Friday, July 27, 2012

FreeJack Revamped - Impressions

FreeJack is a multiplayer online racing game, focused on the discipline and sport of Parkour and Free Running (respectively). It features cartoon cell-shaded visuals with a hip-hop and electronica soundtrack.

To sum FreeJack up in one sentence: its Mario Kart meets Jet Set Radio meets Mirror’s Edge. The game was previously released by GamerKraft in 2010. Back then: it received several updates including new courses, missions and outfits, but these new additions weren’t enough to keep players interested. A full release of the game was announced in 2011, including a brand new graffiti race mode, but unfortunately the initial release date was pushed back to fall, and then an undetermined date. After two solid years, FreeJack is finally ready to lace up its running shoes and step back up to the starting line with a revamped version that includes many game changers.

My experience of the game was during it's closed beta phase, and many previous features from the original FreeJack have been disabled during that time, so what I got to try out here was very limited.

For those that played the previous version of FreeJack, you’ll be in for a bit of disappointment, as they’ve completely wiped all player accounts for closed beta, so everyone has to start off fresh and new. It’s understandable, but what I’m worried about is if GamerKraft is planning to give previous users some kind of compensation, especially for those that spent money on the game beforehand. I sure hope so, since I spent a few bucks on the game myself.

So when logging in, you have choice between four different main characters: Jin, Nadia, GoodSpeed and Tina. Each character specializes in a single trait: Jin has good agility for turning around corners and sliding on bars, Nadia has specializes in ‘technique’ for climbing over obstacles and nailed perfect vaults,  Goodspeed has lots of strength/toughness for recovering from attacks, and Tina focuses on speed. While speed was the most important stat in previous FreeJack, Tinas and Momos (a special character that can be unlocked from completing missions) were the most overpowered characters, but now the stat system has been revamped so speed isn’t the only important stat anymore. It seems that players will be better off focusing on strength and technique rather than speed, but whatever the case hopefully this will mean that players will come up with more diverse stat builds rather than just stacking speed for everything.

The new item mode has been changed up drastically. In item races: Players can no longer use SP gained from vaults and air tricks to perform dashing. Instead, that SP is used to gain items for attacking enemy players and from defending against attacks. Players can also grab power up bottles on the race track to gain items instantly. FreeJack’s item race mode took a huge page from Mario kart’s play book: Players can drop landmines, throw garbage cans on players heads, send out crazy penguins to freeze runners in place, and use many other crazy items to win.

Item mode races are still unpredictable, but now there’s a lot more strategy involved with meter management and targeting attacks towards racers that are ahead of your instead of racers that are in first place.
As much as I like the new changes, some of the more memorable features from item mode races have been removed, such as each character having their own individual item attacks, like Jin’s special attack: Summoning a gang of bikers to run over opponents, and Tina’s special attack of calling in CIA agents to shoot down her opponents.

Also to mention: In the previous version: Players were able to press left or right on the keyboard before vaulting an obstacle to put different ‘flairs’ on each vault. Pulling off different kinds of vaults would fill either one of both items gauges, but now item gauges have been removed, there doesn’t seem to be any point in performing different kinds of vaults anymore. (apparently, players can use special flairs to fill up their item gauges faster than with normal flairs)

Speed mode has also made some changes: Unlike item mode, speed mode allows you to use SP to dash, and the extra speed from SP dashing has been kicked up a huge notch.  The speed that players gain from SP dashing almost completely eliminates the need to drift-dash all over the place.

Speaking of which: The biggest game changer with FreeJack was elimination of constant drift-dashing, a technique where players can chain drifts and after-dashes together in order to pick up speed (In games like Mario Kart DS, this would be known as ‘snaking’.) Some players were rather upset, while others were happy about the change.

Personally: I'm OK with the change, because drift-dashing is still possible in this revamped version of FreeJack, but it will only increase your time by a few milliseconds. This makes Drift-dashing more of a situational technique rather than a necessary one, so if drift dashing is balanced well enough so it's not the end-all-be-all way to play, I'm totally fine with it.

Previously in both speed & item races, players would use strike attacks to leap across great distances to save time, but others complained that strike jumps were unfair since you could still use them to attack and knock down other players. Room masters now have the option to play with or without strike attacks enabled, but personally this makes speed races boring. I honestly think that players should just suck it up and learn to watch their backs (which is much easier to do in this version since now there are markers that show if a player is closing in on you or not.) With that, I’ll definitely be playing speed races with strike attacks turned on.

Other than that: There weren’t any other special new features. You can still customize your room as a personalized lobby for players to hang out in, try out new outfits in Momo’s shop, and Lap time mode has been changed where players only have to do one lap instead of two.
To end things off: The new mechanics for FreeJack make the game feel more engaging, unpredictable and exciting, despite some of the changes being a bit questionable. 


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