When I first read the synopsis of this game, I thought, "Oh no, not another space marine saves Mars from alien attack" game. I wondered exactly how much more derivative games could get and not get sued for licensing infringement. But as RTX (short for Radical Tactics Expert) started in its cinema screens, I felt myself starting to laugh. Apparently I'm not the only one out there that's had that thought. This game does a great job of satirizing this sci-fi gaming genre while creating a plot driven experience that keeps you going through the action. I just wish that the action hadn't needed as much support.
Let's start with the good stuff and work our way around. Our hero is Eugene Zeno Wheeler, otherwise known as E.Z. He is a ranger, astronaut, and radical tactics expert, who was wounded during an army operation and now has an enhanced left eye and right hand. His Han Soloesque ways make him perfect for one-man reconnaissance on the red planet, but he has the help from I.R.I.S., his Independent Removable Information System that he has programmed with the personality of a femme fatale. While on the planet, you'll be fighting L.E.D.s, or Light Emitting Demons, who communicate with light instead of sound and are planning to finish off Earth if your mission fails. The writing on this game is hilarious, as it takes all the stereotypical elements we've come to expect and is self-depreciating and delightful to the end. It is well acted and the cinema screens deserve an enthusiastic "two thumbs up."
The set-up for the action is well thought out. Your bio-enhanced eye has four spectrum modes. Thermoscan is infrared and is used to reveal enemies in the dark; naviscan is your maps and mission objectives; electroscan is used to identify electrical malfunctions and control systems; and bioscan is ultraviolet and used to detect forensic residue and foreign life forms. You can move and fight in Thermoscan mode, and the visual effects fighting the L.E.D.s is a fun layering to gameplay. Your right arm can be fitted with a torque wrench, grappling hook, taser, plasma cutter, or catapult, which augments your initial weapons selection. This is not one of those games that has a massive armory to chose from. Fortunately , the game doesn't really need it. Other items can be picked up in the environment and used either as weapons or as an integral part in getting you from point A to point B. There are ten levels to work through (although the first is more of a short training mode), and they include both indoor and outdoor terrain.
E. Z. can jump, climb, and do evasive rolls, and the game does a good job of playing with the gravity in outdoor levels. The third-person hovering camera keeps up well with the movement, even on the stages where a lot of jumping is required, and the only complaints I have are the occasional moments in tight, indoor spaces where you are trying to maneuver around and keep your perspective straight at the same time. Not a major issue, however.
The graphics are everything I've come to expect from Lucas Arts. These games are now getting a recognizable visual style to them, and RTX really reminds me of Jedi Outcast, visually speaking. Fighting the L.E.D.s in thermoscan mode looks especially cool, and reminds me of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (the movie). Both the indoor and the outdoor environments are well rendered, and I don't really have any complaints about the way things looked. The execution of the design is equally well done. My problems with the game, however, start with level design.
I felt very confined in my ability to meet my objectives in the game. It's not that I'm not used to games where you can't open door X without the keycard, then proceed through door Y, but especially with the aid of my scanning modes, I almost felt as though all the fun had been taken out of getting through the hoops. For instance, if you use you electroscan, you can tell that there is an important piece of the puzzle locked away-a key needing to be found, for example, or a money card hidden behind an air duct. It's not as though this sort of thing isn't done all the time in other games. It's just that with a game that had such an irreverent plot going on, I was hoping that it would ask for a lot more ingenuity from me than it did. OK, so maybe I'm pouting here, but I really wanted more options in meeting game objectives, more complicated, branching levels, and more of the sense of fun that popped up occasionally, interwoven throughout the game.
And I guess it is that sense of disappointment at missed fun that keeps a very solid title from being a "must own" property. I would like to see the gameplay become a little more complicated and zany, and I know that the minds at Lucas Arts can deliver on that. After all, they are the ones who must have asked how to give a fresh perspective to the space marine plot. So now all they need to think about is, "How can we make getting from point A to point B unexpected enough that our jaded audience won't be able to put the controller down?" RTX is a game that definitely is worth taking a look at, and those of us who have been through the whole Mars mission thing a time or two will find the satire pretty humorous--which is a good thing because if a person were to miss that the game is poking fun at the genre, then it would certainly seem a pale, tired copy. But I find it funny enough to rate playing through, though not necessarily long enough to require purchasing, nor really having enough replay value to need shelf space at home. So run out and rent it, enjoy the show, and then wait for the next installment.