A new way to break some old ground.
As a FPS fanatic, it always perturbs me to see a perfectly good shooter ported over to a console (which means…a joypad), to be ruined and mocked by the gaming community. While I loved Goldeneye and even sorta liked TWINE, after I played the first Quake with a keyboard and mouse, I knew console games would never be able to compete on the same level.
Which is why I'm sooo glad this game came to the PC, because otherwise I never would've gotten a chance to play what is one of the most entertaining FPS's to date. While it is somewhat derivative, it does manage to make a name for itself via its Geo-Mod technology and its heavy focus on dynamic combat situations.
The story is pretty ho-hum, all about some pseudo-socialist uprising by overexploited miners. No, socialism isn't a theme you encounter in every FPS, but it might as well not be a theme in this game either, as the revolt and the circumstances around it lead to basically you doing all the work, you killing everybody. You'd think a game called Red Faction would depend less on the efforts of the individual and more on the unified toil of the proletariat, but I guess that's the difference between a gimmick and a story line.
The story unfolds as your friend on the inside, Hendrix, and your rebel friend, Eos, tell you what to do and who to kill and why they're bad. Half of the game is spent hunting this evil scientist, and then the other half is spent hunting this team of evil mercenaries who have no motive other than destruction and mayhem. Hell, after wiping out an entire corporation you'd think they'd wanna hire you, but no, they just keep throwin' themselves in front of your bullets. Deadly, but stupid.
The gameplay is absolutely straightforward FPS fare. You have a hazard suit which is straight out of Half-Life, and you get a bunch of guns which mainly come out of a bunch of other games. However, the guns are still cool and a lot of fun to use until they become obsolete. As the game advances the enemies get a lot tougher, rendering most of the guns you used earlier in the game completely useless. You wind up using only about four guns at any one time, which definitely gets repetitive.
On the other hand, the kickass Geo-Mod technology does not. Basically, Geo-Mod allows you to actually carve into the environments using certain weapons. See that wall? Want it to go away? Then shoot it. There's this big, killer APC on a bridge early on in the game and you have to blow a couple holes in the bridge to make the sucker fall through. I played that part of the game at least ten times.
The ability to destroy the environment with some of the weapons adds a cool new twist to fragging. Geo-Mod is a hoot and is very tastefully implemented. I wish there were more opportunities to use it, but it is still an extremely entertaining feature.
The regular combat gets better as the game wears on. I've never encountered enemies who were so apt at kicking my ass before. Even on normal difficulty, the mercs toting railguns can kill you with one shot, and they can see through walls (although apparently they don't look very often). The intensity of the combat can be attributed more to the circumstances surrounding it than to the AI itself, though. While the enemies duck behind walls and talk smack, they're very simple to outsmart, even if their aim is dead on.
There are also a couple stealth missions which serve as a nice change of pace and mood. In these missions, you get to walk around in a disguise and try to avoid cameras and the watchful eyes of guards while you proceed to kill everyone and drag their bodies into office cubicles. Sadly, the guards in these levels are boringly stupid and the setups don't display much creativity (a hostage situation would have been cool). Still, the levels are short and offer a nice break from the up-tempo action of the rest of the game.
Then there are the vehicle missions, which are fun and provide another good diversion, but are ultimately too straightforward. Most of the levels involve cruising down a canyon or underwater tunnel and blasting slow moving enemies with heat seeking torpedoes/rockets. The vehicles you get to choose from include a jeep, an APC, a submarine, an Aesir jet fighter and a big driller thing. While the vehicles afford you the opportunity to exact a little payback from otherwise troublesome enemies, you never get to do much more than that. How about some daring escapes or amazing maneuvers?
The graphics suffice but don't really push any limits. The levels are very drab with lots of caves in the beginning, and too much boring sci-fi corridor crap during the middle and end. The character models are also pretty plain, with the coolest looking enemy being the giant personnel suppression robot that you only get to fight once, and whose death comes by being burned in an incinerator. Why couldn't I have shot some rubble down on his head? I want Red Faction, not Half-life
The audio is mixed. The music is terrific and helps establish the right mood; I really enjoy the creepy techno music that accompanies the really stressful moments in the game. On the other hand, the voices are weak and the weapon noises are pretty standard.
In addition to the single player campaign (which is pretty short; takes about 10 hours to beat), Red Faction comes with a multiplayer mode and a level editor. The multiplayer mode only contains the most generic scenarios (Deathmatch, Capture the Flag) and are a little too chaotic to be fun for long. The Geo-Mod concept sounds great on paper but gets really wily when you get a match going with a bunch of guys.
Ultimately, Red Faction for the PC is a fine FPS with plenty of action and intense gameplay, even if it is derivative, too short and a tad uninspired. As an avid FPS fan, I recommend it to anybody who has a taste for fast-paced, gun-based warfare.