Liberated Review: Black and White Stealth, Comic Book Style

Liberated is a striking stealth-action comic book come to life, even if it is a little bit derivative.

Cyberpunk, that nebulous way of describing humanity’s entwinement and dark fascination with technology, is all the rage these days. Liberated, a new indie sneaking its way onto the Switch and Steam, offers a unique take on the genre – it’s just a shame that its voice is lost in the dark.

Liberated puts players in the black cap of Barry Edwards, a man living a double life. By day he’s a (mostly) law-abiding citizen and IT professional, but by night, he’s decrypting data, hacking into domains that he shouldn’t be, and stashing stacks of currency in his apartment.

Liberated Review: Black and White Stealth, Comic Book Style

If this all sounds familiar, there’s no getting around it – the game undoubtedly takes heavy inspiration from the Wachowski’s first Matrix movie’s Neo when setting up Edwards, while eventually taking cues from the likes of V for Vendetta.

In the very near-future world of Liberated, citizens are monitored and awarded Credits through a seemingly impregnable algorithm. Something as simple as jaywalking can see the heavy-handed police knocking on the door, and the clamor for credits has driven the masses to constant fear and censorship, while others have been pushed into rebellion.

It’s Urban Dystopia 101, and it feels like that in trying to channel so many influences at once, it loses its own voice in the crowd, aside from some timely reminders that democracy and autocracy are just fractions away from each other.

Killing In The Frame Of

Where Liberated sets itself apart from the rank and file is in its presentation. Framed as a comic book series, it filters its sci-fi trappings via Frank Miller’s Sin City, all black and white and dripping with noir style. It feels like a continuation of earlier iOS and Android darling Framed, only with less color and more gameplay.

Each frame is wonderfully drawn, and subtitles are impressively legible even on the Switch. Dialogue options can see players skip over entire panels, while action sequences play out within the confines of the page, too.

For the most part, Liberated is a 2D stealth title. Barry can hide in shadows and initiate stealth kills; he can also wield a firearm capable of flashy but brutal headshots. We say "for the most part," because Liberated also offers frantic running sections and hacking minigames that range from simple puzzles to even simpler button mashing.

In between these sequences, quick-time events dictate much of the bigger set pieces. Car chases and action sequences devolve into timed button presses, and while it helps the story move at a decent pace, it feels a little too prevalent for our liking.

The actual stealth fundamentals start at a basic level, but they are masterfully ramped up over the course of the campaign. It’s not long until Barry is taking cover behind moving vehicles, or bobbing and weaving to avoid detection from drones, or swimming through underwater sections.

Liberated’s commitment to its aesthetic is absolute, with each of its chapters referred to as issues. Each comes with its own gorgeous cover art, and can be replayed to return to parts of the story you may have missed.

Ink Blot

That’s not to say there aren’t blemishes on its pages. The game’s use of black, white, and shades of grey means that the hallways and openings that Barry can take cover in are tougher to discern than you might think, leaving you standing in the open as an enemy turns around. There’s also occasional slowdown when flipping to the next in-game page.

There’s also a degree of ludonarrative dissonance in Barry’s actions. Early in the game, he has to race home in an effort to arrive before the police, with the boys in blue looking to accost him for, among other minor infractions, a lack of a valid train ticket. In his efforts to get there quickly, he has no qualms with choking out a guard. It feels a little ham-fisted in the early stages, albeit as essentially a tutorial.

For comic book fans looking to enjoy Liberated as a piece of literature, the game offers a story-only mode that strips away gameplay sequences. You’d have to be a true purist to play it in this fashion, especially given how much of the game’s interactive elements (outside of its core stealth action) feel as basic as pressing a button to select a dialogue option.

Liberated Review — The Bottom Line

Pros:

  • Unique visual identity
  • Fun 2D stealth
  • Multiple paths

Cons:

  • Full of cyberpunk and tech-noir genre tropes
  • Leans a little heavily on QTEs

Liberated leans a little too heavily on genre tropes for its story to feel anything other than derivative, but it more than makes up for it with a striking visual style that touches every aspect of gameplay.

Its reliance on quick-time events aside, it’s a fun, stealthy page-turner that’ll feel like nirvana for Alan Moore and Frank Miller fans. If you enjoyed the likes of Limbo or Inside, you’ll find a lot to love with Liberated.

[Note: A copy of Liberated was provided by Walkabout Games for the purpose of this review.]

Our Rating
7
Liberated is a striking stealth-action comic book come to life, even if it is a little bit derivative.
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
Published May. 30th 2020

New Cache - article_comments_article_66395
Related
More Liberated Content