Final Liberation: Warhammer Epic 40,000 PC Developed by Holistic Design Released in 1997
So far I have had to play 3 different variations on Space Hulk, all of which were a terrible hassle to boot up. To finally arrive at a game that was not just an actual adaptation of the tabletop war game Warhammer is famous for, but which was also available on GOG, was a big relief. I have seen enough Space Hulks the past few weeks to last me a lifetime. To be precise, this is an adaptation of Epic rather than the normal 40K ruleset, but it’s pretty darn close as far as I’m concerned.
The Green Menace
You are the Lord Commander of an operation to liberate the planet Volistad from an invasion of Orks, the brutal, cunning, and oftentimes hilarious fan-favorites of the 40K universe. In the game’s campaign you work your way through a series of linked missions and receive updates on the Ork’s movements from various characters through FMV sequences. The most prominent of these is Commissar Holt, your second-in-command and, if his peers are to be believed, the greatest living commissar of them all.
There aren’t too many interesting twists to the story, but it’s simplistic enough to keep it fun and there are several different endings to see. The game also features a library containing info on every type of troop and vehicle, allowing you to read some flavor text and enjoy the pretty art.
Story score: 7/10
But… the rules!
Final Liberation came out in the early days of the third edition of Epic and is presented as a turn-based strategy game with an isometric viewpoint. The map is cut up in many squares on which you can place a single unit each. Where the game deviates from the actual rules of the tabletop is that it uses an action points system rather than the phases we all know. Movement, shooting and assaulting all happen at once which keeps the pace up, but does have some weaknesses. I don’t like, for example, how you never know how much you can move while still remaining able to shoot.
Units come in many different forms that have varying uses. Infantry in the 40K universe is relatively weak and dies fast, but can entrench itself and overwhelm foes with their many shots. Vehicles range from tanks and walkers to simple trucks that can rush foes or pound them with explosives, but my favorite are the bombards, which ignore cover and can punch holes in enemy formations long before they even get to you. The big selling point of Final Liberation is that it allows you to casually throw titans, stompas, and other gigantic machines of war on the field that are often too expensive to play with in real-life.
Strategically there is a lot you can do and the game provides you a large area to deploy troops in. Line-of-sight is a big factor in this which is hampered by the many pieces of scenery that are scattered across each battlefield, which you can then house troops inside of. Standard infantry can also entrench themselves to form lines of defense or you can use transports to rapidly move them from one flank to the other. You also have to keep track of many different troops that all have their own statistics that complement different play-styles. Mine is to be coward and send enemies routing with ceaseless bombards and snipers from across the map.
Luck still plays a big factor in this and I must say it seems particularly biased against the player. You have a to-hit chance, but hitting is no guarantee to do damage. Especially against vehicles I found that many were ridiculously hard to destroy, requiring multiple hits from plasma, heavy, and explosive rounds, whereas at other times a single stray bullet would send them exploding, usually when they happen to belong to me. I have no idea how to interpret the statistics, but you’d think that a weapon with 90 penetration would be able to reliably blow up a truck when sometimes a weapon with 40 penetration will do. It would have been nice to have an actual tutorial, because what the game markets as one is just a pre-set skirmish battle with no explanations whatsoever.
The game features two different modes: a skirmish game where you can pick between six different factions and a campaign that has you move your army across a large map, capturing strategic points by engaging in battles and managing your armies. Each zone provides a number of resources per turn that you spend on repairing lost soldiers, buying new detachments, and filling up said detachment’s slots with new troops. Having to conform to pre-determined criteria to build armies really helps this feel more like a proper game of Warhammer, even if other rules like the movement and morale system do not.
Finally, I do have to complaint a bit about the controls. The pathfinding of units is terrible and often costs more movement points than you probably intended. The camera controls unwieldy as moving the cursor to the edge of the screen sends it flying off in that direction. Clicking on the minimap is much more reliable, but using the arrow keys would have been even nicer. It can also be annoying to move units one at a time, but moving them as a formation causes even weirder results. To the game’s credit, it does provide helpful overlays that mark how far a unit can shoot or move, and you have other useful options like making buildings transparent or letting units auto-fire at a target.
Overall, Final Liberation offers a lot of strategic depth, but the amount of luck involved in it can be an annoyance and in terms of controls it does shows its age somewhat. You get an enjoyable campaign and the occasional skirmish match can also be an absolute joy because the mechanics are just that good and fielding an army that would cost me two months of salary in a real game is always fun.
Gameplay score: 6/10
PC gaming in the 90’s had a bit of an obsession with FMV sequences and those also sneak into the Warhammer universe with this game. During the campaign you are treated to a number of short scenes featuring real actors playing the roles of marines and officers. You also have some animated scenes showcasing battlegrounds, which were actually a lot more pleasing to the eyes. As far as FMV goes it doesn’t look too bad here and the actors seem to be having a good time with it too, but from time to time the quality just takes a big dip or the sound-effects overpower the dialogue.
During gameplay you get to fight in plenty of different maps that all have their own touches. Some are flat wastelands, other the remains of bustling cities or factories. No maps look alike and that helps keep the fights from feeling stale and predictable, plus you can blow up scenery to change the layout and the wrecks of vehicles remain on the field throughout the battle. Units look decent for their time and especially when you keep in mind how many there are.
During action it would have been nice if animations were a touch faster, especially when units begin firing overwatch during the enemy turn it confuses the whole program, resulting in the camera jittering around as two turns seem to be resolved simultaneously. Even when the game doesn’t mess up like this it still feels like it takes forever as the camera wants to show you each and every single bullet one at a time.
Presentation score: 7/10
I won’t say that Final Liberation is particularly fantastic, but it has the mechanics just right enough to be a fun game. If it had some more polish to it and less technical issues I would sincerely recommend it, but this wasn’t the last turn-based strategy game made under SSI, so there is room for improvement.