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Game: Red Faction
Developer: Volition
Publisher: THQ
Year: 2001
Reviewed: 2011
Platform: PC
Genre: FPS
Game Version: Latest version with Pure Faction mod to make it actually run
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath

I remember reading the previews for Red Faction before it was released, which must have been well over a decade ago now. It was going to be amazing, with an interesting plot about a miner rebellion on Mars, but mostly because of the deformable terrain. Unlike most games where the environment would only be destroyed in scripted sequences, Red Faction’s engine could dynamically destroy walls wherever there happened to be an explosion. It was a leap forward at the time, but while the engine is certainly capable of meeting these claims, new technology doesn’t automatically make a great game, and Red Faction didn’t quite meet expectations.

Red Faction Canyon
Most of the game looks pretty much like this.

Set in a future where Mars is being mined for resources due to the lack of them on Earth, the game places you in the role of Parker, who is sadly a miner for the Ultor Corporation and not the butler for Lady Penelope. It turns out the Ultor Corporation is big and nasty and treats the miners like slaves, and to make matters worse, there’s a plague of a disease imaginatively called “The Plague” spreading. The game starts at the end of a day’s work when a rebellion kicks off and Parker gets caught up in the middle of it. At first the game seems to follow the Half-Life convention of playing out entirely in first person, but after an hour or two the game gives up and starts using cutscenes, finally revealing Parker to be one of the most annoyingly whiny gits in gaming. If I’d known earlier, I’d probably have just left him to the guards, but I’d gotten this far, so decided I might as well see it through.

The combat in Red Faction plays out as a fairly standard FPS from this era and fails to do anything to make it stand out from the crowd. A major reason for this is that the weapons just don’t feel like they have any power to them, even when you’re getting kills. The one exception to this is the rail driver, which you get towards the end of the game. It’s extremely powerful and capable of shooting through walls, complete with a scope that lets you see through the walls to aim it. Unfortunately, you get it quite late on in the game and it can only store enough ammo for 10 shots. Its usefulness is almost outweighed by the fact that you only get hold of it when you start running into enemies wielding it, making them capable of killing you in just a single hit.

Red Faction Sewer
Imaginative level design at its finest.

The game is occasionally broken up with brief vehicle sequences: piloting a submarine through some tunnels, flying a fighter through some tunnels, driving a car through some tunnels. Tunnels are pretty much a recurring theme throughout the game. These segments do break up the repetitive shooting slightly but nothing particularly exciting. They generally feel like just some more FPS gaming, just with an added dimension of movement.

As mentioned earlier, the game was sold on the strength of the GeoMod engine and its destructive capability. It promised to utilise it to make new gameplay possibilities. Blow away walls to make your own routes through the level! Well, you can certainly do this. At certain set points in the first part of the game. Mostly firing at walls is just going to leave you with a wall with a chunk out of it. After the first hour or two the feature is barely even noticeable in the game anymore, and in the opening part of the game it’ll pretty much show you where you can actually blow your way to a new section of the level. There’s rarely any real advantage to blasting through a hole in the wall when there’s usually a door a bit further down anyway. The game does on occasion try to do something interesting, such as when you enter an area and suddenly find the walls around you being blasted to pieces by a giant robot. You’re forced to fight it since there’s no way of hiding when the scenery can be destroyed so easily. Ultimately though, the destructible scenery turned out to be nothing more than a gimmick and the game quickly descends into a standard FPS. An especially linear one at that, with the majority of the game spent in identical looking red tunnels. It doesn’t exactly make the best use of the Mars setting.

As with many FPS games of its era, Red Faction also makes the mistake of cramming in an unnecessary stealth sequence. As usual, when put into a game that isn’t dedicated to stealth, it’s completely useless. It’s not as bad as it could be, since it thankfully avoids the crouching in shadows style of stealth. Instead, it involves going into secure areas in disguise and just avoiding getting too close to any enemies, since they’ll recognise you if you do. To make sure you do as you’re told, they strip your weapons away from you, leaving you with only a silenced pistol with limited ammo. Basically, this means if you set off an alarm, every guard in the level comes charging at you and you’ve no hope of getting anywhere without reloading your save. Irritatingly, it would have been perfectly easy to just fight your way through the areas if they’d leave you with weapons. Leave the stealth to games that know what they’re doing.

Red Faction Scary bug
ARGH!

Mostly the game at least ran pretty well, but there was one extremely major bug. At one point you have to lower a submarine into the water, but whenever I tried lowering it in, it exploded on impact. The first time this happened, I assumed it was part of the game and went running around trying to find out what to do next. It turned out it wasn’t supposed to explode of course. Fortunately I hadn’t saved in that position, but it took me several attempts reloading and retrying before it finally made it into the water without blowing up. There was another rather strange oddity too, where a person you briefly escort through one of the levels turns out to be rather ghostlike. You can walk straight through him, leading to some rather strange views if you stop moving while part way clipped through him. It’s like something H R Giger would have turned down for being too disturbing, as shown to the left.

So, how to rate Red Faction. It was a thoroughly average game at the time of its release, almost the very definition of an average FPS in fact. It’s not exactly improving with age, with not just graphics but most aspects of gameplay having moved on significantly. And it never did stand up to Half-Life, the game it so often seems to desperately be trying to be. It’s not a terrible game, and you can happily while away a few hours in a relatively inoffensive way, though not too many hours, since it’s unlikely to take anyone more than 6 – 8 hours to complete the entire thing. It’s just that those hours would probably be better wasted on a better game.

Save System Review: Save anywhere.
Graphics: An average looking game at the time of release, now obviously looking very dated. At least it’s one of those post-Quake 3 games though that still look recognisable.
Sound: Quite average sound effects that don’t really stand out. The voice acting of the main character is dreadful though, sounding like a spoilt five year old. (“Why do I need your help? I’m the one with the gun.”)
Bugs: As mentioned in the main text, there was the exploding submarine and the weird mutant guy.
Gameplay: Standard FPS gameplay. The destructible scenery gimmick turned out to have little impact on the game at all.
Storyline: Interesting idea to start with but it never really goes anywhere and ends up being rather bland and generic.

Arbitrary Final Score: 1.5 stars

If you like this, you might also like: Other Red Faction games, Half-Life, a job as a miner. On Mars.

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