Making the transfer from console to PC, the first-person shooter Red Faction contains many unusual aspects that will turn more than a few heads, mainly the new possibilities of Volition, Inc.'s Geo-Mod Engine that powers it. Sadly, the FPS style of action has been mostly mined out. While the story is standard science fiction fare that degenerates into a regular turkey shoot, the extra elements of Red Faction deserve a look from fans of the genre and designers alike.
Red Faction is the tale of Parker, a young man who opts for adventurous mining on Mars over attendance at a stuffy Ivy League school. Once there, however, he discovers the mining company, Ultor, is running a corporate slave camp where guards are as brutal as the mine conditions. When a mysterious plague breaks out, tensions run high and conflicts between miners and guards increase.
Parker finds himself in the middle of the fight when he jumps a guard who is beating up a miner. The situation erupts and Parker, guided by a sympathetic Ultor security tech, must join up with the enigmatic Eos, leader of the rebellion, to help put a stop to the corrupt mining company's ways.
Despite the hype over Red Faction's sci-fi story and setting, there are several holes in the storyline. Parker is a college boy turned miner, so where did he learn to use the 15 odd weapons so well? The miners on Mars apply for work, but never return home. Don't families and governments get suspicious? The veneer wears thin when one thinks about it, but, for a FPS, it is sufficient. Just don't expect any role-playing or character building -- this one is strictly a shooter.
Several elements from Red Faction are based on the wildly successful Half-Life, and what better game to try and emulate? The two games incorporate conventional weapons such as explosive satchels, automatic rifles, and pistols. Both titles also feature several underwater levels populated with killer fish and the like. Additionally, NPC helpers can be found in Red Faction, a trend first introduced in Half-Life.
That said, the miners in Red Faction are mostly dog meat, serving as fodder for morbid in-game cut scenes and little more than reminders of Ultor's cruelty. It would have been nice to have a bud with a gun covering your six early on, or an all-out gun battle in the mines with several miners facing off against guards, with Parker in the middle. For all the rhetoric about miner's uniting, though, Parker spends almost all of the game alone.
Red Faction features polished console graphics that transfer nicely to the PC. The mines are claustrophobic and badly lit, and one gets the impression of actually creeping down shafts. Special effects are, for the most part, refined, and what little lighting is to be found is excellent. Water effects are no more than average, but definitely not terrible. Volition, Inc. has perfected the art of emulating breaking glass -- there's a room with a glasshouse and weapons with the sole purpose of destroying it in the "extras" section.
The most impressive aspect, however, is the innovative Geo-Mod technology, which gives you the ability to realistically blast most walls into rubble or tunnel through them with machinery. It is a subtle touch that opens several possibilities for mod designers using the engine.
Sounds are well done. Guns bark with authority and explosions rip through caverns convincingly. Even the tech nerds shriek satisfyingly when a gun is pointed at them. All of the ambient sounds, coupled with a solid music soundtrack, make the audio package very complete.
The action in Red Faction is probably the most disappointing aspect, as it's too familiar to fans of the genre. Although the single player game is woefully short, shooting countless guards gets old fast. The guards, while smarter than usual, provide little variation in targets for Parker. There are a few places where vehicles break up the side-strafing tedium, but they feel like mini-games, rather than an integrated part of the whole. Also, there are times when Parker must sneak through buildings undetected, but it feels out of place, especially if he's supposed to be a bulky miner, not an espionage specialist.
Still, as a FPS, Red Faction is quality stuff, just not entirely groundbreaking. The addition of the superior mouse and keyboard combination may have some fans of the console version switching camps, if only to play a single title. Is this a must-have title? No, especially if you're inundated with the countless other similar offerings. It's a lot of fun and serves a role as a decent distraction, but is too similar to previously released games in the genre to be considered innovative.
The spotlight, though, needs to be shone on the interesting engine. In the hands of designers who will use Geo-Mod technology to mine its full effects to combine creative gameplay and a well-told story, it could be awesome.
Graphics: Lighting and tunneling effects are very polished, even if the water effects aren't up to snuff. Breakaway glass looks realistic as well.
Sound: Sound effects and music make a complete package, with good results. The automatic shotgun sounds dead on, even if its aim isn't.
Enjoyment: A half step above the host of other first person shooters. Interludes between side stepping action seem tacked on, but the Geo-Mod technology looks promising -- experimenting with it is fun.
Replay Value: The single person game is too short but multiplayer is solid. Future mod makers will add longevity to the title as time goes on.
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