Written by  :  Trixter (9129)
Written on  :  Apr 11, 2002
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  1.43 Stars1.43 Stars1.43 Stars1.43 Stars1.43 Stars

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A day late and a dollar short. Extremely disappointed.

The Good

Red Faction promises a much more diverse experience than typical first-person shooters inspired by Half-Life, and that promise is worth half the purchase price alone: Many weapons new to the FPS genre; drivable vehicles, some with weapons; and geo-mod technology, which allows explosives to deform the game world and affect gameplay.

On these particular hopes, Red Faction delivers. Some of the weapons are inspired: An "accurate rifle" allows you to zoom in and deliver several shots as fast as you can pull them off. The sniper rifle has a crazy zoom that can traverse a kilometer. Your melee weapon can be used to either bludgeon or shock. The best weapon is unarguably the "rail gun": One-shot kills, deadly accurate, and the viewfinder can see people through walls (which is good because the rail gun can kill them through walls).

The vehicles, while used sparsely, are effective. A truck can be used to get past enemies quickly (or mow them down). The submarine makes it possible to get past some enemies in the water. The flyer providers hot metal death from above. And so on.

Geo-Mod, the most distinctive aspect of the 3-D engine truly does make many surfaces deformable. And the deformations are legitimate, not just texture decals: Ground that has been peppered with craters is hard to navigate in a vehicle, for example, and some areas of the game require blowing the crap out of walls to get past doors that won't open.

The Bad

It is with a heavy heart that I write this section. I didn't want to do it. Red Faction is a new effort from Volition, half of the team that made the original Descent series the awesome landmark that it was. They tried to introduce new features to the genre -- heck, they created a new title in an already-crowded genre. That takes some pretty big cajones.

That being said, there are just simply way, way too many things wrong with the game for me to recommend it. One of the most major issues is that the story is overlooked. Granted, FPS games don't need a deep involving story, and the absence of one isn't a crime. But when an involving storyline is hinted at and then later neglected, it is a crime. Too many times there were "significant emotional events" in the voice messages and cutscenes, but without any proper setup or explanation they all sounded cliched.

Another big problem was the sometimes-repetitive level design. It is unavoidable that a game that takes place in the mines of Mars is going to look mostly the same (brown rock tunnels, brown rock caverns, etc.), and the designers try to alleviate that with a kidnapping mission inside the mining administrative offices, battling company guards in the armory, and even sabotaging a space station in orbit above Mars. But barring appearance, the repetitive level design itself cannot be excused:

  • Progression throughout the game was extremely linear. A typical level had a tunnel open up into a cavern with a door on the other side, which would lead to another tunnel, ad infinitum. Even inside complexes, corridors would lead to rooms with a single door on the other side; lather, rinse, repeat. Only on the orbiting space station were there a significant number of paths to explore.

  • There were some "detours" sprinkled along the way in the linear parts, but they almost always ended up with "rewards" in the form of extra weapons or ammo. Only once or twice did a detour end in a plot point, story device, or otherwise interesting story element. If you were loaded up on ammo, there was no reason to take the detours, which shortened the length of the game considerably.

  • Too many times there were manned turrets in the middle of large rushes of enemy forces. You know the drill: Take out the turret, then jump on it to mow down the massive forces of enemy soldiers running at you from multiple directions. This is always fun, and some could argue that you could never get tired of it. But after the fifth time, it loses its appeal. (I would imagine that anything would lose its appeal after five repetitions.)

More overall problems that affect gameplay lie with the enhancements (weapons, Geo-Mod) themselves:

  • Weapons: While some weapons are cool, others are redundant and overkill. Why are there two types of rocket launchers when neither are guidable or homing? Why are there two types of sniper rifles when one can easily do the job? Why are there no less than three types of machine guns when any two of them would have sufficed? And what is the point of including a riot shield in the game if you can't fire weapons while wielding it?

  • Geo-Mod: Some blow-the-wall-to-get-past-unopenable-door puzzles require blowing away a certain part of the wall. Shouldn't any part of the wall be deformable enough to get past the door?

Even the cutscenes had problems: The beginning and end cutscenes are rendered. For rendered cutscenes, they look terrible; polygons are blocky, for the most part. This isn't really that significant until you realize that they were rendered with the output from the game engine itself. If they used the game engine for rendering the beginning and end cutscenes, why didn't they just use the game engine itself? Why waste 200MB of disk space in video files that could have been just played with the in-game engine just like all the other cutscenes?

But the most irritating thing about the game was its inconsistency and general lack of polish. This is expected for what is inevitably a clone of Half-Life, but it is inexcusable for a clone that came out nearly four years after Half-Life did! What follows is a list of some of the things that really, really irked me during the entire course of the game (this is long, get a cup of coffee):

  • The cutscenes, both in-game and rendered, lack any significant cinematic feel. Also, the dramatic timing is off in certain places, blowing any sense of tension out the window.

  • If you fell a great distance, you died. But if you fell a great distance onto an item you could pick up (health, ammo, etc.), you didn't die. Silly game bug.

  • The voice acting is not very good. It's not laughably horrible like some minor bit players in Deus Ex (which were voiced by some Ion Storm staff members), but it never reaches a non-irritating level of quality.

  • There are security monitors that you can view throughout the game. I found many of these useless, because they showed you areas that you had already fought through and cleared.

  • The voice messages you receive throughout the game are quite often cut off as a new level loads. They do not continue after the load, nor is the subtitling for the voice message displayed, nor are they replayed if you go back to the section you just left (prompting another load).

  • The music is sub-par. Nothing is really inspired or stands out. This isn't bad, but the poor instrument choices (some sound like 1980's synth-piano) don't help matters any.

  • Most puzzles in the game (overload the water pump, blow the reactor, get to the vent, etc.) are as simple as pushing a single button. Not exactly a challenge.

  • The level-of-detail (LOD) engine doesn't scale gracefully at all, which is irritating at resolutions like 1024x768 and up. LOD, you'll remember, is the process of displaying simple 3-D models for objects that are farther away (where high detail simply isn't noticable) to more complex models and geometry the closer the camera gets (where high detail is noticable). The idea is to improve performance without affecting display quality. But since the LOD doesn't scale gracefully, it has the effect of people and objects quite noticably "popping" into greater detail the closer you get to them.

  • The guards say no more than about 12 different things, including hurt grunts and screams. This gets repetitive very quickly.

  • Light halos shine through objects, pure and simple.

The Bottom Line

I really wanted to like Red Faction, honest! It had the potential to be reminiscent of the current FPS bar of excellence Half-Life by infusing new elements into the genre. But the multitude of nagging problems noted above detracted from the overall experience so much that I just couldn't enjoy it. I was really disappointed.

The 100% user-mod-gone-retail Gunman Chronicles is worth buying for $9... but I cannot recommend even that much for Red Faction.