Red Faction Hands-On

We recently received a near-final version of Red Faction, THQ's story-driven first-person shooter for the PlayStation 2. Find out all the details in our Hands-On report.

It's easy to compare games like Red Faction to the seminal Half-Life for the PC. Virtually any story-driven first-person shooter owes at least something to Valve's classic. When Volition set out to develop Red Faction, it decided to concentrate on making the single-player mode the game's emphasis while still satisfying consumers with a two-player deathmatch mode. The result is a highly cinematic, intricately detailed first-person shooter that features some groundbreaking technology Volition calls Geo-Mod.

As Red Faction begins, humans from Earth are being shipped to Mars to aid in its development. Ultor, a large, secretive corporation, has promised earthlings who go to Mars unprecedented wealth and a short stay. Earth's citizens come in droves to work the mines, hoping for a quick, sweet payoff, but none of them ever return. Gryphon, Ultor's newly hired do-good exec, becomes suspicious when he discovers discrepancies in the employee infirmary logs. Rumors begin circulating throughout the workforce that Ultor has been purposefully infecting miners with an experimental virus. Eos, a gritty female miner whose parents were killed by the virus' resulting plague, forms a worker rebellion dubbed Red Faction. You play as Parker, a young miner who is caught in the middle of the revolt. Initially without allegiance to either side, Parker must fend for his own life while attempting to confront the virus' creator and obtain an antidote. Throughout the game, an Ultor hacker turned traitor named Hendrix provides Parker with vital mission information and alerts him to impending danger.

There are 20 single-player levels included in Red Faction, and each is broken into several sections. In the most recent build we received, there are 63 sections in all. Each level takes about an hour to complete, and reaching certain doors or areas triggers the loading of the next section. Red Faction's weaponry is of a militaristic nature. There are a bevy of machine guns and pistols to use, as well as more extravagant weapons like a flamethrower, a rocket launcher, and remote mines. You may even take control of floor-mounted turrets for some added firepower. The majority of Red Faction's gameplay revolves around dispensing enemies until you find a switch to flip. Haphazardly rushing through most levels is impossible. It's essential to find small rooms with a sliding door so you may utilize your strafe-and-shoot skills. Even on the lowest of the game's four difficulty settings, you must methodically take one room at a time. Red Faction utilizes what is now becoming the standard control scheme for first-person shooters on the PlayStation 2. The left analog controls movement while the right analog stick is used to look.

Platform jumping is required from time to time, as are swimming and ladder climbing. There is also a wealth of vehicles to pilot such as a submarine complete with torpedoes, a jeep with a machine-gun turret, and an interesting hovercraft with mounted guns. Scripted events take place independently of your location, so it's sometimes possible to miss entire conversations if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even so, the events go a long way toward making the entire experience more immersive. Ultor's army is made up of soldiers called mercs, and they will go through extensive AI routines while you watch from a distance. Once engaged in combat, their AI becomes even more impressive. If they are outgunned and out in the open, they will turn and run for cover. They will also reorient themselves so they can get clear shots, and they'll duck behind objects when under siege. Making things even more challenging, it often takes several bursts of machine-gun fire to drop just one.

When we spoke with Volition last October, Philip Holt, Volition's director of development stated, "Since day one, we planned Red Faction to be a great single-player game--that's our focus. When examining Red Faction's multiplayer mode, it appears that Philip meant what he said. Thus far there are 13 maps, and that many characters available for deathmatch. You may play against another human or square off against a gang of bots. Depending on which map is selected, up to four bots may also be added to the head-to-head mode. The bots may be set on four different difficulty settings, and both the kill and time limits may be adjusted. In this latest burn, there is no option to choose weapons. At the conclusion of each match, scores are awarded for kills, deaths, how many kills each character had in a row before dying, and accuracy. Statistics may then be saved to a character profile. The maps are well designed in that they are small enough to encourage confrontation but large enough to supply some retreat territory. With four bots and two human players in one map, things can become quite hectic.

While Red Faction's game design borrows heavily from Half-Life, its visual elements are more akin to those of GoldenEye. The futuristic underground mine setting provides plenty of docking bays, command centers, catwalk-strewn warehouses, and dingy caverns to blast through. The communistic propaganda that litters each area makes the resemblance all the more striking. When polygon counts are considered, Red Faction's got it going on. The sprawling outdoor areas and claustrophobic indoor regions are awash in detail. There are entire offices with dozens of cubicles that include their own desk, computer, chair, and potted plant. Liberal use of real-time lighting and particle effects helps create a mysterious atmosphere, and the texture variety included in Red Faction shows that talented programmers can get around the PS2's limited VRAM. Real-time cinemas and scripted events using the in-game character models occur frequently to help give the plot a nudge. The character's mouths are animated to match the dialogue, and their faces do a fairly good job of conveying expression. The frame rates have been greatly improved when compared with the last burn of Red Faction we played, but they still have a tendency to fluctuate when the action is especially thick. While the multiplayer mode doesn't exactly scream along at this point, its frame rates are on par with those of the single-player experience, though the detail is cut down a bit and there is some light fogging. The only other complaint with Red Faction's graphics thus far is that the low-resolution textures appear a bit muddy and washed-out.

While there are plenty of scripted events that take place in Red Faction, one thing that isn't scripted is the use of the Geo-Mod engine. Virtually anything and everything can be blown up, blasted through, or brought down. There are yellow marks placed throughout the levels that show you specific areas that may be destroyed, but it's entirely possible to just go around busting apart the level. Nearly everything can be destroyed. You may shoot steam pipes and send steam bellowing into the room or blast the walls above enemies and watch the debris fall down on top of them. Even while piloting the submarine you may use its torpedoes to turn stalactites into rubble. In the single-player mode, the weaponry required to alter the environments is in short supply, so wasting the ammunition on enjoying yourself is a good way to shortchange yourself later on. The Geo-Mod engine is also in effect for the multiplayer mode, though, which adds a new dimension to deathmatch play.

Red Faction features an eclectic mix of music and enough tracks to keep the sound from becoming repetitive. The sound effects are crisp and positioned perfectly in the 5.1 Dolby Surround sound. The enemies only have a few different taunts, but the overall amount of speech included is impressive. Hendrix and Eos will cut in occasionally to offer suggestions or give you objectives, and the real-time cinemas are filled with adequate voice acting.

Perhaps what is most impressive about Red Faction is the attention Volition has paid to detail. Flaming enemies will burn you, glass spider-webs before bursting, getting hit by rubble depletes your health, and dead bodies remain lying in the level until it's completed. Red Faction also succeeds in being highly addictive and fun. While there are quite a few bugs left to squash and several features to implement, Red Faction is shaping up to be the first-person shooter to watch on the PlayStation 2. Hopefully Volition and THQ will refrain from pushing Red Faction to market before this ambitious project is polished and ready to go. Red Faction is currently scheduled for release on May 22.

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