Liberated (opens in new tab) is a neo-noir action-adventure set in a world where the government has started to act like Big Brother. The setting is inspired by surveillance technologies that are being used in the world right now, and the game merges sidescrolling action with the structure of a digital comic book to tell its story.
Of course, not everyone is particularly happy with living in a surveillance state, and a group of rebels who call themselves the Liberated have risen up in objection to the use of technology controlling the population. This group of freedom fighters might sound like the protagonists, but the group has radicalised, and will go to bloody lengths to get what they want.
Liberated explores both sides of the conflict through four characters, each with their own sense of justice. The story has echoes of Watchmen in that there are no heroes, only flawed people who will aggressively fight for what they believe in. The art style is stark, punchy and moves seamlessly between the 2D comic story panels and the 3D action sequences. From playing the demo, you can just feel the love for the comic genre in every panel of the game.
"To be bold, what we're hoping to achieve with Liberated is a create the comic book 2.0," Atomic Wolf's communication manager Konrad Wałkuski says. "I would even say Liberated is sort of our proof of concept or something that we want to call the playable graphic novel. Our goal is to make up for that loss of physicality with interactivity, animation and sound to create an immersive experience that you can only do digitally. But still keeping the charm and the coolness of the traditional paper comics the art form itself."
After playing Liberated's free demo, I can certainly vouch for its coolness. Each chapter begins with the opening of a comic book, you click through the animated panels and then enter into a side-scrolling action scene. Atomic Wolf says that these sequences will be a mix of stealth, platforming and puzzles.
The gunfights in particular leave a lasting impression. As you unleash a torrent of shots, bullets zip across the panel and land with a satisfying comic book 'AARGH!' when you hit an enemy. Everything is in deep shades of black and grey with flashes of white and when you get hit by an enemy the edges of the comic book slowly become splattered in crimson blood.
"We wanted to create a simulation of reading a comic in the digital space," Wałkuski says. "And in terms of that, there is a lot of detail that actually comes into play. One is how your eyes would normally move across the comic book pages, like how you see it as a whole first, and then use zoom in on each panel, taking your time with each individual image and then creating context from the surrounding panels. There isn't a loading screen, there is no nothing forcing you to move forward, the reader sets the pace and we wanted to recreate that."
To emulate this, Liberated lets you click through panels at your own leisurely pace. During action sequences your can stand still to recover health, which gives you time to stop and appreciate the environment you're in. Wałkuski tells me that it's vital to get this sense of pacing right to do the comic book form justice.
"Whether an action scene plays out fast, or it plays out in slow motion, the flow of time depends entirely on you," he says. "It's dependant on how fast you read and how long you linger on each individual panel. So the importance of letting you do that was a crucial part of designing the comics part of the game itself. Then during the video game sections of the game, that dynamic changes."
It's cool to see that Atomic Wolf hasn't only been inspired by the art style of comic books, but the entire medium as a whole. The team have thought about the intricacies of how a reader interacts with the pages of a comic and have cleverly brought them into the game.
If you missed the demo, Liberated (opens in new tab) is due out sometime later this year so you won't have to wait too long to play it.