Odd, isn't it, that on approaching an unopened door in your typical first-person shooter, even the destructive force of a rocket launcher won't let you through, yet in Age Of Empires a single soldier can bring down a fortress armed with a spear. It doesn't matter of course that behind these doors nothing exists, and that without the ability to destroy what in reality would be a lifelong occupation, the spearman would be a useless pawn in a complex game. But such inconsistencies with reality have over the years become the norm rather than the exception. Rather than ask why we can't open a door, we quite happily walk away to find one that we can. Surely the point of a doorway is to eventually pass through it, or hope to, otherwise why is it there?
Not that Red Faction is any less formulaic. True to form there are plenty of door-like unopenings where the illusion of true interaction is destroyed, but what makes Volition's first FPS stand out from its peers is that in those instances where a door is seemingly locked, you can at least blow yourself your own exit. That's the theory anyway.
Much has indeed been made of Red Faction's Geo-Mod technology since it was flaunted to the industry more than a year ago. We were told then as we are today, that Red Faction will be the only game with 'arbitrary geometry modification for complete environmental destruction', meaning that with a suitably disturbing weapon you will not only be able to take the heads off your enemies, but literally blow the floor from under their feet, the roof from above their heads or indeed the walls that join the two. Ironically, far from 'complete environmental destruction', what we have instead is only partial. Just as Half-Life, for example, has doors both functional and cosmetic, so Red Faction has scenery that is both destructible and utterly impervious to attack. Shoot a rocket at one wall and it may erupt in a shower of stone leaving a gaping hole for you to pass through. Aim at the exact same material on the other side of a cave and no matter how many rockets you launch at it, the rock will remain intact, albeit slightly charred. Same meat, different gravy.
Just for the record, though you can blow holes in solid rock, you can't mutilate corpses. Not that I would particularly enjoy doing so, you understand, but that's another example of the game's inconsistencies.
So while Red Faction isn't the revolutionary FPS we were led to expect, it still is a good game, though things don't begin at all well. The first few levels are fairly poor, and if Red Faction were a film, most of the audience would have left their seats and taken their popcorn with them.
Just so you know, you play Parker, cracking rocks in Martian mines under the armed gaze of the Ultor Corporation, a company not known for its generous employee remuneration policies. Fortunately for our hero, an opportunity presents itself (uncannily enough, as level one starts up), whereby a guard attacks an unco-operative miner and ends up killed, leaving his cattle prod device on the ground for you to pick up and start clubbing everyone else to death. And so begins 20 levels of violent revenge: Red Faction, the militant arm of the Miner's Union, versus Ultor and its employees, not to mention of course the odd bit of rubble.
The fight progresses from mines and caverns, through a few subterranean bases, around an orbital station and back to the surface of Mars. Quite a journey, and along the way you get to pilot the odd vehicle as you make your way between the surprisingly varied levels that Earth's closest celestial neighbour otters. The first of these vehicles, as if left on the set of Total Recall, is a drilling tank-type thing. Unfortunately, apart from the short thrill of actually driving a vehicle in a first-person shooter, it serves no useful purpose in the game.
Fortunately things improve, and Red Faction gets much better later on. Four other drivable vehicles come into your possession, each better than the last, from a submersible to an APC near the end of the game. The levels improve too, thanks in part to an ever-expanding arsenal and a much more intelligent foe. Ultor's main body of troops are fairly standard in their methods, but coming up against the Mercenaries is quite a shock. They use cover intelligently, make effective use of their weapons and even run around in a fairly convincing manner. Unfortunately the facade is not quite as convincing as it was in Half-Life, as while you have access to grenades and satchel bombs, the enemy obviously has little use for such things.
So No Mutants Then?
Much how I would love to tell you how engrossing the story behind Red Faction is, for the life of me I can't remember what it is. You start as a miner, you rise up against your corporate oppressors and then you kill everyone and go home for tea and biscuits. Along the way you must chase a wrinkled dwarf who looks like Quentin Crisp, save a guy in a suit and kill some woman called (checks in manual) Masako. I'm not saying the story is rubbish, only that it is instantly forgettable. Just pretend you're Arnie in Total Recall, without the complications of Sharon Stone or memory loss and you'll probably do just fine.
Where the story fails it is with modest thanks that the gameplay makes up some of the difference. Though puzzles are few and far between, the action is punctuated by a handful of stealthy missions, where rather than kill everyone, you simply have to avoid them. Hardly very difficult, but different nonetheless. Plus there are some entertaining battles to be had, especially in those places where explosions create holes for you to take cover or hide away in. From being too easy the game can get extremely difficult, but never does it become frustrating and it's that feature that will carry most people towards the game's conclusion.
Though we've not played the game online, we tried out the multiplayer maps and came away less than convinced, but with the game comes the tools with which those in the know can create new levels, conversions and mods, which is perhaps the greatest legacy Red Faction will leave behind. Maybe the part-timers can in time create a game that its original creators could not, one that makes full use of its foundations. There are some great ideas here, which for whatever reason have only partially been realised. Whether it is the constraints of time, money, creativity or technology, Volition's game is remarkable only for what it attempts rather than what it achieves. And so Red Faction can be summed up thus: a first-person shooter, where you can sometimes blow holes in the scenery, with designs on being the best PC action game since Half-Life, but in fact isn't.
Lock and load, it's time to blow up some scenery
Red Factions collection of weapons is something of a mixed bag. The Riot Stick (cattle prod) is rarely used after level one and the pistol, though complete with silencer, is one of the weediest we've used in a PC game. Thankfully the rest of the weapons are far more interesting. The sub-machine gun can fire both regular and armour-piercing rounds, the shotgun can fire full auto rounds and the rocket launcher can fire heat-seeking rockets. But it's the Rail Gun that is the most interesting in that its secondary fire mode allows you to shoot through walls at infrared images of those behind. A tad too powerful for muttiplayer games, but a lot of fun in the single-player game.
Download Red Faction
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
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2019-01-02 Red Faction game added.