Red Faction
Sin meets Total Recall in this revolutionary new shooter.

The rust-red landscape of the planet Mars was sprawled out before me like a two-dollar hooker passed out on a cheap motel mattress. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a cheap fix for a humdrum life on Earth. At least, that’s what the hundreds of miners working for the Ultor Corporation thought. Hope for a new life brought them to the Red Planet in droves.

It didn’t take long for the smart ones to figure out that they’d made a mistake. A big one. Working in the mines on Mars made purgatory feel like hell, and the place was teaming with overzealous guards eager to make sure that you spent every minute of your shift blasting rock. To make things worse, miners were dying by the dozens from an unknown plague. Tensions were running hotter than the sidewalks of New York during a heat wave. Something was going to give, especially if you were a miner caught up in the middle of it all.

This is the future as imagined by Volition — the team best known for their work on the Descent series — and they’ve set out to change the face of first-person shooters. Finally, the fruit of their labor is here, and it’s called Red Faction. While many shooters have grown flatter than bottles of malt liquor left open overnight, Red Faction brings a beacon-bright weapon to the FPS scene: the Geo-Mod engine.

Thanks to Geo-Mod technology, you can dish out damage to the game world like a wrecking ball in Vegas. Once you grab any explosive weapon and go to town, you’ll feel more powerful than a spicy vindaloo marching through your bowels. Bridges collapse, holes get punched in walls, and glass shatters like a mob informant’s jaw in a jailhouse basement. All this destruction is calculated on the fly, and it’s immensely satisfying.

As far as looks go, Red Faction is more like the cute girl next door than a hot fashion model from the Upper West Side: It’s pretty, but it won’t make a man drop to his knees and thank God for giving him sight. Out of the 20 levels, a few — like the one where you infiltrate the mercenaries’ base camp — really capture the eye, while others are far less interesting. Some of the character models look blocky, and the water effects leave much to be desired.

Sadly, the developers don’t take full advantage of the ace in their hand. The Geo-Mod engine opens up endless new possibilities, but there are few times when you absolutely need to use the abilities of the engine: it’s often easier to shoot enemies directly rather than open holes beneath them. Where are the moments when opponents blast though the wall to get at me? Why can’t I bring down the roof on a group of bad guys and crush them like the cockroaches they are? Missed opportunities.

My gut’s telling me that most of the development time was spent making the engine rather than designing the levels. The levels are the usual mix of shooting it out from point A to point B. There are a few stealth missions, but I still managed to make it through even after blowing my cover.

On the positive side, the effects for the 15 different weapons are superb. Red Faction gives you a healthy mix of futuristic and conventional weapons, including sniper rifles and flamethrowers. Every firearm has a very immediate and satisfying feel. The screen shakes with the rattle from the heavy machine gun, tracers arch out like angry hornets, and bullets bounce off steel with teeth-rattling ricochets.

The brightest star in Red Faction’s lineup of destruction is the rail driver. This instrument of vengeance can shoot through any wall, barrier, or obstacle — and with the aid of a scope that sees heat signatures through walls, no one is safe from it. Be careful, though: enemies are armed with the same weapons you are, and one hit from the rail driver will put you down like a rabid dog taken out back to the woodshed.

Getting the chance to jack into five controllable vehicles is a major plus. The driller lets you plow through walls to other areas. The jeep, sub, APC, and fighter are useful as methods of transportation and weapons platforms. Underwater segments with the sub are especially impressive. Each time an enemy sub crumbles under the force of your torpedoes slamming into its grainy hulk, it starts to explode — and then suddenly implodes like a grapefruit hit with a mallet.

Now for my grudges. While Red Faction is indeed fun, it ends too soon, and the final boss is about as intimidating as a Central Park poodle. Also, a few bugs have managed to make it past the QA team. On more than a couple occasions, I missed key voice-over information because I walked into the next part of the level too soon and triggered a load screen. There were also a few times when I stepped out of a vehicle only to find myself trapped in rock, or even empty air. But the bugs don’t ruin the experience, nor appear often enough to be frustrating.

Fans of multiplay (I’m not one of them) will revel in Red Faction’s offerings here. It seems the designers were hit with a moment of divine inspiration and created levels that do take advantage of the Geo-Mod engine. Many multiplayer maps have hidden areas to blast into and rooms that can be demolished. However, I must point out that the Geo-Mod engine does have its limits. You can only do so much damage to the environment before the engine stops rendering the destruction. But it takes a long time to hit this limit, and in the single-player game you’ll never have enough ammo to reach it.

Another plus is that Red Faction ships with a powerful editor called the RED Editor. You can bet that once the mod community gets ahold of this, they’ll be cranking out some spectacular user-created levels.
Red Faction isn’t god’s gift to the first-person-shooter genre, but it’s got more tricks up its sleeve than a three-card monte dealer. And it sure beats just sitting around your goddamn jail cell waiting for Half-Life 2.

— Max Payne

HIGHS: Destructible levels are a great trick; lots of cool weapons; good multiplayer maps.

LOWS: Engine not fully taken advantage of; too easy to beat; some bugs.

BOTTOM LINE: A very solid shooter with incredible potential from the mod world.
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