By Jeff Luther
Ask most people about Red Faction and they're going to tell you about the innovative Geo Mod technology that allows you to morph your surroundings by blasting through walls, floors and most other things that get in your way. What you might not hear about is the innovative story of a miner revolt on Mars, complete with Marxist overtones amidst vicious capitalist propaganda. Treated like cattle, abused and exploited, the workers of the world have united; they've cast off their shackles of oppression, and they are out to take down the Man.
This was the real innovation of Red Faction. Today's videogame stories are cookie cutter crap--disposable, plastic vestiges of better stories written by better writers with something genuine to say. When people tell me that the story in Metal Gear Solid 2 or Resident Evil is great, it's all I can do not to laugh at the absurdity and weep for the state of the industry. So often we fall into the trap of confusing convoluted with complicated, longer with better. The story isn't flawless-- it's prone to melodrama and rushed at times. Nevertheless, Red Faction II is successful because the aesthetic, comprising all of the artistic elements of the game, is so superb. From the Marxist propaganda on the walls, to the ranting reporter in the closet, to the thundering rhetoric of the Stalinist dictator Sopot, the aesthetic of the distopia is immersive and genuine.
This vision is what's so compelling about Red Faction 2. So when members of the mainstream media like Gamespot's Brad Shoemaker tell us "nobody really plays first-person shooters for their stories, anyway" (in his Turok Review), I say you obviously don't know your audience and wouldn't know art if it slapped you across the face. I say speak for yourself, and do so with caution. When next the zealots crying "murder machine" come-and they will-they'll be quoting you.
Dropped into the middle of a political struggle between the desire for utopia and a Stalinist regime, Red Faction II hits the ground running and never slows down. This battle rages foot by foot, room by room as devastation reigns around you. Enemies aren't just lined up in hallways waiting to be shot-ok some of them are-but others are coming through windows, repelling from the ceiling, responding to alarms, and generally being dynamic. They'll insult you, taunt you, and ask beg for mercy-sometimes disingenuously. Civilians try to distance themselves from the conflict-they want to live, of course--and they're still part of the environment, adding detail and vitality to the world.
It's clear almost from the start that Red Faction II took a few lessons from Halo. Your super-soldier motif, and costume, are both familiar. Red Faction II also tries to drop you in as part of a team. Sometimes you're fighting alongside another supersoldier and this adds quite a bit of depth to the experience; though generally successful with the technique, the result isn't as effective as the thundering squad based action of Halo. Your teammates are nice to have around, and they liven up the game, but much of their usefulness is story oriented.
Red Faction II has a bit of a problem with pacing-but even this drawback is a bit original. The story and the gameplay both needed a few more hours to fully develop. Moments in the mid-game feel rushed, narrative wise, and they gameplay is rushed as well; sometimes there's just not enough opportunity to play with new weapons, new toys, before the game ends.
What a ride while it lasts though. In all sincerity, the last scene is ranks among the most thrilling in videogame history. Every element of the game-story, immersive world, acting, music, graphics, and gameplay, peak in a tremendous symphony of thunderous, pulse-pounding fury of breath-taking brilliance. For this alone, Red Faction II is worth the price of admission.
And of course, there's the Geo Mod. The ability to destroy, disfigure, and out-right remove your surroundings is an excellent milestone in interactivity. I understand that many developers may be hesitant to embrace the idea for fear of looking like clones, but the fundamental philosophy behind geo-mod is the wave of the future and will become a staple in game design. This level of interactivity, and the greater levels that will come of it, are the future of gaming. Red Faction II makes more use of Geo Mod, and incorporates it better into tactical and strategic thinking. The only exception to this is the multiplayer mode, which provides conspicuously little opportunity to make use of the Geo Mod system.
In general though, the multiplayer mode in Red Faction II is a step above its predecessor. The eight game modes are fairly standard, though there's a lot to be said for a group of people getting together to take on a team of bots. The weapon customization is above average, but doesn't have anywhere near the depth or customization of Time Splitters 2. What's really missing from the multiplayer game is a co-op mode; taking on the Man is more fun with a friend, after all. It's no secret that the co-op mode was the breath and soul of Halo, and a little bit of that action would have gone a long way. So while the multiplayer mode is decent, if you are primarily looking for a frag-fest with depth, you're better off going with Time Splitters 2.
But the single-player game shines. While the length is bound to irritate some, the experience is fantastic while it lasts. The compelling, action packed experience shows game design moving in the right direction. In and of itself, this is noteworthy. Experience the resistance--and see the future of gaming while you're at it.