked and everything you said being heard? Does this sound not all that too far distant in the future given the world we live in today? Spread across four Chapters, separated a four different comics, the story unfolds from different viewpoints. I’ll admit, the story initially intrigued me, as even though it’s got a very conspiracy vibe to it, it’s already mirroring some things we see in our real world today, so it’s really not all that farfetched.

There's large story sections where the comic book panels tend to drag on quite a bit, flipping page to page as the narrative unfolds and is slightly animated, but the characters started to wear on me after a while and felt very stereotypical. The two post story epilogues help flesh out the ending a bit more, as I wouldn’t have been satisfied with the core game’s conclusion, but the first epilogue is simply a visual novel with no gameplay while the second is more stealth focused which really isn’t how you played the rest of the game previously.

When you aren’t moving from one comic panel to the next during the narrative portions, gameplay happens across the larger panels as it zooms in and you focus in that single pane, kind of like Comix Zone for the Genesis but not as fourth wall breaking. The main gameplay portions have you running from the left side of the screen to the right, either avoiding enemies by hiding behind walls, or running and gunning your way through anyone that stands in your way.

Because Liberated is dark and gritty it appears it’s always night time, so you can only tell an enemy is coming off screen by the luminescence from their flashlights, almost acting like their cone of vision. Essentially, if you can see their flashlight, they’ll be able to see you once you’re in range. This means you need to either hide behind cover and wait for them to pass, which would take you an excruciating amount of time to do, or simply shoot everyone and aim for quick headshots.

It feels like the game wants you to employ and use stealth when possible, but the walking paths of enemies are so lengthy and slow that there’s no real reason to. Your guns have infinite ammo, you just need to reload when your clip is empty is all. The problem with these hiding spots is that while most happen around corners and objects, that’s not always the case. You’re only able to hide when you get the button prompt above your head, so you better hope that the spot that you need to duck into right away is an actual spot to prime yourself for a stealth silent kill.

Running and gunning is basically the way to go, as you aim with your Right Stick and want to ideally aim for headshots to conserve ammo. That’s about it for gameplay and there’s really only two types of enemies, those that patrol with their flashlights and those that are waiting for you behind a wall, easily noticeable once you know what to look for after the first ambush. Because every enemy appears from off screen out of your vision, you can’t really run as you’ll end up right into their flashlight and they’ll kill you before you even pull your pistol out. This forces you to slowly make your way across the comic pane at a slog, exasperated by the limited enemy types.

The only other change to the gameplay flow is the odd QTE (Quicktime Event) where you need to quickly hit the corresponding button on screen to perform an action. These are usually included to add some sort of ‘gameplay’ to action sequences where you don’t normally have control of what’s happening on screen, but it’s used quite poorly here. For example, instead of using a QTE button prompt to rush into an area after jumping over a car hood and one button per enemy kill, instead you press a QTE button four or five times to simply slide over the car hood, then the action plays out itself. Or using QTE’s to change lanes during a chase, it just felt unnecessary every time it occurred.

There’s a few puzzles in the game as well, nothing that will stump you or require a walkthrough, usually having you connect all the wires or something similar. I appreciate that there was an effort to mix up the gameplay a bit, and it make sense narratively, but it really slowed down the pacing to a grinding halt.

Combat is basic as it gets, as you can see your laser pointer from your gun, so simply try to aim for heads and rapid fire the trigger and you’ll be fine. There’s not much challenge at all aside from a few elevator rides where you’ll need to kill enemies on both sides of you, forcing you to get the first couple shots in quickly or a lucky headshot or two if you don’t want to restart these sections. There’s a few drones that will attack you in some sections as well, but one good placed shot will destroy these also. While functional, I simply found the core gameplay of slowly walking and shooting tedious, as it doesn’t change at all from its opening moments to the rolling credits.

While the gameplay failed to excite me, the noir setting and comic book style captured my attention. I quite enjoyed the black and white approach, almost as if it came from the 50’s era, yet is set in an almost cyberpunk dystopian backdrop. The black and white hand drawings are done exceptionally well within the comic book portions as the narrative plays out from page to page. The thick black markers and details have a great visual style that works with the setting and tone and being able to slightly move the camera on each panel gives it a feel like you’re actually reading a comic book.

While I applaud that voice acting is included for every line from each character, something you don’t see often in smaller games like these, the voice acting itself is something left to be desired. Voices don’t feel like they match the characters you see on screen in the comic, and where there should be emotion there’s usually quite a flat execution overall. The music is fitting for the backdrop, though unmemorable and I didn’t feel compelled to have it playing in the background as I sat down to write this like I do with other games that have an entrancing soundtrack.

I applaud the concept, as having an interactive comic book is a cool touch and not something we see often these days. The gameplay itself is mediocre at best and I would have been just as pleased if it was a visual novel overall that I could simply watch being played through, as the gameplay didn’t evolve or change by the time the credits rolled after three or four hours. An interesting narrative with a compelling aesthetic unfortunately held back by its tedious gameplay.

** Liberated: Enhanced Edition was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.3 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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