Freedom Force: Superhero Role-Playing Done Right

For the latest of his weekly WRPG columns Rowan Kaiser wrote a retrospective on Irrational's superhero title Freedom Force, apparently inspired by the recent The Avengers movie. Here's a snippet:
The pacing and use of skills situate Freedom Force as an important game in the evolution of RPG combat. Seven years later, Dragon Age: Origins utilized a very similar combat system four party members under various degrees of player control, with the ability to give direct orders. They also have similar speeds: fast enough to build tension, but slow enough to give you room to understand and deal with new situations. Freedom Force is a bit slower, while the party members in Dragon Age are slightly more autonomous, but they're still largely similar.

This isn't an accident: the manner of skill-based fighting both games use is well-served by this setup. With small parties, you can use a variety of different characters and skill-sets, but there aren't so many that it becomes difficult to control. The skills themselves are spaced out by time more than anything, which fits perfectly with the superhero theme and the logical consistencies between superhero and traditional roleplaying narratives. It just feels right to play a real-time RPG with this kind of engine.

That's not the only thing that Freedom Force gets right, though. One of its most impressive feats is its use of three dimensional, polygonal technology to create a superhero playground. Most every object within the game world can be interacted with: you can pick up rocks, trees, and cars. You can demolish every building in your way though sometimes you have to protect buildings from attack as well. Putting a ranged character on a rooftop for a fight may be wise, but if one of your super-strong characters throws a car into the building, there may be trouble.