Sawbuck Gamer

Freedom Of Spell

Best Worst Game

Freedom Of Spell is a mess, but it’s an earnest mess.

By Matt Kodner • August 21, 2013

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap game ($10 or less).

Ten years ago, a independent-minded and shoddily crafted drama was released to little fanfare and flopped hard after just two weeks. That movie was The Room, the ‘00s’ entry in the race for Worst Movie Ever. Beyond its incomprehensible story and bizarre dialogue, the movie is loved for its genuine attempts at drama that end up coming across like a comedy. If there is any justice in this world, Freedom Of Spell—a dinky fantasy game unlike anything I’ve ever seen—will attain a comparable cult following.

You’re fed a boilerplate story of swords and magic through a title screen, but once the first poorly photoshopped character zooms into view, it’s clear that there is something special going on. Moving through the hyper-realistic landscapes (they’re photographs) feels like zooming through Google Street View but with poorly animated knights begging to have their legs chopped off by your blade. (Death by de-legging is how every enemy dies.) Your spell-slinging barely works, so much of the game is spent wildly flinging your mouse about to simulate sword strikes. That a wizard would so often resort to his blade is an irony lost on Freedom Of Spell. It’s just so genuine, with its typos and faulty combat feeling blissfully pure. There is not a speck of irony here, just a slapdash game. Ten years on, people still turn out for midnight screenings of the similarly slapped together The Room because it comes across as authentic—bad but authentic. Freedom Of Spell deserves to find its own loving audience.

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37 Responses to “Best Worst Game”

  1. Merve says:

    Oh God, this sword fighting mechanic doesn’t even enter so-bad-it’s-good territory; it’s practically unusable. For a game to be so-bad-it’s-good, it actually has to be playable.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

       I really love how, in the tutorial, the “END TUTORIAL” button is right at the end of where it tells you to swing your sword.

      “Swing from here to here.” “Do I click at the same time? I don’t underst-“TUTORIAL OVER!

      *hits refresh, has to sit through another fucking ad because game isn’t automatically reloaded*

      *gets through “tutorial” that teaches nothing, dies on first enemy*

      Fuck you, game!

      • greenspanDan says:

        well, not that you’d want to do this or anything, but dudes you fight remain dead after you’re “revived”.  in fact, dudes seem to remain wounded after you die, too.  I died several times to a dude only to walk up to him and one-shot him on my next trip through.

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          I will neither acknowledge nor fight any further dudes in this game, dead or near death.

      • hubrisofsatan says:

        I played this game with a touchpad with my non-dominant hand while feeding a baby and found it easy. 

    • SamPlays says:

      Be forewarned about any cult following that is drawn to this heaping pile. This game is more along the lines of so-bad-we-want-it-to-be-good-so-we-can-say-we-were-there-at-the-beginning-like-aging-hipsters-but-no-its-really-just-an-awful-game-and-should-be-ignored-completely.

      • Matt Kodner says:

        Maybe because I had a few beers in me, but the first time I played it, I was howling at how bad it was. I played again stone sober to get screenshots, and ended up feeling the same way.

        • SamPlays says:

          So what you’re really saying is there are no substantive differences in your mental faculties regardless of whether you’re sober or inebriated.

    • Burger_Bob says:

       QWOP would disagree. It’s the unplayability that makes it fun.

  2. Effigy_Power says:

    My hands! Take them, take them! They are forever mangled by this.

  3. boardgameguy says:

    This is so bad. Find Solomon (ok, found him!) We can’t talk here, we must go to the cave (but why?). While clicking randomly, I accidentally opened a new game. I had no desire to return.

    What’s stranger still is that some people who commented at Newgrounds seemed to like it.

    • SamPlays says:

      Goddamn, how far did you get? My playthrough was pretty much identical to @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus. In other words, short and completely awful. Sorry, Matt, but there’s no future for Freedom of Hell… I mean Spell… I mean Shit. 

      • boardgameguy says:

        I must have killed closed to ten guys by just spazzing out with the sword back and forth. I had just figured out how to effectively use magic too and decided I was in it for the long hall. Turns out…nope.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       Well, when you’re stuck in a cubicle and really bored, I suppose you’ll go for anything to relieve the tedium.

      In theory, this is almost a good game.  I was playing with a touchpad, which *should* have made the somatic gestures easier to pull off, but I still could never pull off a single sword stroke.  Fix the interface and this becomes a charming  title worth playing; I can appreciate the low-budget charm of the photoshop-heads-atop-paper-cut-animated-bodies.

  4. greenspanDan says:

    I like how Solomon tells you about his shop and promises to sell you stuff later on, then you win the game three minutes later by killing the king.

  5. The_Misanthrope says:

    I like the idea of so-bad-its-good cult games.  Mind you, it’s a little bit trickier because of the interactive nature of games; It’s harder to distance yourself when you are actively immersed.  it probably works best with a group of friends so you can take turns whenever one player gets too frustrated.

    I’m trying to think of good candidates for this kind of treatment.  It can be slightly broken/unplayable, as long as it is still amusing.  There will likely be some lackluster design, whether in graphics or sound.  Or maybe it has some surreal/insane story element to it.

    When I think of cult games, my mind goes to that early era of CD-ROM games.  All of a sudden game studios had the space to put full-motion video in their games–in a small window, of course, so you couldn’t see just how low-resolution it was–but they didn’t quite have the budget to afford anyone but community theater players (or more likely, people from about the office) or more than a few sets.  It was a strange time in PC games:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUcHw4SOJ78

    • ItsTheShadsy says:

      I absolutely love those type of games; I wish I had more opportunities to comment about them here!

      As far as good cult classic candidates go, there’s obviously Night Trap. But the strongest one in my mind is Noctropolis, a Batman-esque adventure game from the mid-90s with live-action actors. It’s incredibly ambitious and visually striking, but it’s a massive failure solely on a creative level. The main character is a borderline sociopath who harasses and insults every person he meets, the acting is terrible, and the puzzles make no sense and barely contribute to the already messy narrative. And then there’s the overbearing misogyny, with such great bits as the female serial rapist villain (yes really) and a completely contextless striptease from the female lead. It is a colossal, enrapturing trainwreck that gets worse as it goes on.

      What makes Noctropolis fascinating is that, technically and artistically, it is a very robust and well-designed game. The developers clearly had a lot of skill and a nice budget. But they wasted all of it on a total misfire of a game that is made nearly unplayable entirely by the wrong-headed writing and acting. Just an absolutely terrific mess.

      • OldeFortran77 says:

        My personal favorite is “Two Worlds”, a game that couldn’t afford voice actors so they used the developers with predictable results. It also has frame rate issues, underwhelming graphics, balky horses, and curious encounters that sometimes made me wonder if the enemy orcs weren’t actually the more reasonable characters in the game.
        Also, I gradually came to decide that the hero is a psycho.
        And not to mention that you are frequently searching for “The Taint”.

    • Boonehams says:

      In Japan, there’s a whole genre of intentionally bad games called kuso-ge (“crappy game”) and a culture has sprung up around it (“kuso bunka”).  There’s some of that here in the U.S., like people who do Lets Plays of Superman 64 or Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing.  But no game from the West quite approaches the level of insanity found in Japanese kuso-ge like the Cho Aniki series or this bizarre little gem that I was recently introduced to:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBmDpEx5Dbc

    • Touchdown_Spenser says:

       I suppose it doesn’t really count because the developer is clearly being ironic, but QWOP’s mechanics are definitely so-bad-they’re-good. I can’t count how many times I’ve played that game just for a giggle.

    • Merve says:

      The first so-bad-it’s-good game that comes to mind is Alpha Protocol, with its hilariously exploitable mechanics and nonsensical difficulty spikes. I mean, this is a game where you can injure an enemies to within an inch of their lives with bullets and then knock them out with a punch, and you’ll still be able to complete the mission “non-lethally.” But Alpha Protocol has a whole bunch of genuinely good elements too, like its snappy dialogue and its emphasis on player choice, so I don’t think it fully fits in the so-bad-it’s-good category.

      The other game that comes to mind is a terrible dating sim called Don’t Die Dateless, Dummy! I was introduced to it via a charity gaming marathon done by the folks at Revision 3 Games. Here’s a video of their playthrough. I don’t want to spoil it. Let’s just say it’s…special. (I die laughing every time I watch it.)

  6. greenspanDan says:

    this game has one of my favorite tropes:  you’re standing there talking to a guy who says “meet me at this other place right now” and you go straight there and he’s standing there waiting for you.  why didn’t you guys go together?  how did he beat you there?  how he get past all those bad guys?

    I wonder if there’s a tvtropes page for that.

  7. DrZaloski says:

    Goddammit Gameological, not only did I learn this game existed because of you, I actually played it. The things you make me do.

  8. Tom Jackson says:

    I think if the writing in this game was as hilariously misguided as The Room it would gather a cult following but it’s way too earnest and passable. Heck if you put some decent gameplay behind it the plot could pass for any mobile RPG.

  9. Ike1 says:

    So this is like a video game version of Incorrect Music, then?

    Most of the choices for the Sawbuck Gamer column tend to be pretty experimental, post-modern, or far-out in some way. Perhaps that’s because it’s easier to find something to say about them. How about a few excellent but normal games? Are there any addictive new space shooter Flash games near the level of the old NES Guardian Legend or something like that? I know it’s probably harder to write a column about a “normal” game, but, pleeeease?

  10. robthom says:

    The combat looks like south park.