Although Red Faction rarely outstrips the games it draws inspiration from, the fact that there are times when it shows them up at all is pretty impressive.
Welcome to Mars, where violence has erupted at a corporate mining colony outside the jurisdiction of the Earth government. This lawless environment is the setting of Volition's Red Faction, a first-person shooter from a company known most recently for Summoner, an innovative 3D role-playing game for the PlayStation 2 and PC. In Red Faction, Volition attempts to combine the best elements from notable first-person shooters such as Valve's Half-Life, Rare's Perfect Dark and GoldenEye 007, and Raven's Soldier of Fortune into one game. It's heavy on story, has a wide variety of tasks for you to accomplish, and involves combat that's visceral and strategic at the same time. Although Red Faction rarely outstrips the games it draws inspiration from, the fact that there are times when it shows them up at all is pretty impressive.
In a story reminiscent of films like Total Recall, Outland, and Blade Runner and books such as Greg Bear's Moving Mars, you play as Parker, a young man who came to Mars to find himself, only to find himself beaten down. You and the others who've come to the planet to become miners for the Ultor Corporation--either for the promised riches or just an escape from Earth--are forced to work 10-hour days in harsh underground conditions under armed guard. During your off hours, you're crammed into a room with eight other workers, and you have to time-share bunks with those on the other shift. If that weren't enough, a mysterious plague is causing miners to die on their feet, and Ultor doesn't seem to be too worried. Finally, angers flare and a group of your co-workers rebel against the oppressive guards. You quickly find yourself a notorious fugitive, hunted by the corporation that wants to destroy you and by a rebel underground movement known as the Red Faction, who wants you to join their ranks.
You'll soon get to know members of both groups through in-game story sequences, scripted events, and communication through your headset. Much like in Half-Life (the game to which Red Faction bears closest resemblance), the action doesn't always totally revolve around your character. You'll come in during the midst of battles between rebel and company forces, intercept messages meant for others, and overhear conversations that hint at deeper mysteries behind the plague. Also similar to Half-Life, Red Faction lacks defined levels. Instead, new sections load once you progress far enough.
Espionage and stealth elements pioneered in first-person shooters like GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark are found here as well. In one section, you need to sneak into an enemy complex, disguised but still careful not to let anyone see your face (at this point, emblazoned on a thousand wanted posters). Your only weapon is a concealed and silenced 12mm pistol, which has to be used, if the occasion arises, away from the watchful eye of company security cameras and outside of the course of security personnel making their rounds. There are even a few times when you'll need to drag the bodies of dispatched foes out of sight in order to keep them from being discovered by fellow guards, as in Looking Glass Studios' Thief series.
There are also instances when you commandeer special vehicles, such as submarines, tanks, and gunships, but most of the time the gameplay revolves around straightforward battles with the game's extremely intelligent enemies. You'll gather weapons such as remote mines, automatic shotguns, flamethrowers, riot shields, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, and machine guns to help you fight them. Many weapons have auxiliary functions as well. As such, you can dislodge the fuel tank from your flame thrower and toss it like a napalm grenade. Meanwhile, the rail launcher's primary function is much like the railgun from id's Quake series, while its secondary function allows you to see and shoot through walls similar to the Farsight laser rifle in Rare's Perfect Dark.