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by THQ / Volition

action1.jpg (6612 bytes)Red Faction is the first story-driven FPS for the PS2. I must say, it is about time. While the multiplayer focused, arena approach of games like Time Splitters and Unreal Tournament can be entertaining, the shallow single-player experience leads to an ultimately unsatisfying game. With Red Faction, Volition has risen to the highest standards of the FPS genre. They have created a game that contains a complex single-player story line and a kick-ass multiplayer mode. Don’t get me wrong, Red Faction is not a perfect game. In fact, a number of its glitches, foibles, and shortcomings left me shaking my head. It is, however, perfect fun. In terms of innovation and pure, addictive playability, this game is gold.

gamepro_04.jpg (6690 bytes)The story revolves around a violent worker rebellion in the not-so-distant future. The fascist Ultor Corporation has installed a mining colony on Mars where the miners work in fear of armed guards and a deadly plague. But an underground resistance called Red Faction is rising to subvert and destroy Ultor, find a cure for the plague, and win freedom for the miners. As the game begins, your character, Parker, witnesses an altercation between a guard and a miner that leaves the guard dead and all other miners in the area marked for death. And that’s it -- it’s go time. You are unarmed, and staring down an entire militant corporation that wants to kill you. How’s that for tension?

action2.jpg (8403 bytes)The most talked about aspect of Red Faction is a little thing called Geo-Mod (short for Geometric Modification) technology, which supports the real time, arbitrary modification of the game environment. In other words, where previous games have allowed you to place bullet holes or burn marks on the surface of walls, Red Faction allows you to alter, i.e. destroy, the structure itself. Believe the hype. Geo-Mod technology will forever change the face of FPS gaming (no pun intended). With a well-placed explosive charge or rocket, you can take out an enemy’s cover. You can destroy walls, floors, and ceilings in order to get by locked doors, or just to take the enemy by surprise. If a convoy is crossing a bridge, you can take down the bridge. If a sniper in a guard tower is getting on your nerves, blow out the legs of the tower and knock it to the ground. You can even kill people with falling debris. It truly is amazing. The effects are most evident during a multiplayer battle, where after a few minutes the environment can take so much damage that it becomes virtually unrecognizable. And all of this happens flawlessly in real time. That is not to say, however, that it is totally realistic. For example, there are times when you will have severed both sides of a bridge, save one connective sliver, and the bridge will stand until that sliver is destroyed. And you cannot blow up everything. Often load-bearing structures will have indestructible steel supports and a lot of the walls are too strong to blow through, but that is to be expected. There are always limitations.

03_02_01_04-01.jpg (6790 bytes)The game moves in a continuous linear fashion, rather than on a mission-by-mission basis. The upside to this is that it better approximates the reality of the story. Also, it allows you to save your progress at any time so that you are always in the moment. The downside is that you have to put up with load points within the levels, and every time you cross that specific point, the game has to reload. This is tedious, but you get used to it. The real downer comes from the fact that this format is not very supportive of change. Perfect Dark, which uses the mission-by-mission format, changes the objectives of missions with each difficulty level, and allows you to discover secrets by completing certain tasks. Red Faction, as far as I know, does none of this. It is, after all, only possible to replay a level if you do not save over it. And as the first save takes up 620kb, and each successive save takes 478kb, your 8MB memory card is pretty restrictive.

03_02_01_03-01.jpg (6869 bytes)The game play is incredibly diverse. While Geo-Mod is the standout feature here, I was glad to see that they didn’t rely on it solely. At the start of the game, when the technology is new and you want to explore all of its possibilities, everything is modifiable. But thankfully, as the game progresses, and the whole Geo-Mod thing settles into your mind, you will find that it relies less on novelty and more on pacing, strategy, and variety. There are plenty of weapons to attain, including semi-auto, auto, sniper rifles, heavy machine guns, flame throwers, explosives, rocket launchers, and rail guns. Each weapon has a primary and secondary function. There are also several vehicles to operate—an armored driller, an ATV, an APC, a submarine, and a hover jet. The objectives you must complete force you to play the game in every way imaginable. At times you will have to attain a disguise and sneak through a secure area, killing with a silencer and dragging the bodies to where they won’t be detected. Other times you will have to use every bit of muscle you have to blow your way through vast hordes of enemies. You must complete puzzles, slay giant worms, and lure killer robots into traps. There are multiple pathways to take or create—the levels are huge. The A.I. is perhaps the best I have encountered. For instance, during the stealth sequences, the enemies recognize you only if they get a good look at your face (there are wanted posters of you everywhere). So, if you look away, or down at the floor as they pass by, often they will not take notice. And the guards actually listen to the bystanders when they call for help. Yeah, characters repeat the same lame phrases and insults all the time, but this isn’t my biggest concern.

03_02_01_02-01.jpg (6939 bytes)I found the control system to be very intuitive. For those of you that have experienced the analog support on other PS2 FPS’s, it is pretty much the same here, only tighter. You walk and sidestep with the left analog stick, pitch and turn with the right; fire with the right shoulder buttons, and everything else, well, you figure out what best suits you. There is a jump button, but fear not. You will not be subjected to any Turok-esque jump-fall-die-start over sequences here. The jump button is a necessity because of Geo-Mod. You will need it to jump over holes and rubble—that sort of thing. The only real shortcoming in Red Faction’s control setup is that it doesn’t support a keyboard and mouse. For some of you this is no big deal, for others it is unforgivable. Either way, I don’t know why Volition would alienate some of its potential audience this way.

ssotw03-01.jpg (4807 bytes)The multiplayer mode is very satisfying, but with a catch. In terms of game play, it is one of the greatest multiplayer experiences ever created. This is due to fantastic level design, great A.I., and Geo-Mod. The levels range from huge facilities and Martian landscapes, to small, enclosed arenas. And as for the Geo-Mod, all levels contain hidden items and vantage points that can be discovered by blowing down certain walls or objects. And being able to destroy your opponent’s cover, open escape routes through walls, or blow a hole in the floor and drop down into fire fights turns everything you know about the FPS on its ear. However, in terms of options, this game couldn’t be thinner. It only supports two players—even a multitap won’t change that. Sure, you can add up to four bots, but two players? There are also only two game types: player vs. player (with or without bots) and player vs. bots (in this case, up to six). No capture the flag, team play, nothing. There are 13 characters, nine levels. Other than that you only control the bot skill level, kill limit, and time limit. You cannot even select the types of weapons you want to use. For those of you spoiled by the nearly infinite combinations of options in Perfect Dark, this will be quite a blow. I have come to accept it, because despite it all it is still incredibly fun, but I don’t understand it, and I hope to hell the sequel opens things up a bit more.

ssotw05-01.jpg (5611 bytes)Regarding the graphics, I am going to start with a phrase that has been used all too often lately: they are good, but they really are not representative of what the PS2 can do. They are not as crisp and clean as those of The Bouncer, not as complex as those of GT3. They are merely an evolution of the graphics in other console FPS faves like Perfect Dark. The characters are less blocky, and the facial expressions change, eyes move, that sort of thing. The colors and textures are great; the lighting effects are very nice. But I would have to say that the true strength of the graphics lies in the clarity. The perspective seems to go on forever. And everything is just so crisp and clean, even at a distance. The performance is mixed. It runs at a solid 30 fps, even in two-player mode with a maximum of bots. It does hiccup at moments of mass destruction, as when you take down a bridge, but that is forgiveable. There are some odd glitches, though. Generally, for various reasons, dead bodies stay put (this is strange in multiplayer, as you will often run into your own dead body), but sometimes they disappear mysteriously. And they sometimes defy gravity, as when you kill someone on an elevator, then lower the elevator and they hang in mid-air where they landed. And the cinema screens love to freak out. In fact, they do so more than the in-game graphics.

ssotw09-01.jpg (5684 bytes)The sound effects and voices are good, but the music is brilliant. The game knows exactly when to be eerily silent, and when to erupt in pulse-pounding techno. There are even moments of Enigma-like reverence when you will be gliding through a high-action scenario to a beautifully rendered piano movement.

ssotw02-01.jpg (6089 bytes)Red Faction is the first FPS to come out in a long time that offers any real innovation. When I first heard of Geo-Mod technology I was hopeful but skeptical. I have to admit, it surpassed my expectations. And as the technology grows, it will only get better and programmers will think of more and more ways to incorporate it into their games. But Volition was smart enough to know that even this technology couldn’t replace diverse game play and a solid story. Despite all of its faults, even the unfathomable short sightedness displayed in the multiplayer options, Red Faction manages to be one of the most fun games I have ever played. That is saying something. I have to admit, the next game I review may come under some unwarranted hostility, simply because it will have forced me to stop playing Red Faction.

Jeremy Kauffman   (06/19/2001)

Snapshot

Ups: Geo-Mod rules; great story; excellent weapons; driving vehicles.

Downs: Multiplayer options could be improved.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation 2

 


1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine