Red Faction II Review
The original Red Faction blew the doors off the first-person shooter concept long before Halo burst onto the scene. An assortment of clever weapons and the ability to pilot vehicles was just the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to the Geo-Mod system, you could actually blow holes in the environment and create alternate methods of escape. Along with its great design and wonderful gameplay, the story was engaging, the music exceptional, and the graphics none-too-shabby for an early PlayStation 2 release.
Red Faction II builds on its predecessor in every conceivable way, but whether or not it's a superior game will depend on your experience with the first game, as well as your experience with all of the great first-person shooters that have come along since.
The story (in a nutshell) throws you into the role of Alias, a nano-enhanced soldier in Chancellor Sopot's fascist army. Long story short: Sopot comes to view his super soldiers as a potential threat and orders you and your comrades executed. Ultimately, you join up with the Red Faction, a band of rebels striving to unseat Sopot, and end up being sent out on missions against Sopot's "regular" army. Hey, it's a first-person shooter. No one ever said the plot had to be perfect. Or good.
You know how it goes... your task is to kill the bad guys, avoid civilians, and complete missions that will undermine Sopot's regime. Much of this entails blasting away at Sopot's troops or protecting fellow Red Faction members, although there are times when you'll get to pilot a vehicle or embark on an explosives mission. Like any first-person shooter, your crosshair and field of vision dictate what you can target. The controls are responsive, so you shouldn't have any trouble taking aim at oncoming enemies. One nice aspect is that the majority of weapons have secondary fire modes, such as grenade launchers, targeting scopes, or pistol-whipping action. If you like, you can hook up a USB keyboard and mouse for a more PC style experience.
There are roughly 14 different weapons, none of which will be any surprise to FPS veterans. You get pistols, shotguns, machine guns, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, and a smattering of high-tech items like a rail gun and automatic sniper rifle. You can also carry four different types of grenades -- frag, stun, napalm, and satchel charge -- which you can toss with the R2 button while firing with L1 and R1. The control system seems complicated at first, but it does allow you to switch weapons and grenades while firing with one or both hands. It takes forever to reload, so you'll fare better if you take efficient shots and try to aim for the enemy's head.
Headshots, as you might expect, tend to blow off the enemy's head in multiple pieces. Thus, the reason for the M rating (as if the copious blood spatters weren't reason enough). Basically, everything you've come to expect to see in FPS games is what you'll see in Red Faction II. When you gun down one of Sopot's soldiers, their helmet may fly off or they may fling their gun into the air--along with the requisite blood and gibs of course. The environments are primarily high-rise office buildings and military structures, so you'll get plenty of chances to blast away doors, windows, desks, cubicles, and more of that sort of furniture. Blowing up the environment plays a key role in some missions. The developers call this feature "Geo-Mod," which is fancy-speak for "hey pal, you can blast holes into the walls, floors, and ceilings in some areas."
The action can get pretty hectic at times and, in some situations, will seem unfair. Often, you'll be stuck in a crossfire or find yourself plowing through groups of soldiers that are replaced as quickly as you can mow them down. Unlike the original Red Faction, most of the enemies in the sequel re-spawn once you've killed them, so you can't just take cover and thin the herd. This is where the Geo-Mod system helps. In most areas, you can use your missiles or grenades to blast shortcuts through adjacent walls or floors. Sometimes, the best use for Geo-Mod is to blow a chunk away from a pillar or outcropping that creates cover and a good line of site for a sniping weapon. This is especially useful in boss battles, where it's a lot easier to snipe from cover than it is to stand in the middle of a roomful of rail-gun toting soldiers.
For the most part, the audio backs up the action perfectly. The percussive impacts from grenades and gun shells aren't just loud. They're jarring. You'll also hear all kinds of atmospheric background noise based upon the location and situation you're in. An office might have civilian chatter, whereas a bombed out apartment complex would be echoing with the slight whispers of the spec-ops forces that are taking up positions nearby. The voice work during the intermissions is also spectacular. Lance Henriksen (of Alien fame) provides the voice for Captain Molov, the Red Faction leader, and general Sopot is voiced by Sherman Howard (Jak II, Devil May Cry), who turns in an absolutely hilarious performance by portraying Sopot as an idiotic and maniacal despot. About the only thing lacking is the soundtrack, which adequately fits the mood, but is nowhere near as moving or memorable as the soundtrack from the first game. In the end though, the improved sound effects and voice work make up for whatever the music is missing.
As for the rest of the game's so-called improvements, Red Faction II unashamedly borrows from a number of previous first-person shooters. Alias can carry three health packs, but his stamina indicator will increase when you're idle, just like the Master Chief's in Halo. Also similar to Halo, there are many instances where you'll fight alongside teammates or entire squads of Red Faction soldiers, which means you don't always have to take responsibility for each enemy you see. As you proceed through each stage, you can attempt a variety of bonus objectives that can increase your heroism rating and earn you a better ending. Conversely, murdering innocent bystanders will decrease your heroism and diminish the ending you'll observe. Finally, and unlike its predecessor, Red Faction II includes melee attacks with some weapons--which means you can pistol-whip enemies when you run out of ammunition.
One of the best things about the original Red Faction is that you were able to pilot tanks and submarines in various areas throughout the game. Red Faction II takes this concept even further. There are more vehicles: Robot mechs, gun turrets, tank guns, and helicopter guns join the attack submarine from the original game; and there are many more places to use them. In the wreckage of a city, for example, you'll use a gun turret to support Red Faction forces as they combat Sopot's cleaning squads. Later on, you'll wander throughout a research facility in giant robot battle armor--and yes, it comes with an endless supply of missiles and machine guns.
For all of these improvements, however, Red Faction II feels like a step backward for a number of reasons.
1) Most stages are too cramped and straightforward. The tunnels, hallways, and streets of Red Faction II don't allow much for backtracking or shortcuts. Other than the times when you'll blast a wall in order to outflank an enemy, the objective is usually right in front of you. If you factor in the constantly respawning enemies, the focus in Red Faction II certainly seems more about combat than it is exploration or puzzle solving. This is great if you love action games, and certainly wonderful if you intend to make use of the split-screen multiplayer modes, but it's not so great if you enjoyed the sneaking and duct puzzles from the first Red Faction.
2) Weapon selection vs. practical use. One of my own personal peeves with the game is, that for all of the weapons you get, you never really get the impression that one is more useful than another. The grenade launcher, the anti-personal gun, and the grenade function on the nano combat weapon all accomplish the same result. Likewise, the machine pistol, silenced machine gun, assault rifle, and nano pistol all fire an equally weak stream of fast-paced ammunition. Such a wide selection of weapons just wastes time and distracts you during the heat of combat. It would have made more sense to include a smaller selection of weapons, each with its own clear use.
I also think that it's pretty damn stupid how most of the enemies you'll fight at the end of the game are basically zombies. The Resident Evil influences are blatant and unnecessary.
Now, to tilt the scales back to the positive end of the spectrum, it must be mentioned that Red Faction II is positively SPECTACULAR as a multiplayer game. There are eight gameplay modes--including deathmatch, capture the flag, and teams--and more than 40 different stages to fight upon. Up to four players can play against one another along with a single bot, or you can play by yourself against anywhere between two and five CPU controlled bots. Unlike many FPS games, you can actually create your own bots and give them a variety of fighting styles and attributes. In this fashion, bots can act more like humans instead of near-perfect killing machines.
Overall, the pros vastly outweigh the cons. For this sequel, the developers decided to take the game in a new direction, gearing it more toward action and gunplay and less toward sneaking around and squeezing the most out of limited ammo supplies. If you want a fast-paced, violent, and up-close sort of first-person shooter, then Red Faction II definitely fits the bill. That goes double if you get into the game's split-screen modes.
7/23/2004 Frank Provo