The snow and ice have melted, the sun is out and the corrupt Saharan Empire is about to invade your home island. Not only that but your ice cream's dripping onto your shorts and you have got sunburn.
Flames of Freedom takes place many years after John Stark and his team saved the island of Midwinter from, er, some other evil people. Midwinter island itself has sunk beneath the flood caused by the thaw, and its inhabitants now live on the island of Verde, which has been renamed Agora. Got it so far?
The thing is, there are 41 other islands to the east of Agora which are controlled by the aforementioned Saharan Empire, who also control the whole of Africa. This empire has now set its sights on Agora: in approximately six month's time, an armada will set sail from Africa and head towards Agora, via the intervening islands, to raid it.
Understandably though, Agora's inhabitants are not too pleased about this, so they decide to liberate the slave islands in the hope that their enlightened citizens will repel the Saharans. Well they decide to liberate the islands, but it is you who actually has to do it.
There are two ways to play Flames of Freedom, depending on how involved you want to get. If you want a short game you can play Raid and tackle a single island. In this case, once you win, the game is over and you can go on to try any of the other islands. The only snag is you cannot save halfway through, so the island must be completed in one go.
The longer game is the Campaign. This gives you approximately six month's game time to liberate as many islands as possible before the Armada sets sail. Your choice of islands is very important; when the Armada is travelling to Agora, it will try to avoid any liberated island wherever possible, as passing over such an island will seriously damage its military strength. But the longer it takes to reach Agora the weaker it becomes, so if you can force it to take a roundabout route you can significantly reduce its strength. Strength is important when you consider that eventually you will have to single-handedly take on over 60 vehicles and win.
In either game your first step is to choose the island you next want to liberate. They each have a skull rating from one to five, five skulls indicating the hardest islands and one the easiest. If you want to see what effect liberating the island will have on the route the Armada takes, an option on the Training screen will show you just that. This simulated route is totally realistic, so liberating those island in the real game will result in the Armada taking exactly the same route. Naturally, the key islands, one which must be taken to slow the Armada, have a skull rating of five.
Once you have chosen an island, you are informed of its history, your objectives and the reasons behind them. These objectives fall into one of four categories: to destroy a building or squadron; to enlist an inhabitant of the islands; to assassinate a Saharan stationed on the island; or to seize Saharan documents. You may be given as many as seven of these objectives to fulfil on a single island, depending on its skull rating.
Next you are given all the information you need to get started. This includes the name of a person who you can initially contact on the island and his/her location, the weapon and vehicle (if any) you start with and any intelligence that may have been gathered so far on the island, such as the position of any enemy squadrons.
Strength is important when you consider that you have to win against over 60 vehicles
The game starts proper with your arrival at the island. Roughly half of your time is spent in a 3D landscape, with the other half spent making decisions and being given information in a series of static screens. The 3D view is similar to that of Midwinter. Everything on the island - vehicles, buildings, missiles and people - is represented by a 3D object, and it is here that all your fire-
When you meet someone, they may offer you various forms of help (Of course, you may have to persuade them first by threatening, cajoling and so on, or even carrying out certain jobs for them). This help may be to supply you with another weapon or vehicle, to give you the location of another contact, to offer to sabotage the building, to patch you up with First Aid, to shelter you from the enemy or to give you other important knowledge.
People are the key to achieving your objectives; only through them will you be able to find your targets. Sometimes you need to contact ten or more people, each one giving you the location of the next, before you find the person or building you are looking for.
With luck, you eventually succeed in liberating the island. You are then showered with gifts by the grateful islanders and given an extremely handy secret weapon for use on subsequent missions. Then it is onto the next island - at least, until the armada sets sail.
Help! I'm being impressed!
Flames of Freedom is one huge game; the amount of information you have to digest before you can play is daunting. Once you are familiar with its foibles, though, you discover a game packed with detail. The sheer size of the playing area and the amount of things to do means you will be kept busy for a long time. Strangely, though, the 3D graphics do not seem to have progressed very far from those of Midwinter. Most of the vehicles look the part and the fractal waves on the sea are impressive, but there is a lack of detail in the landscape which mars the impression of reality. The real bugbear is that everything is displayed so slowly; when one or more objects are on the screen, they all jerk about in slow bursts and look most unrealistic.
This sluggishness permeates the whole game. Every time something noteworthy happens in the 3D environment (you talk to someone, for instance) the game pauses, puts up a small graphic pertaining to your action, loads in the data, decompresses it and finally gets around to displaying whatever it is the game wanted. These pauses for disk accessing and decompressing are major design failures and almost ruin the flow of the game, sometimes lasting for five to ten seconds. A hard disk installation option would eliminate the problem at a stroke, but this is absent.
All the other non-3D screens are excellently drawn and full of detail, giving the game a polished look. Sound is limited to some fairly effective spot effects such as birds tweeting, the growl of your engine and the swishing of the sea, and a theme that runs through the non-action sections.
If you can stand the interminable disk accessing there is a huge and challenging game waiting in Flames of Freedom; one which with a few tweaks would be worthy of a Format Gold. More impatient souls are advised to think twice.