|System: PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One|
|Dev: Ubisoft Montreal|
|Release: December 17, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol, Violence|
This is precisely the place where the “game” part of video gaming can get in the way of exploring serious topics. The Assassin's Creed series has a well-established formula that this piece of DLC needed to follow, and it makes sense in game terms to tie Adéwalé's progression to the number of slaves he has freed. On the other hand, this kind of reward structure removes humanity from the slaves the game depicts. I'm not condemning Ubisoft, which made an honest attempt to be respectful towards the people it was depicting in the game, but I think it's worth discussing whether there were better options for this DLC than tallying up a freed slave count and giving players goodies as rewards.
I'm also given pause by the fact that the only major female character in the DLC is, once again, a brothel madam. Ubisoft's willingness to explore the difficult subject of slavery underlines the fact that the Assassin's Creed series has a habit of limiting its female characters to the sex trade. Even Freedom Cry uses prostitutes as a game mechanic without questioning prostitution, an industry which has always traded heavily on trafficked and enslaved women.
One game concept that does work and contributes heavily to the uncomfortable nature of Freedom Cry is the fact that neither the player nor Adéwalé will ever be able to free all the slaves. For Adé, this is one of the main themes of the story. For the player, it plays out in the fact that “events” respawn regularly and freed plantations are eventually taken by a new owner. There's no comfortable sense of solving the problem of slavery here, more like helplessly trying to plug holes in an eternally leaking ship. I'm not sure if the respawns were made that way to purposefully underline the impossible enormity of Adé's task, but they certainly reminded me that although the slaves of Haiti eventually gained their independence, almost no other slave revolts in the Western Hemisphere were successful, and it would be more than a hundred years from the time this story takes place until slavery was fully abolished.
Despite its issues, both technical and philosophical, I'm giving Freedom Cry a “must play” rating. I think it's an important start in tackling such a difficult and tragic topic via the medium of interactive entertainment. Few companies are brave enough to even bring up topics like slavery and genocide in a real-world setting. You should play it, and you should feel uncomfortable, angry, and sad while playing it. Adéwalé may not have been a real person, but this is our history, and the reality of slavery was even more brutal than the game depicts. Freedom Cry may stumble, but it opens up some important discussions that we should be having as gamers and human beings.
Date: January 6, 2014