Replay Value: 4.2
Red Faction was one of my favorite early PS2 games and although the series went downhill after that, 2009’s Red Faction: Guerrilla was a return to form. When I say “form,” I’m talking about general quality, as the free-roaming game was a far cry from the linear FPS that was the original title. I’m looking forward to Armageddon, too. However, I’m not sure why THQ bothered with the downloadable effort, Red Faction: Battlegrounds, which isn’t really recognizable as a franchise installment. It’s not that the game is broken; this isn’t about poor control or other technical/programming issues. No, it’s just that the game gets old quickly and after a while, you start to realize that your $10 might have been better spent.
Graphically, you have the option of ramping up the 3D element, thanks to a scale that goes all the way up to 7. If you have no interest – or no capability – of playing in 3D, just turn it down to 1, but that doesn’t make Battlegrounds an appealing production by any stretch of the imagination. It’s always dark, the color scheme is predictable (yep, lots of browns and reds), and while the detail isn’t bad, there isn’t anything special about the effects or overall visual presentation. I did like some of the maps and the frame rate didn’t stutter much at all, but much like the rest of the game, the underwhelming banality just sort of lulls you to sleep. At the very least, though, the atmosphere is fitting, so that’s something.
The sound is similar, in that there isn’t anything wrong with the effects or soundtrack, and there’s some decent variety, but you’ve heard it all within a few hours. It doesn’t get any better when you go online – even if the effects take center stage with more players – and I think the basic gameplay audio isn’t supremely polished or effective. When you’re in your capable, agile little vehicle, the sound doesn’t leap out of your speakers and the graphics don’t leap off the screen. All of it just feels a little…muted and boring. Thankfully, it’s easy to dive right in and get started and you probably won’t focus on the lackluster technical elements for very long. And because the control is accessible, the sound and graphics don’t totally cripple the game.
For the record, this is the second straight downloadable game I’ve played where the solo player is, for the most part, ignored. Moon Diver was going along fine until I discovered it couldn’t be completed alone, and in Battlegrounds, there are only 16 Training Missions and after that, you’re expected to jump into online multiplayer. The only good news is that you’re not always doing the same thing in those Training Missions; there are four distinct types- Annihilate, Survival, Speed Trial and Shooting Range. This allows for some diverse gameplay aspects and with time goals for all of them (Gold, Silver, and Bronze are awarded), you can always attempt to beat your best performance. This was entertaining for a while, I admit.
Also, as you progress in those Training Missions, you can level up, which is helpful when you first go online. Therefore, you have plenty of incentive to complete them, and the variety of types effectively battles any threats of repetition. Unfortunately, going online isn’t a cure-all: up to four players can go at it in five different modes; Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, King of the Kill, Capture the Flag and something called Flag Frenzy. It’s all relatively fun and even interesting – I most enjoyed Capture the Flag and King of the Hill – but none of it has that addictive multiplayer quality found in other games, and uh…there aren’t a heck of a lot of players around. The control is always stable, though, so we can’t blame the downfall on that.
However, I’m more than willing to pin the blame on two painfully obvious flaws: 1. the entire presentation doesn’t stand out in any way, and we tend to forget what we played mere minutes after putting down the controller, and 2. if there’s only one measly hour of content for the lone player, why bother putting it in? Look, if you want to focus on multiplayer, go right ahead; just don’t try to pretend there’s a single-player campaign when it’s borderline non-existent. Normally, I wouldn’t be so hard on this latter failing, but the current multiplayer boom really seems to be squeezing out single-player robustness, and it’s annoying the crap out of me. It’s even happening to downloadable titles; it’s like there’s no safe haven for solo players, anymore. People do play games alone, THQ. Yes, still.
The rest of it is just “meh.” Red Faction: Battlegrounds works well in terms of control and offers a fair amount of vehicular variety, and I liked playing something that almost reminded me of Twisted Metal. It’s hardly the same kind of gameplay, you know, but titles based solely on vehicle action are few and far between these days. It’s accessible and sort of amusing for a little while, but the instant you realize the single-player element is extremely short and ultimately disappointing, you might regret the purchase. Going online helps a little, but a lot of times, it’s impossible unless you’ve chosen the right vehicle, and that lends an irritating trial-and-error aspect to the multiplayer action. Then there are a few technical misgivings, like collision detection issues and pop-ups/ins; whatever. It’s just the epitome of “blah.”
The Good: Okay atmosphere. Solid, stable control. Some interesting vehicle-based action and variety.
The Bad: Lackluster graphics and sound. Single-player part is over in less than an hour. Multiplayer isn’t as deep or involving as it should’ve been. Entertainment wears thin very quickly.
The Ugly: “…snore.”