Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom logo

In the dim, distant future things are not good for the ex-inhabitants of Midwinter isle. Just as they thought their trubs were over the Saharan Empire comes along and grabs them by the archipelagos.

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-fights with the enemy take place. When something important happens - you talk to someone, for instance, or you destroy an enemy unit - you leave the landscape and are shown an appropriate graphic. On these screens, actions and decisions are made by clicking on icons.

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.


Character building

The default agent, Gavin Steel, probably won't be to your liking (though his mum is proud of him). Fortunately you have the chance to build your own agent before beginning a campaign. The characteristics of your agent will affect the way you tackle each mission and also how you interact with other people, so that someone who is very aggressive is more likely to successfully gain information by threatening rather than cajoling, for instance.

Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom Firstly you have to select which bits of face you want on your dude/dudette. Being non-exist, non-racist and altogether cool, the game allows you to have female or coloured agents too. This bit is great fun in itself, because you can come up with some really freaky combinations.
Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom Then you set your character's psychology. Each of his/her eight traits - Charm, Sex appeal, Bribery, Threats, Reason, Pleading, Authority and Deception - are rated from "poor" to "excellent", and altering one will change another: if Pleading is set at Excellent, then Authority will automatically be lowered, and so on.
Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom Finally, you alter your agent's physique. Here there are five different traits (Reflexes, Sturdiness, Endurance, Recuperation and Stamina) and they are interdependent in much the same way as the psychological ones, so altering one of them directly affects another. Fold lightly and simply cook for 20 minutes ét voila! One agent.
Trust me - I know what I'm doing

Most of the people who agree to help you are reliable. Unfortunately, though, sometimes you stumble upon a traitor who betrays you to the secret police.

Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom That nice gentleman who was so helpful on the phone only turned out to be a blummin' spy and now you are being whisked off by the secret police to a dark, dank cell somewhere in the deepest bowels of Croydon.
Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom Once inside you have four choices: to brine/attack/seduce the guard, or sit around and do nothing. Each day a different guard is on duty and they all have their own weaknesses. If you know the guard's really an old sweetie (and he/she is the opposite sex to you) you could try to seduce him/her. If you want to play safe you can do nothing and wait until a more familiar guard arrives the next day, but time is a-wasting meanwhile. Let's go for the attack...
Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom It worked! A chop to the gut and you are out. If it had all gone horribly wrong you would have been overpowered, beaten up (increasing your injuries) and thrown back in the cell. But justice prevailed and now you are free!
Left at the lights
Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom

If you had to travel everywhere in real time you would soon be attacking the enemy with a Zimmer frame rather than a Luger. Fortunately there is a system called Autoroute which lets you set your destination on the main map and travel there automatically.
Plot your route on the map (avoiding the enemy wherever possible) and hit the Quicktime key. Instead of travelling through the 3D environment your progress is charted by the little man who is zooming around the map. If you stray too close to something of interest (like a tank firing shells at your head) you are automatically returned to the 3D world to deal with it.
Autoroute can also be used in the 3D landscape, though of course you only travel at normal speed in that case. If you are feeling particularly confrontational (and you have got a lot of time) you can set a course for the heart of the enemy camps, switch on Autoroute and while away the hours toddling through the landscape. Whenever you come near the enemy, switch off Autoroute and start blasting.

Autoroute is quite intelligent. It allows you to travel through water if you are on foot (because you can swim through it) but in a vehicles you will be stopped at the water's edge.

Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom logo Amiga Joker Hit

Die weiße Pracht aus "Midwinter" ist futsch - wortwörtlich Schnee von gestern. Wohin sich die Menschheit nach dem großen Tauwetter verkrümelt hat, und warum dieses Game seinen Vorgänger locker in den Schatten stellt, erfahrt Ihr in unserem Exklusiv-Test!

Wenn die Wintermäntel ohnehin ausgedient haben, kann man sich ja gleich in wärmere Gefilde verziehen - so oder ähnlich haben wohl die Midwinter-Leute gedacht, als sie ihren großen Umzug vor die Westküste Afrikas organisierten. Ihre neue Heimat besteht aus 41 Inseln, die größte davon, Agora, ist gleichzeitig auch der Regierungssitz. Hier schaltet und waltet die Atlantic Federation, eine höchst friedliebende und demokratisch gesinnte Regierung.

Also alles Friede, Freude, Palmenstrände? Natürlich nicht, dafür sorgt schon das Saharan Empire, ein bitterböser, kriegslüsterner und von einem größenwahnsinnigen Diktator beherrschter Staat auf dem benachbarten Festland. Der würde sich nun furchtbar gern all die unschuldigen kleinen Inselchen einverleiben und hat auch schon die ersten Schritte in dieser Richtung unternommen (Schergen losgeschickt, Spione angeworben, etc.). Deshalb sucht die Atlantic Federation händeringend nach einem fähigen Helden, besser gesagt, sie hat ihn bereits gefunden - den Käufer dieses Spiels natürlich.

Bevor man nun für die gerechte Sache in die Schlacht(en) zieht, darf man sich zunächst mal selbst zusammenstellen. Dafür gibt's so eine Art Charakter-Baukasten, mit dem sich nicht nur Äußerlichkeiten, wie Geschlecht, Nasenform und Körpergewicht, sondern auch die inneren Werte (Kraft, Ausdauer, usw.) festlegen lassen. Das ist keineswegs reine Beschäftigungstherapie, sondern beeinflußt den weiteren Spielverlauf ganz entscheidend: So wie einer ist, so reagieren auch die Leute auf ihn! Und da hier jede Menge falscher Freunde. Doppelagenten und dergleichen Subjekte mehr herumlaufen, spielen Dinge wie Überzeugungskraft und ein gewinnendes Äußeres eine wichtige Rolle. Zudem verändern sich diese Werte wie bei einem Rollenspiel, je nachdem, was man schon alles zustande gebracht hat.

Unser frischgebackener Retortenheld, hat jetzt verschiedene Möglichkeiten, um später einmal in die Annalen der Atlantic Federation einzugehen. Pro bedrohter Insel gibt's eine Mission, also 40 insgesamt (Agora zählt nicht mit, weil hier - noch - alles in Butter ist). Diese Missionen können wahlweise Stück für Stück oder in einer einzigen, riesigen "Kampagne" erledigt werden. Ganz Vorsichtige dürfen natürlich erst mal ein bißchen üben.

Damit der Held sich nicht so einsam fühlt (er hat ja diesmal keine unmittelbaren Mitstreiter), haben ihm die Programmierer viele, viele Inselbewohner spendiert - ungefähr 1.500 Stück sollen es sein. Und das sind nicht einfach irgendwelche anonymen Pixel in der Landschaft, nein, es sind Individuen mit unterschiedlichen Vorlieben und Abneigungen, gutem oder schlechtem Charakter, einem richtigen Eigenleben halt. Ähnliches trifft auch für die diversen Inseln zu: jede einzelne davon hat ihre geographischen Besonderheiten, jede steckt voller Details, wie Städte, Straßen, Gebirge, Palmenhaine, usw. Kurz und gut, jede ist eine kleine Welt für sich, die es zu erkunden gilt.

Und wie erkundet man nun so eine kleine Inselwelt? Zu Fuß, beispielsweise; oder mit dem Zug; einem Jeep, Laster, Panzer, Bus, Hovercraft, Hubschrauber, Doppeldecker, Zeppelin, U-Boot, Schnellboot - zwanzig verschiedene Fortbewegungsarten sind möglich! Genau genommen sogar einundzwanzig, denn klickt man auf das "Speedup"-Icon, wird man direkt zum Zielort "gebeamt". Dabei wird zwar Zeit gespart, aber nicht an Realismus: befindet sich auf der (automatisch gewählten) Route ein böser Gegner, muß man kurz zwischenlanden, um sich mit dem Herrn zu unterhalten. Weil man zu solchen Gesprächen besser nie mit leeren Händen kommt, stehen dem Helden 16 verschiedene Waffen zur Verfügung - von der Harpune über diverse Ballermänner bis zur Dynamitstange.

Es gäbe noch viel mehr über dieses Spiel zu erzählen, beispielsweise läßt sich die Übersichtskarte in sechs Stufen zoomen, es gibt wieder die bereits vom Vorgänger bekannten Screen-Armaturen (Kompaß, Radar, Uhr, Energie- und Höheanzeigen, etc.) und Dutzende, ach was, Millionen Einstellmöglichkeiten und Optionen. Auch optisch ist das Game allererste Sahne: Die Vektorgrafik ist doppelt so schnell wie früher, dabei aber ausgesprochen detailfreudig - egal, ob man nun gerade unter Wasser oder in der Luft unterwegs ist, und ob es Tag oder Nacht ist. bei der Handhabung hat sich ebenfalls einiges getan, die Steuerung (Maus/Joystick/Keyboard) reagiert jetzt deutlich sensibler, und die Anordnung der Icons ist ein Muster an Übersichtlichkeit.

Auf dem gleichen hohe Niveau befindet sich auch der Sound - musikalisch und effektmäßig. Der langer Rede kurzer Sinn: Microprose hat mit diesem technisch perfekten Mix aus Strategie, Action und Adventure wahrhaftig ein Jahrhundertgame abgeliefert! (mm)



Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom logo

The long, long (long) awaited sequel to Mike Singleton's Midwinter is finally with us. It's bigger than the first game, more ambitious and irons out a number of the rough edges - but is it really any more fun to play?

The thing about Mike Singleton games - Mike being the game behind 8-bit classics like Lords Of Midnight and Doomdark'Revenge, as well as War In Middle Earth and of course, the first Midwinter - is that people either love 'em or hate 'em. People who love them tend to be real strategy wargame buffs - Lords Of Midnight worked brilliantly as a (ahem) 'strategy experience', totally ignoring any action elements, and probably remains his best game.

The problem strategy buffs find with things like Midwinter, with its glossy presentation, sexy front end and inclusion of action sequences, is that you tend to get bogged down in the action stuff - which isn't all that brilliant anyway as action sequence go - and the strategy suffers.

Action fans would have a different complaint. They want to drive all these vehicles, meet all these people and so on - attracted by the big name and sheer polish of the game - only to find there was this unfathomable wargame thing hidden must below the surface.

Which leaves the Midwinter series aimed at... who? Well, a group of real Renaissance games players, I guess, people who like lots of types of game and aren't scared of something that mixes a few together. People like a lot of folk in the AMIGA POWER office in fact, which makes it rather worrying that nobody here's getting very excited at all about the 'new improved' Midwinter, Flames Of Freedom. In actual fact, we all find it rather dull. But I'm getting ahead of myself.


A game that's packed with an annoying number of inconsistencies and bits that don't make sense

First impressions count for a lot, and you can't fault Flames for presentation. The whole package feels nine tenths like some massive, high profile Hollywood blockbuster movie, one tenth like a heavyweight science fiction novel, and just generally well put together and meant - like many MicroProse games, this is something it's simply nice to own.

Little things like re-occurring symbols - the twin dolphins of the Covert Operations Bureau, say - cropping up in both packaging and program help instill a real sense of faith in the game itself, a long time before you've properly played it. If so many - they're credited, movie-like, at the end of the book - have put so much effort into making this look its best, the game itself just has to be a corker, doesn't it?

And if you manage to ignore a number of problems - which I'll get to in due course - you have to admit that yes, this is a rather impressive game. It's large scale and ambitious for sure. Like the best sequels, it takes the concept of the first game, (hopefully) puts right the things that were wrong with it, then just starts adding. And then, on top of all that, it adds some more.

The playing area, number of characters depicted and range of transport and events is colossal - this is a game that promises to take months and months to complete, though thankfully it can be played in a much more actiony sort of a way too. It manages to be very friendly and entertaining looking indeed when you first pick it up - simply messing about with the character generation screens, for instance, (which allow you to chance the characteristics - yes! - facial features of the character you play) has given me some of the best fun I've had on a computer in ages.


Fans of Midwinter will be in their element

Unfortunately though, it is, like its predecessor - a game stuck between two stools. The presentation, use of soap opera-style personalities and so on, all lead you to expect a really accessible game, one that will open up the strategy genre to, if you will, the masses.

However, its size and slowness work against it. There's simply too much running around, too much traveling, too much ground to cover and too much waiting around between screens for something to happen to please the layman. The game may have improved on the first one by 200 percent in this area, but it still isn't quick enough on its feet for real mass appeal. For most of us, it's one of those tragic games that sounds like it'll be a lot more fun to play than it actually is.

It's also a game that's packed with what is, for me, an annoying number of inconsistencies, illogicalities, and bits that downright don't make sense - things that help destroy the carefully built-up feeling of reality. Here's a short list of some of the more obvious ones so you can see what I mean:

No 1) I'll accept that it's a Good Thing that your character can now commandeer any available vehicles he (or she) comes into contact with (you couldn't in the first game) but it would have been much neater if this had been done with a bit more internal logic. I can just about credit that a man on foot could leap onto a moving jeep or even tank if he was nippy/lucky, but a low flying Zeppelin? Or a helicopter? I think not (And then once he's miraculously got on board we're meant to assume... what? That the crew of this tank/helicopter/Zeppelin/ship just bail out and run away? It's not explained by the game, that's for sure).

No 2) Though the date is given as 2138, in look, fashion and general 'feel' the technology level seems to be that of the present day. There are tanks and jeeps and trucks and buses and speedboats, fine, but then we get to the flying machines and things get weird. Helicopters, yes - but biplanes and Zeps?

Why's flying technology whizzed back to 1914, while everything else remains the same? And where's this bloody 'flying submarine' come from? It 'can travel across both land and sea, underwater, and through the air' apparently and seems about 300 years out of sunch with the rest of the game.

No 3) Even in the middle of a fire-fight, with hundreds of tanks and planes shooting at you it's possible to chose the 'rest' option - at which point you'll curl up in a little ball on the floor, and, erm, go to sleep. Now I would have thought this was most unwise - and anyway, with all that noise going on you're likely to get little kip - but apparently not. Most of the time no-one will capture you or kill you, and you'll be able to get up refreshed in five hours time (or whatever) and continue your mission.

No 4) Most missions would be total nonsense in the real world. Here's an example: on the island of Panao you've got to recruit the daughter of the police chief (he dotes on her, and if she's with you will do his best to bring all the police over to your side), the wife of the military commandant (he hates her nagging so will bring all the army with him to prevent it) and - suddenly! - you've got a revolution. Unlikely, isn't it?


This is a game that promises to take months and months to complete

Now it may seem churlish to complain about such things, but the game's all over the place as far as these small logical details are concerned. I can see the perfectly valid game-play reasons why some of these are there - particularly the getting into vehicles bit - but I'm not convinced there wouldn't have been a number of neater, more logical ways to cope with them all.

So what are we left with? Well, what to me is ultimately a sprawling, boring game, full of good things that don't add up to a satisfying whole. To others, it's no doubt a brilliantly challenging strategy, action game, packed with lots to do and see - but these must be people with an incredible degree of patience.

Fans of Midwinter will be in their element - they're getting more of the same, with a lot of the really tedious stuff taken out - but while it's undeniably big and epic, it also promises a lot more (certainly in terms of fun) that it delivers.

It's a game that would have been twice as good if there'd been fewer vehicles, a smaller number of islands, tasks that made a bit more sense and (especially) some extra wit used to spice things up along the way (Monkey Island has spoiled me - I can't interact with characters as boring as these any more).

I can't help thinking that either a) the same basic plot and structure might have worked better without the 3D action element at all, but with a oost to the character interaction side, adventure game-style or b) that the 3D would work better on a smaller, tighter game - something along the lines of Activision's Hunter, perhaps its nearest rival. As it is, it's big and has its moments, but will, I fear, appear to many people as something too predictable, sprawling and dull.


I GET AROUND
All over the place in fact - on land, water, and in the air. And here are just some of the many ways in which I do it.
Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom: Tank Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom: Balloon Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom: Boat Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom: Plane
SUGAR AND SPICE AND ALL THINGS NICE
That's what little girls are made of. Or at least, they are in nursery rhymes - in Flames Of Freedom they're built up out of character generation screens like this one (as are all the boy characters, of course). Maelstrom have incorporated the character generating utility they used to create the game's faces into the actual gameplay itself, allowing players to come up with really individual characters to control.
Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom First off, chose the face. From top down you get to cycle through a selection of face shapes, noses, mouths, eyes, hairstyles and (otpional extras) beards, moustaches or glasses to build your ideal agent. You can come up with really bizarre combinations - put a beard on a girlie, say, or lipstick on a really butch bloke - or go for a fairly standard good looking character as we've got here.
Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom Next up you get to fix your character's physical abilities. For each one you bump up a notch - reflexes, say, or endurance, another will go down a peg or two. Starting out you're best off going for a fairly average sort of character, I've found, who's just okay at everything.
Neatly, by the way, you'll notice that my new face - picked on the last screen - has appeared in smaller form on the generic female body. Time for a quick press of the exit icon...
Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom ...and it's psychology time. Everyone I've ever seen play the game has insisted on excellent sex appeal for their character - unfortunatley doing this tends to knock reason down a notch or two - and indeed, playing to a few great strengths can pay off here. If you are very sexy, say, or very good at threates, using the one skill time and time again can help you get you out of most sticky situations.
Anyway, there we have our character - now isn't it about time we sent her off on a mission somewhere?
JUST WHAT IT ALL MEANS
The icon strip across the top of the screen gives you all sorts of contorls, which happily tend to work in a fairly efficient way. Here's how...
Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom
  1. This scanner doobrie gives you an overall impression of what's happening around you. Various colours of dots stand for you, people on the landscape, buildings, baddie craft and so on - they're so small it can be hard to read in practice though.
  2. Next up, your life gauge showing how much energy you've got left and below it (fairly obviously I guess) the time.
  3. This here's a map showing you (the little arrow, pointing the direction you're going) and the islands nearby.
  4. And now it gets complicated. The compass at the top is fairly obvious, but below it is your speedo (a minus number means you're going backwards) and underneath that your mouse-controlled directional arrow.
  5. This little lot explains your height off the ground, rate of climb and so on - most useful when you're in something that flies or swimming/sub driving underwater.
  6. While last but not least, this bit shows your weapons - it could be anything from a pistol (if you're on foot) to up to 90 (90!) or so air-to-air missiles!
  7. And finally I suppose I'd better describe what's going on here. Well, this is the fire-fight option. I'm currently in the rather snazzy flying sub, being attacked by two enemy choppers, and a biplane - who're all, rather conveniently, lining up in front at me waiting to get shot.

Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom logo CU Amiga Screenstar

Midwinter arrived when greenhouse paranoia was at its height. It centred around a post-global warming colony's fight for survival in a snow-covered world. Two years on and the greenhouse effect is taking a backseat to beaches and exhaust fumes, and this sequel has a radically different plot.

Flames Of Freedom is technically awesome. It features 22 different forms of transport, over 1000 individual characters, dozens of weapons and the equivalent of 1,000,000 square miles of terrain, both above and below sea level.

The island of Midwinter now lies beneath the ocean, swallowed up by rising sea levels. The population escaped to Agora, the only free island in an archipelago of 41. But now the Saharan Empire, rulers of Africa and the archipelago, have Agora well and truly in their sights, and the only way they can be stopped is by freeing the slave islands between Agora and Africa.

To liberate an island a number of conditions must be met. Some islands can be freed by enlisting the helps of local resistance leaders, while other require assassinations, sabotage and attacks on enemy forces which will inspire the people to overthrow their oppressive rulers.

The game starts in Agora's Covert Operations Bureau, or COBRA for short. With a macho-names organisation such this you'd expect your character to be suitably hard-bitten and tough. In a way, they can. A novel character designer allows you to determine the look, strength and personality of your one man, or woman, or army. The character's eyes, nose, hair, mouth and shape of their face can be altered and beards, moustaches and glasses added. It's nice playing a nerdy character once in a while, a feature which our deputy editor, Dan, particularly appreciated.

A character's physical attributes are made from sturdiness, stamina, recuperation, reflexes and endurance. These are rated as poor, average, good and excellent and affect their ability to withstand damage and their overall strength in the field.

Once your superhuman or super-cabbage has been created they need to be given a mission. Between one and seven tasks have to be completed for an island to be freed.

Each island contains a number of people who must be contacted if a mission is to succeed. People fall into three distinct categories: traitors, resistance, and Joe Public. Most resistance people are willing to help you, although some need convinving. This is where psychology comes into play. People can be threatened, bribed, reasoned with, charmed, conned, pleaded to, or you can use your sex appeal.

Despite the threat icon, there is no fight option, so you can't give people a kicking to make them help you. Although your character is more effective in some categories, the person you're trying to enlist will only respond to certain action, and if you manage to annoy them they won't help you for the rest of the game. This is a major downer, because if you put a foot wrong you could mess up the whole mission.

Occasionally people will get you to do their dirty work before they'll help you. Most of the time this requires rescuing someone or blowing something up, although I did come across a lady who wanted her husband shot because he was seeing another woman.

The secret police are a constant threat. They use informants and traitors rather than bother you directly. Some of the people you meet seem eager to help you, until the police come round the corner, arrest you, beat you up and dump you in some roach-infested jail. There's no way of telling whether a person is on your side or not, but it pays to be wary of very willing people.

Once in jail it's time to apply a little brain power. The psychology icons come up and it's a matter of begging, bribing, conning or seducing your way out. Once free, I always go back to the berk who sold me out and stick a couple of ounces of hot lead in their brain.

The discerning mercenary can't be seen without a set of wheels, wings or propellers, luckily Flames Of Freedom comes with 22 modes of transport. There are plenty of all the expected vehicles including jeeps, trucks and speed boats, although these are all a little tame when ranked against the more aggressive tanks, submarines, attack hovercraft and minisubs.

There's even a range of vehicles for environmentalists. Hot air balloons and zeppelins work with minimum power, but aren't very good ina face off with a machine gun. More outlandish transports include flying subs (which any Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea fans will recognise), crawlers which are effective on land and sea, there's also a really posy rocket pack which can be used to perform Rocketeer impressions.

Despite the enormous amount of vehicles and weapons, the controls are surprisingly simple. The function keys are used to call up status windows, maps and other information screens. Some vehicles are controlled by a combination of mouse and cursor keys, but even then it isn't very complicated.

Flames Of Freedom is destined to be a classic. It has size, variety and ultra-slick presentation. If you liked Midwinter you cannot afford to miss this.


PROTECT AND SURVIVE

Look out Arnie, I'm armed and I'm hard. Flames Of Freedom offers a weapons selection that makes the Ministry Of Defence's Third World Arms Export Almanac look positively primitive.
Knives are great for ripping the jugular out of sadistic generals and pinko traitors. Pistols are for wimps as real men carry assault rifles, Uzi's and light machine guns, these make mincemeat out of trucks, jeeps, people and almost anything else not hidden behind four inches of tempered steel. A rocket launcher will improve the image of the weediest looking commando, and ruin the image of most armoured vehicles. Meanwhile grenades and grenade launchers are guaranteed to obliterate almost anything. Limpet mines are great for the showy mercenary, stick one of these on something, run like hell then turn round and watch the pyrotechnics as your target is blown off the planet - leaving behind a satisfyingly large crater.

ONE DICTATOR, TWO DICTATOR...

The Saharan Empire is your typical oligarchy. A few elitists run the show, which relies heavily on slave power. This is nothing new. Africa has had its fair share on the dictators since the colonial powers moved out. Uganda found Idi Amin as its president. Idi's hobbies included expelling all non-Ugandans from the country and seizing their assets, wearing kilts, and, according to rumour, eating his enemies. As a form of execution he had prisoners hit their fellow inmates on the head with sledgehammers.

build your own agent
Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom: Character Generator
The character generator is one of Flame of Freedom's most unique features. Although the physical appearance makes no difference in the game, designing your own character is still very cool.