The Free Ones is the latest title from Farsky Interactive, a first-person adventure platformer that focuses on momentum, based around the use of a grappling hook to aid mobility throughout the game’s levels.
The Free Ones bases its story around Theo, a prisoner who manages to escape from the slave mines where he was held captive, using a grappling gauntlet. Once Theo has escaped, he meets Lana and a group of refugees. They eventually let Theo in on a plan to escape the island and go figure, he’s the one doing the heavy lifting.
The story for The Free Ones is ropey, to say the least. It really just serves as a reason as to why you’re going from A to B, and nothing much more. The game splits into sections, with the player returning to the refugee camp to talk with Lana, before heading off to traverse more of the world on another menial task. The game drips in more story as you traverse the levels, through radio contact with Lana. Drips is certainly the word, as they really don’t add much to the game, other than menial small talk to fill the space of running between obstacles.
The actual tasks that Theo has to complete within The Free Ones are little more than flicking switches. The challenge of the tasks it getting to them, not the actual tasks themselves. It’s a shame because you can’t help but feel that Farsky Interactive could have done something really, really interesting here. With the Grappling mechanic, they could really create some interesting tasks for the player to complete, be it time trials, having to get from one switch to another in a set time, which would allow the game to further emphasise the use of momentum to gain speed. It would be nice to see Theo having to use his grappling hook to move things, or to complete a little puzzle. Something that isn’t flicking the switch that the token yellow bird is sat above.
Mechanically, The Free Ones is clearly inspired by multiple titles. The grappling hook feels very similar to that within Dying Light but does have its own quirks. The grappling hook has 3 hooks, that get replenished when you land on an object for a second. This adds the interesting scenario of having to ensure you land or maintain one grapple shot in order to make a complete run across a set of obstacles. This simple mechanic comes into play more and more as the game progresses, leaving the player with more challenge, which is greatly appreciated.
Further, into the story, Theo is given a set of glide wings. These wings allow Theo to maintain a set height of flight for a short period of time, gliding forwards. This becomes pivotal in traversing areas and can be used with the grapple to cover large distances, as well as reach new areas. Much like the Grappling hooks, Theo has to land between uses to recharge. The wings allow for side to side movement but do not allow for any elevation change, making it notably different from a wingsuit, the likes of which you might find in Far Cry 5.
The grappling hook within The Free Ones can only be connected to wooden surfaces, which adds another element to the gameplay. Thankfully the game makes these surfaces clear and abundant. These surfaces take the form of natural and industrial elements, be it trees, fences or boxes. The game slowly introduces moving objects into the title, through moving crates and trains. These make a nice change to the standard solid objects, and add a sense of urgency to the gameplay, as you often find the objects moving in the opposite direction to Theo’s destination.
The Free Ones ads one last mechanic, which is sliding down train lines, much akin to the use of the hook in Bioshock: Infinite. Sadly, the system isn’t as smooth as that. Players are required to jump to avoid obstacles, but there is no button to reconnect to the line on the other side. Instead, the player has to aim for the rail and really just hope for the best. Once you’ve done it a few times you figure it out, but it’s a little infuriating the first time you go through it.
That’s the thing with the mechanics of The Free Ones, they feel rather odd when you first start playing. Even before any of the mechanics are introduced, you realise you can travel a great distance while jumping, so much so it feels somewhat lethargic in its control. You seem to have an age of airtime, which really takes time to get used to, and often leads to you messing up jumps you expect to fall a lot faster on. The hooks themselves can be a little infuriating also, as you’ll get your visual cue that you’re in range to land your hook, and the game completely fails to fire it as you land flat on your face in the water, and go back to your last save point. Thankfully save points are abundant, as they should be in a title such as this.
Mechanically, The Free Ones is fun when it works properly, but infuriating when it doesn’t.
Graphically, The Free Ones is a good looking title that has been the victim of some clear shortcuts. The game looks gorgeous right up until you notice the character models. They really take a lot from the game and don’t seem to have been given the same love and attention that the game world has. The game takes place at night, with a beautiful blue hue falling across all surfaces, which really helps to convey the cool night setting of the game. Sadly, the world feels lifeless. We see trains, crates, and machines working away, but there’s no real life. No wildlife, aside from the yellow bird that becomes a beacon for the refugees, and having some form of nature in the world would help to make it feel a little bit less baren. The game has some nice textures, which serves to make you wonder just why the characters look so dire. It really does make it feel as if the story was a bit of an afterthought.
The Free Ones is a short, fun experience when you look past the fragile storyline, and sometimes infuriating mechanics. The grappling hook mechanics are a fresh take on the idea, but ultimately feel underused. The Free Ones is an experience that fans of adventure platformers will likely enjoy, but it doesn’t seem to have much appeal outside of that.
The Free Ones will be available on Steam July 12.