The miners are revolting!
When we looked at the PlayStation 2 version of Red Faction in July, our biggest concern was the control system. Playing a first person shooter using a control pad has never been my cup of tea, and wherever possible I have tried to avoid it. Another factor is visual quality. As matters stand, comfortable though it is to sit in front of my enormous television playing Generic Shooter 3 on my latest console, invariably my PC upstairs turns out sharper, higher resolution visuals with a control system friendlier to a veteran of point and shoot PC releases. With Red Faction, the situation is no different, and besides the obvious improvements in resolution, visual quality, framerate and control, the PC version also boasts those much-needed online multiplayer features. Will Volition's best game since Descent stand up to PC-based first person shooters like Return to Castle Wolfenstein this Christmas? There's only one way to find out... For those of you who are new to the game, the premise is that you are Douglas Quaid in Total Recall under a different pseudonym. There is no official connection between the Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster and Volition's first person shooter, but there might as well be. Your character Parker finds himself thrown into a deadly revolt on our solar system's red planet, and with guidance from members of the rebellious Red Faction you must overcome your mining supervisors and escape from a world of hurt. Unlike said movie though, Red Faction suffers from a problem familiar to Hollywood directors and movie buffs; not knowing when to end. There are several opportunities for closure in Red Faction, but the developer chooses none of them, preferring to exhaust every single gameplay and story mechanism first. The PC version is a straight copy of the PS2, so fans of the original will find nothing new in the single player game.
Looks aren't everything
Fans of the PlayStation 2 version may also be disappointed to learn that the visuals in the PC version are nigh on identical to those of the original. If it ain't broke don't fix it perhaps, but given the power of graphics cards like the GeForce 3 and Radeon 8500, there are plenty of opportunities for showing off. My main criticism is that everything is remarkably angular, and there seems little excuse for the lack of curves as the game runs well even on my relatively old GeForce 2 GTS system. That said, what we had to start with was fairly impressive. The mining sections are very brown, but the oft-repeated textures have a habit of blending together into a believable chasm, while the indoor areas are smartly dressed, with company insignia and Red Faction spray-paint on many surfaces. The character models are also rather good, although the facial animations seem like a step down from the three year old Half-Life at times, and characters have a stereotypical action game tendency to race at full pelt to a spot not two feet from you, then stop dead and stand motionlessly reciting their lines. Weapons are sometimes difficult to spot because they blend in with the floor of the room or lurk behind the corpse from which they fell, but when you find them the models and animations are uniformly excellent. My only disappointment was that throughout the game the weapon sound effects were rather timid. The one weapon which seems lacking on all fronts is the default pistol which, like the Quake 2 blaster; is completely useless and looks rather boring to boot. Other weapons, like the shotgun and Uzi, are at least exciting to use, and as you progress through the game you get to the real meat. The Rocket Launcher can blast holes in the scenery, while the Rail Driver can actually pierce several successive walls like a hot needle through butter, and comes with a fully infrared alternative firing mode which allows you to search for body heat in nearby rooms.
Get in there
Which brings me to the subject of Geo-Mod. Geometric Modification has gone nowhere since the PlayStation 2 version, but it still serves to show off Volition's clever manipulation of the physics engine. When you pick up the rocket launcher or explosive charges you are given the ability to blow things up, and as with the PS2 version this is used to varying degrees throughout the game. In one section you are faced with a locked door and a rocket launcher, and blowing a hole in the wall next to it provides a handy alternative to finding the key. In another section molten rock flows along an aqueduct, and taking a chunk out of the underside will tip the contents over anybody unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. So on, and so forth. The problem with Red Faction single player though isn't that it's repetitive, or that it has a weak array of weapons, or that its visuals are poor, its controls awful, or any of those typical first person shooter problems. In fact Red Faction is a good, by the numbers action game with a few memorable moments and some welcome additions, including driveable vehicles such as the mining drill (again lifted from Total Recall) which looks menacing enough from the outside and switches your view to a flickering green tinted viewscreen from within. The problem with Red Faction is that the developers took a great idea from an even greater film, changed a few names and numbers, ripped out the body of the conspiracy and recoloured matters for themselves. But instead of capitalizing on this they filled in the gaps with plot devices stolen from Saturday morning cartoons - you will cringe at some of the revelations you become privy to. Still, as a single player you can expect a decent adventure with some excellent gameplay, and you can have fun blasting holes in things and railing unsuspecting guards through a wall fifty metres away.
Get some friends
Multiplayer is an entirely different kettle of fish. The PC version of Red Faction features three different multiplayer modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. Deathmatch is the most popular so far, and understandably so. With the huge array of weapons on display and a fairly random cross-section of the gaming community currently in possession of the game, numbers are reasonably high but cohesion isn't, and most players just want to shoot something without the added complication of a team objective. The Deathmatch mode can be exceptional fun, as long as weapons proliferate quickly; the default pistol is incredibly boring and the constant pistol duels that players have to put up with for the first five minutes of a round cause untold grief. Part of the problem there is that most of the levels are big and complicated, and those that aren't just have peculiar layouts. Quake-style duelling is more or less out of the question for the moment, and with guns spread unevenly throughout each arena you often have to fall back on the pistol you spawn with. A huge number of amateur level designers are using the RED Editor which shipped with the game to create their own multiplayer arenas, so this will hopefully change in the near future, but in the meantime there are only a few decent arenas. Another reason for disliking some of the arenas is the number of doors. Okay, it's fun to sit there with a Rail Driver and shoot people as they run through the doors, but then it's equally fun to find a secluded place and use the Rail Driver like the bad guys in Erazer did, bisecting nature with a single flick of the trigger. The problem with doors is that they tend to hold you up because of the lag. Latency is a big problem for Red Faction players at the moment. With more than four people on a server the pings often leap to about 300, at which point the doors become an irritation, as does the Rail Driver. In fact, the only things stopping Red Faction from being an excellent multiplayer game are the need for some network code tweaking and a few smaller arenas.
Red Faction is a solid first shooter with a few problems. Visually it has been surpassed a hundred times over on the PC, thanks to its striking angular surfaces and lack of impressive lighting effects, and it's a shame that the Geo-Mod technology isn't as relevant to your adventure as it perhaps could have been. With a bit of spit and polish the multiplayer game could be Red Faction's saviour, but if you're tempted to pick it up to try that out, I would wait for the inevitable patch, or at least make sure you have access to a well-stocked LAN.
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