Review: Liberté – Not Yet Ready To Cause A Revolution

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I started getting interested in Liberté. It was while watching the gameplay trailer, but ironically, it doesn’t have much to do with the gameplay. At one point, one of the producers of developer Superstatic, who’s giving some commentary over the gameplay, states: “[…] Liberté also leans heavily towards elements of body horror and cosmic horror inspired by movies from David Cronenberg or Alex Garland.” Of course, this is only one aspect of the game. The title, published by Anshar Publishing, is a deck-building action roguelite that delivers a reimagining of the French revolution with elements of body and cosmic horror mixed into it. All of this sounded intriguing to me, but it’s that one quote that really sold me on Liberté.

You wake up not remembering who you are or what’s happening around you, but a seemingly familiar face tells you that your name is Rene, and that there’s a revolution happening in France with four major factions fighting for what they believe is right. There’s the crown, the church, the rebels, and the tribe, all of whom believe in different things. And in a way, you present the fifth faction in that process. You see, Rene is not just another person, in fact, he’s not a human at all.

You might not look great, but at least you’re getting reincarnated

You’re a vessel for Lady Bliss, a mysterious being from another dimension, who uses the chaos of a disjointed France to take over. This is obviously where the cosmic and body horror elements come into play. When they said Liberté is inspired by Alex Garland’s work, I assume they really just means it’s inspired by Annihilation (2018), as Lady Bliss and her followers look like they might have come into contact with the Shimmer before appearing in France. So, you represent Lady Bliss in this conflict, but she asks you to gain the trust of the other factions and make alliances for her. And so, at the beginning of every level, you get presented with an argument between two of the factions and get to side with one of them, which will lead to progress in your alliance with them. This takes the form of what essentially boils down to a battle pass, although entirely free, of course.

This is where I see one of the problems with Liberté. The story has a plethora of interesting elements and is probably the most intriguing part of this game. But I do wonder if pairing that with all of these roguelite progression systems really makes sense. Why not create a more straightforward RPG out of this? I realize I’m asking for an entirely different kind of game here, but let me explain why I believe the current delivery of the story doesn’t work.

Lady Bliss my beloved

Liberté claims to have 40 hours of story dialogue (most of which isn’t voice acted as of now, by the way). I’m inclined to believe that’s true, but after only a couple of hours, I had already encountered every argument between two factions and alongside that every level. On top of that, I had already completed the roguelite cycle multiple times by then, and had encountered the victory screen more than once. And yet I had barely seen anything of the story. So to experience the story properly, the part of the game that I’m most interested in, I have to replay the same thing over and over again. And while that is how every roguelite works, those usually have enough to keep you engaged on every new run, whereas Liberté’s runs feel way too similar each time to care to continue to do them. The moral arguments between the factions might be interesting at first, but when you encounter the same choice for the fifth time you don’t care which one you actually agree with anymore, you just choose the one that’s either most likely to give you some story progression, or the one where the enemies are less annoying to deal with.

And that’s not even mentioning the fact that most of these supposedly ‘morally ambiguous’ arguments are honestly pretty straightforward. One of them, for example, basically comes down to one side arguing that they want to overthrow a corrupt politician, because you know, he’s a corrupt politician, and the other side doesn’t want to overthrow him because they think he’s a cool guy, I guess. Obviously, I’m being a bit reductive here, but that’s honestly what a decent number of these arguments feel like.

Hmm, I wonder who I should side with?

It’s also worth mentioning that Liberté offers a story mode, which makes the game easier and strips away a lot of the progression elements. You still have to do the same grind if you want to see the story-related dialogue scenes though, so it only helps to make it easier and quicker to get through every run. And since, like I said, there sadly isn’t that much replay value with the core roguelite cycle, you will probably want to keep the progression systems active, since those will at least keep the individual runs a little more interesting.

So, what are those progression systems I’ve been talking about? Well, Liberté is a deck-building game, but don’t think it’s a card game like Slay the Spire (2017) or anything like that. The actual gameplay of Liberté is in the style of a top-down action game. Think more of something like Hades (2018), for example. So where does the deck-building come in? You start your run by choosing a deck filled with cards which represent different abilities, both active and passive ones. You start your run by drawing a couple, and then draw a couple more every time you level up. But each card has a cost, so you have to decide which cards you want to get rid of to get mana, and which cards you want to activate. Slowly a loadout for your run forms. It’s a fun system that allows you some control over what kind of abilities you want since you can build your own deck, but it doesn’t guarantee that you will get those exact abilities in every run, at least not right away.

It’s much simpler than proper card games I have to say

Upon completing runs, there’s a chance you will get blueprints for new cards, but before you can put them into your deck, you need to craft them out of materials that you gather during your runs. You will also gather more blueprints and materials by progressing on the battle passes for each faction that I mentioned earlier. This card system is what adds replay value to Liberté, so the fact that the story mode removes this function feels a little awkward.

I compared the gameplay to Hades (2018) before, but as you can probably imagine, it’s not as good as the combat in Hades (2018). It’s still solid and fun can absolutely be had, but I have to say it’s not particularly deep. There are only a small handful of enemies for every faction, and I think Liberté would really benefit from adding a couple more. But outside of that, I have a much bigger problem with the combat. There are so many elements to the combat that are just kind of annoying to deal with. There is the armor that almost every enemy has that protects them from being staggered. There are many abilities that enemies have that are frustrating, like throwing a smoke bomb and becoming invincible for a couple of seconds, or disabling your dodge for a moment. There are curses, like a swarm that follows you after killing enemies, or lasers that rotate around them. I understand that all of these elements are supposed to make the game more difficult, but to be completely honest, I’m not sure they do, I think they just make it more annoying.

I can always appreciate a good sacrificial altar

The environments are sadly, also a bit lacking. They’re not bad. In fact, I think most of them look quite nice given the limited budget that I imagine this team had. But there aren’t enough. Every run you will run through the exact same couple of environments. Often, you will even run through the same environment multiple times in a run. This again goes back to Liberté, sadly not offering much replay value right now. But I should point out the beautiful illustrations the game has to offer. All the characters have their own profile when they talk, and all of them look stunning.

I feel bad being so mean to Liberté, because it’s a game that I really want to like. I believe the fundamentals of combat work, the card system is interesting and has potential, and the story is super intriguing. But in its current state, I can’t in good faith call it a good game. Maybe with more time, as the team at Superstatic adds more content, expands on some of their ideas, and polishes what’s already there a bit more, it could one day be a good, or even great, game. But right now, I don’t think it’s quite ready to launch as a full game.

Nairon played Liberté on PC with a review key. Liberté is also available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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1 year ago

Comparing a game developed by Supergiant Games (20+ devs with 15+ years of experience) to a game developed by Superstatic (2 devs with 3+ years of experience) is for me a bit inappropriate.