One of the main problems with the PS2 library is that there are simply not enough games out there that you want to sit down with for a long period of time- too much eye candy and not enough nutritious fiber, I guess. Thanks to Volition (the folks behind Summoner) gamers now have Red Faction to keep them busy for a spell. It's definitely the best single-player first-person shooter on the system, thanks to a solid story, great graphics and excellent presentation- it's definitely not a game you'll blow through in a rainy weekend.
Speaking of blowing through things, Red Faction uses something Volition calls "Geo-Mod Technology" which enables players to blast through many of the games' floors and walls to create shortcuts, find items, or take out enemies. This makes the gameplay unique in that no two people will play RF the exact same way. Some may note that classic FPS games like Duke Nukem and the Blood games have parts of environments that can be blasted away, but those areas are actually quite small compared to what's here. In Red Faction, certain levels take on a totally new dynamic when you start poking tunnels through them. There's ample opportunity for a few Kodak moments when you send enemies tumbling from a destroyed bridge, or take out entire catwalks or guard towers with a few missiles or well-placed explosives.
The game's story recalls and borrows bits from the films Outland and Total Recall, a touch of Resident Evil, and the PC classics Half-Life and Thief, but it's done well enough to stand up on its own merits. You play as Parker, a regular guy who came to Mars in order to do something different with his life, and instead ends up being part of a mass miner rebellion. The Ultor Corporation is using miners like slaves and running things with an iron fist, but rebels, led by a woman called Eos, have started an armed revolt. The game starts out at the end of a work shift, just when Ultor's guards are cracking down on the rebels. Similar to Half-Life, the story unfolds in real-time via radio communication from other rebels or conversations with people you meet while playing, so you'll find out things as you go along. This gets you really involved in things more so than any other FPS on the PS2. At first you'll face only masses of Ultor guards, but later on, you'll run into some odd-looking (and tougher to kill) mechanical and organic enemies. There are also a few missions where you have to sneak around in disguise, sabotage machinery and drive a few different vehicles.
One thing that you'll want to do if you're new to FPS games is play the training mission, and get used to a particular control scheme. The game has a few set-ups that work well (I use the left stick to move and turn, and the right one for strafing/looking), despite what other reviewers who play too many PC shooters will tell you. I do wish that the keys were completely configurable, though- more on that later. The enemy AI is pretty slick- guards will dive for cover, go get help, or yell out "Don't shoot!" as they turn and run, only to spin around after they've reloaded. The weapon selection is decent- a few of them are typical FPS standbys, like the hand and machine guns, while others are derived from mining tools in the game. When you find the remote charges or rocket launcher the first time out, you'll probably run around wasting ammo as you blow holes in wall after wall looking for hidden items and rooms. In the first couple of areas, most of the destructible walls and such are clearly marked, but later on, you'll have to be creative (look for posters and vents in the floor).
The vehicles are a mixed bag as far as their overall usefulness- the digger looks nice, but other than running over Ultor troops, it's not much good. That and the drill bits wear out after about a minute or two. The ATV is cool, despite the fact that you can't drive and shoot at the same time, and the APC and submarine are great fun when you find them. My favorite is the fighter craft, with it's homing missiles and powerful Gatling gun. The main problems with all of them is that you really don't use them as much as you'd like, and only the digger has enough armor to withstand a massive Ultor guard assault. Also, with the exception of the sub, you'll have to learn how to pilot each vehicle as you come across it. It adds to the game's realism somewhat, but I can see a few folks who will complain about this. Me, I just save before I try anything new or foolish. There's also no auto mapping system in the game, or any maps at all, for that matter- that suits me just fine, as I have a pretty good sense of direction. Besides, I always thought it a bit silly to have a map always on screen or available at the touch of a button. Most of the time, the game puts you on a more or less linear path- you can always try blowing through a wall if you get stuck or lostů
The graphics are quite solid and realistic, and you'll be pleased to know that there are a wide variety of level designs and some really superior texture, color and lighting work. Volition definitely went for a "Half-Lifey" look and feel to things, and it works. The character models are acceptable, a bit too angular, and just like in Summoner, a few of the animations are a bit awkward (what's up with the swishy miners in the opening movie?). The sound and music are also stellar, although Parker's and Eos's voices drove me nuts. Back to the controls for a bit- I found them just peachy, with the only problems being the inability to run faster and configure the shoulder keys for strafing. The worst offense is the auto-aiming feature- it's helpful most of the time, but try for a head shot with it, and you'll be eating lead, missiles, or rails within seconds. At the start, the game forces you to come to grips with whatever configuration you end up choosing, and after about 10 minutes or so it's easy to move around. It's a bit annoying at first because you have loads of Ultor guards on your ass for those 10 minutes, though. The jumping is a bit of a pain at times, but nowhere near as frustrating as in the Turok games. Sure, you keyboard and mouse users will bitch and moan, but hey, you can always wait until the PC version comes out, right?
Red Faction also has a pretty decent multi-player game, although it only supports two players with an adjustable number of bots. The 9 levels vary from excellent to impractical (the Blasted Canyon is pretty silly, I think), and the bot AI is sharp for the most part. Some levels have hidden stuff, so picking up a rocket launcher and heading for the nearest suspicious-looking wall is always a good idea - when you're not dodging bullets, though. The auto-aim is the same as in the regular game, so sometimes it feels like you're trying to take down a bunch of Terminators- thank goodness for collateral damage! The worst thing I have to say about RF is the name Ultor sounds as it belongs to a villain from the old Herculoids TV show or something. Anyway, enough reading for you- run on down to your favorite game shop, and pay good money for a copy of Red Faction- Your PS2 will thank you for it.
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