Review by hangedman
Reviewed: 02/15/02 | Updated: 02/18/02
''Better red than dead?''
Ahh, Red Faction. If there's absolutely one thing I can say about it, it has a lot of guts. God help it, Red Faction tries really hard to cover all of the First Person Shooter bases, and it tries with a gigantic amount of ambition. However, in the course of the game, it seems as though some of these innovations have taken over the basic core premises of what a FPS game should be. Although literally bursting at the seams with new gameplay features and never-before seen weaponry and effects, Red Faction ultimately left me dissatisfied.
''Reckon you fellers shouldn't treat us miners bad. Reckon we'd kill ya.''
For starters, gamers like myself look forward to games on Mars with some trace of interest. I could be speaking only for myself here, but the surreal atmosphere of the Red Planet intrigues me, and few locales seem to embody sci-fi and a gritty sense of reality at the same time. I should mention that the movie ''Total Recall'' is somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me. It's cheesy, unbelievable, and shock-driven, but it seems to meet all of those ends well.
Going into things, I was expecting a Martian video-game rendition at the same level as Total Recall: cheap, but interesting. Unfortunately, Red Faction let me down.
See, the whole premise of Red Faction is that most of Mars is controlled by a company named Ultor, a mega-conglomerate that treats their resident live-in miners like dirt; poor sleeping conditions, low pay, and cruel guards meet them with every new day. What's worse, a disease has been dropping miners like flies, and the Ultor corporation sees little benefit in saving otherwise expendable tools through a viable cure. As Parker, a hopeful young miner, you are sucked into the middle of an insurrection on Mars against the Ultor corporation when one miner rises up against a guard, sparking a chain reaction of mutiny across all of Ultor's property.
Of course, all of the miners are ready to aim and fire from the get-go, as a secretive rebel leader Eos has been holding miner meetings under the guise of athletic programs in order to slip under the notice of Ultor. When the ball drops, everyone is ready to go out in a blaze of glory for the sake of Eos' ''Red Faction.'' Aside from the tag-team of Parker and Eos, Lavarr Burton-ish Hendrix decides to help with computer hacking and everything else that could technologically help you out. Hendrix and Eos are your two partners in this, both willing to lend their brain or collective brawn to help you out. So it goes.
Unfortunately, Parker feels like more of a tool than he does an important member of the Red Faction. You grow to dislike Eos and her snide disinterest for your well-being after a while, and Hendrix never seems to do anything useful outside of supplying you with glaring statements of the obvious. Sure, we're all fighting for the same goal, but does anyone really care if I get stuck in some Martian ditch with massive amounts of laser burns?
I suppose Eos has enough reason to dislike you, as Parker is the most dumb-witted and socially inept character I've ever run across. Parker has, without doubt, some of the dumbest lines ever committed to digital storage. For the entire game, it seems like Parker is stumbling around without rhyme or reason, and the only way I know where to go or what to do is if Eos or Hendrix tells me to do it. They say jump, I say something dumb.
The main problem is that although Red Faction has a lot of story, a lot of consecutive stages and parts which flow together in half-life style progression, and a lot of voice-over radio communications, none of them are particularly very good. Moreover, the story can be extremely lame, drawn out, and unfulfilling, even though there is much of it in quantity. Supposedly evil characters show up once, are killed, and never bother you or impact the story past that point. Needless to say, there's not an overwhelming level of character depth for anyone.
Again, Red Faction tries hard. It seems to have a long story which covers all the hows and whys of what you're doing, but sadly it never felt to me to be genuinely engaging. Make what you will of it; the game has a sub-par story, but there's a lot of it.
Story: 6 / 10
Cutscenes, voice-overs, and attention to detail. Unfortunately, it's not that good.
''So help us god, we're going to make this glass so cool...''
Red Faction's graphics can give the discerning gamer an impression that the developers were focusing attention on the details and shaking off the basics. Red Faction has some interesting ideas, executions, and effects, but they're hardly enough to make up for certain choice problems occurring more regularly than the eye-candy shows up.
Not to lay into Red Faction, because it does a lot of this eye candy very well. Flames are bright, dynamic, and impressive. Level design and architecture can be impressive, with massive fortresses, sterile hospitals, and futuristic jails. Certain sights in this game are truly sights to see, and certain effects are really nifty.
Take for example all of the work that had to go behind the shattering of the glass in Red Faction. Shoot a part of the glass, and you see a large hole followed by the glass pane splintering and falling out of the frame. Blow something up behind the glass, and it shoots out towards you, adding a touch of gloss and realism to the game.
Another great effect Red Faction uses at times is the Geo-Mod technology. Essentially, this allows for craters to be created in the map on the fly. If the level allows you to do so, there's nothing stopping you from digging a ditch with a grenade launcher. If a wall decides to give you some lip, it can be swiftly destroyed. That is, if it can be destroyed. Truly, the Geo-Mod technology is a marvel of graphical innovation. That is, when it works. At any rate, there's a lot to be said about shooting holes in mountains just for the sake of doing so, or making your own tunnels to see where they go.
Unfortunately, it seems as though the RF team was throwing around the Geo-Mod a little too much while the character and level designers slacked off. All in all, the number of widely available enemies for the first three hours of the game is about three. There are 3 different kinds of security guards, none of which are very interesting, and all of which hound you level after level. It gets boring, fast.
The game characters and other models are for the most part good. Although a few details take away from the game, such as putty-like faces and luminescent eyes and teeth, the skinning is detailed and sharp without being overly campy. The security guards look a little goofy in their space get-ups, but I could be overly critical about that. Ironically, there are more civilian models in Red Faction than there are enemies.
Aside from the characters which are repeated to the point of nausea, the levels come in two basic varieties: inside or outside. Inside levels seem to use the same textures, same lighting effects, same characters, and same style of mapping. Additionally, the indoor levels are often so indestructible that attempting to alleviate your boredom through renovation is often forbidden. Outside levels are more destructible, but converse to this small benefit is the fact that they are even more repetitive than inside. I think I've seen two different textures on the caverns and mountains outside, which really loses its appeal after level one.
Outside of the Geo-Mod (when it's functional), and the neat glass and flame effects, Red Faction is exceedingly boring. Break-ups in the outside-inside level progression as well as interesting levels and enemies are few and far between. In fact, there are hourlong stretches where I can recall waiting to get somewhere different from where I was, because my current location was only a minor difference from the last level like it.
It truly surprises me that for a game with so much attention to detail as far as explosions, glass, and flame go, that they would not spend nearly as much time with the other 90% of the graphics. I can shoot out glass from a security checkpoint, but I know that after I do there's going to be no more glass, and I have to go through more insipid level designs until more eye-candy. I thought so many times about giving up, and that's never a good sign.
Graphics: 4 / 10
Boring despite new graphical innovations, however secondary they may be.
''You're dead, Miner!''
How many times have I heard the same guard yell the same sedated insults at me? Many. Too many. You can only hear ''death to miners,'' ''die, miner,'' ''You're dead, miner,'' or ''Miner scum'' so many times before you're jaded to the taunts. I guess aside from the Genome-soldier malady the guards suffer graphically, they all have the same voices and inflections. Needless to say, the voices get on your nerves.
What's more, every now and then a guard will say ''Don't shoot, I'm unarmed!'' I might buy that if the guard wasn't holding an assault rifle as he says it. Seriously, is this voice sample intended to annoy me? If it was, mission accomplished.
Other than the snippets spewed forth unintelligently by the guards, the cinematic voice acting is hardly any more likable. Parker is about the most cocky and socially inept character ever created. His interactions with other characters are the most hackneyed and overacted dialogues I can remember, and other characters follow Parker's example. Consequently, the acting in the game remains true to the story: campy and unsatisfying.
Outside of any conversation in game, the sound effects are very good. Shotguns, pistols, rifles, and flamethrowers sound meaty and as realistic as can be expected, such as a metallic clicking whenever the shotgun is racked. Flamethrowers ignite things with a pleasing noise, and explosions result in crumbling noises. Glass breaks and falls to the ground, and vehicle engines resonate with a mechanical drone. Like the rest of Red Faction, this much attention to detail seems sorely misplaced when considering the horrendous acting.
The music in the game, when it shows up, is generic hard-edged techno. It's not half bad, but it's not half good either. Fortunately, the music can fit what's going on fairly well. Although it gets fast paced when entering an enemy installation, it has the tendency to be as boring as navigating the seemingly endless tunnels of Mars as well.
Red Faction has a lot to boast about on paper with the sound. There are lots of in-game conversations, stellar sound, several music tracks, and radio communications that appear frequently to let you know what your current objective is. Unfortunately for Red Faction's listeners, anything outside of the sound effects ranges from average to downright bad. In an action-oriented FPS, great sound is a driving factor, and fortunately Volition did enough right here to somewhat cancel out the other numerous shortcomings that appear less frequently.
Audio: 7 / 10
Great and interesting sound effects, but nothing else rises to that level.
''If I stop now, I can do something else.''
Red Faction's gameplay is the worst offender of the ''misplaced great thing'' in stark contrast to everything else that's completely wrong with it. Unfortunately, Red Faction doesn't seem to know its strengths or weaknesses, and consequently it felt to me like the game was wasting my time.
For starters, anyone familiar with First Person Shooters after Quake II should be familiar with Red Faction. RF uses a typical mouse to shoot, keyboard to move combination. Gameplay is carried out in a linear manner: infiltrating a level, completing the objectives, and going out a different way you came in to proceed to the next area. During your quest, you'll run across different opponents that will attempt to kill you, as well as friends that will give you advice and some additional manpower.
Like any good FPS, Red Faction has a cache of weapons, some very interesting, others boring and useless to the game. For every rail driver, essentially a laser that goes through walls, there's a seemingly useless shotgun. For every fusion rocket launcher, which wastes everything in the area, there's a grenade. In this sense, there's a definite split between new weapons and rehashes of the ones you've seen over and over.
Most weapons have an alternate fire, which is pretty cool. The flamethrower's canister can be removed and used like a bomb, the submachine gun switches between two types of ammo, and the rocket launcher fires homing missiles if it can get a heat signature. A good start, but nothing to give it a head start against the rest of the FPS pack.
Simply, Red Faction is standard FPS cannon fodder. You are one guy that picks up weapons to defeat countless enemies. It's clear Volition sat down and asked itself, ''What can we do that hasn't been done before?'' Unfortunately, the result seems to be different for the sake of being so, and gameplay or fun-factor be damned.
Red Faction puts a lot of stock in the number of different vehicles it has. Like its competitor (Half-Life), ironically released much earlier, Red Faction incorporates vehicles into story and level progression. To get to an underwater base, you need to use a submarine. To get to a secluded installation over land, you take an APC. While it sounds good in theory, the problem is that most of the vehicles are unwieldy and entirely uninteresting.
The first vehicle you encounter, the rock crusher, can be driven into an electric fence. It then shorts out and you exit the vehicle. Is this really innovation? The purpose of this armored behemoth is carried out in a matter of seconds, and then it's on to more standard gameplay. Sadly, many other vehicles are as worthless as this albatross.
Jeeps, Submarines, and ATVs all are in the same basic category. You can drive them, but you can't shoot at the same time. If you sit in the back of the jeep, which only happens once, you get the standard ''Mr. Gun Emplacement'' progression until you arrive at the next scripted destination. For most of the vehicles, it feels like a sick joke to get from one place to another using only this clunky machine. When they aren't boring, they're glitchy. In the chaingun-toting APC, I flipped over several times and had to reload my save.
The few times I did enjoy a nice vehicle experience, it ended way too fast. The free-flying gunships, with missiles and machine guns, always gave me a pleasure of flying around and gun-strafing guards. However, after a three-minute flight, it's time to leave and never pilot one again for hours.
Similar to the difference in gameplay at the sacrifice of being fun, Red Faction throws in lots of things that don't work well for it, like a bomb defusal, horrendously drawn-out stealth missions, gun-emplacement fighting, and leering a robot into a chasm, possibly the worst of all. Red Faction does a lot to try and break up the monotony of its gameplay, but it fails by shifting it from boring to infuriating.
Let's not kid ourselves here: for the amount of time spent programming the vehicles and scripting the tired events that need to occur in order to use them, Volition could have made Red Faction an interesting game at its core. It did not. Already mentioned was the graphical repetition of the same enemies and textures, but repeat this for an hour, and fill the slightly different levels with the same enemies in new places, and you have yourself a sure-fire loser.
Red Faction is loaded with the same thing, over and over. When something new pops up, it's irritating and feels slapped on to the game. For the first hour, you venture along fighting a grand total of two different enemies with the same weapons. When something new pops up, you're amazed at the level of irritation that's delivered by it, and you can't wait to get back into the banal fighting again.
For being ready to fight from the get-go, Red Faction doesn't even let you start the level over. Talk about a feature that's been available since Wolfenstein. You can only reload your last save, so if you forget about it for a while, it's time to wade back through the land of ''been there done that'' for X number of hours. Kill me.
Another detestable feature is the fact that the enemy's AI is about as smart as the dumbest kid in an elementary school for head-wound victims. If someone tells you it's great, they're eating paint chips. Here's the AI in Red Faction: If they see you, they say some miner insult, and pace back and forth shooting at you. If you shoot them once, they run away and say ''don't shoot, I'm unarmed.'' They obviously aren't, so when you shoot them again, they turn right back around and exchange gunfire. I prefer my guards to be less spastic and lacking multiple personality disorder brought on by being shot.
Red Faction also has the abilities to silence your pistol or hide a body, but there's no point to it. Trying to get through the game like a ninja will get you nowhere, and I have yet to see one guard that has ever been alerted by a dead body. If this is AI, then I'm surprised that Doom has eclipsed it.
And as a final note, let's look at the much hyped ''geo-mod'' effect that's been thrown around like poo in the monkey section of the zoo. Frankly, it's very poor. Although there's been enough programming to let you make a crater if you shoot the ground, if you shoot out three support beams of a guard tower, it will still be standing. There's no sense of toppling or balance, and it feels so extraordinarily lame.
Moreover, it never works in a mission-progression sense. The adage of ''Don't have a key? Destroy the door!'' might have worked if doors could be unlocked with keys, which they aren't, and if you could blow up anything inside, which most of the time you can't. See, metal cannot be destroyed. No matter what. If you're inside, the chances of you making a crater on something ranges from slim to none. The only time you're free to blow stuff up is in the monotonous Martian landscapes, and even then there's no point to it.
What a way to kick innovation in the face.
Gameplay: 3 / 10
It's boring normally, and irritating when it tries something new.
''If I want Mars, I'll watch Total Recall again. I know it's different and over with in 2 hours.''
Red Faction seems peacefully oblivious to the fact that the well-intended but poorly executed break-ups in gameplay aren't doing it. It also seems stubbornly unwilling to try and do anything to alleviate the boredom associated with the basic gameplay outside of the maddening stealth missions and vehicles.
Frankly, there isn't enough that the game does right before it moves on to the more complex and different things, which nine times out of ten it manages to screw up even more. Red Faction had the potential to be a great game, and it certainly sounds like one on paper. Again, the new offerings of Red Faction either fail to ease the boredom with the game under it, or they aren't any fun. It's really a shame.
Red Faction does have some selling points. It's a long and cinematic FPS, so assuming you stick with the game long enough, you might feel that you got something out of the purchase. However, the road to Red Faction's finish is a very long drive, and unfortunately loaded with the same scenery.
Overall: 4 / 10
Boring and flawed, but otherwise standard FPS fare.
*Shwarzeneggar would have helped the voice acting.
Rating: 2.0 - Poor
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