Red Faction Hands-On

We got our hands on a fairly complete version of Volition's Half-Life killer and had the opportunity to get an exclusive first hands-on look of the game.

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Volition and THQ's second PS2 game is Red Faction--a Half-Life-inspired first-person shooter that uses a dramatic mix of storyline and groundbreaking technology to create an incredibly realistic and believable world. We had the chance to play through a rough build of the game and were able to explore almost every part of Red Faction.

Parker in a futuristic Jeep.
Parker in a futuristic Jeep.

It's pretty obvious that Red Faction has been inspired primarily by Half-Life, the revolutionary PC first-person shooter that puts you in the shoes of a lone scientist who must fight his way through a sprawling government facility riddled with deadly traps and crawling with alien monsters and trigger-happy marines. Red Faction looks and plays very similarly to Half-Life. The game is set on a futuristic Mars--you play as Parker, an everyday miner employed by the corrupt megacorporation Ultor. Like in Half-Life, the story is told entirely through a first-person perspective. The story begins at the end of your shift in the bleak Ultor mines on Mars, and you soon witness a miner revolt that puts you in the middle of a bloody war between Ultor and its own employees. The Ultor miners, who have been mistreated by the Ultor corporation, are being infected by a horrible plague. The Red Faction, an organized miner underground, thinks that Ultor is responsible for the plague and revolts when Ultor refuses to pull the workforce from the mines and investigate the plague. Faced with a violent revolt and hoping to cover up its involvement in the plague, Ultor orders any miner to be shot on sight and dispatches its sizable and well-armed security force to roam the Ultor complex and quell the uprising. As Parker, you start the game sympathetic to neither cause, but as you progress through the game, you'll find yourself working with the Red Faction to stay alive and, eventually, to uncover the Ultor scandal.

Parker discovers a miner mutated by the plague.
Parker discovers a miner mutated by the plague.

Most of the plot takes place through the game's first-person perspective. As Parker, you view the events unfolding around you in real time through the in-game graphic engine. Though they weren't in the build we played, cutscenes will set up some of the levels and break the action for the sake of storytelling. Still, there are plenty of events that will happen while you're actually in the game, and you'll have to react to these events appropriately. Hendrix, a technician who's on your side, will constantly monitor your progress and update you through a small video unit in your miner's suit. Other characters, like Eos, the leader of the Red Faction, as well as Capek the evil scientistwho's loyal to Ultor will contact you at various times throughout the game. Additionally, characters will talk to you directly, enemies will attack you, and transport malfunctions and traps will all effect you in real time.

An Ultor technician stands in front of Parker's wanted poster.
An Ultor technician stands in front of Parker's wanted poster.

Though the version we played is still a good ways from being final, the game still controls very well and has only a few issues. The game defaults to the standard X-Squad dual-analog setup. The left analog stick enables you to move forward and back and strafe left and right, while the right analog stick controls looking and aiming. The right shoulder buttons are used for both standard and alternate weapon fire, and the left shoulder buttons are used for jumping and crouching. The face buttons are used for such things as cycling through weapons, opening doors, pushing switches, and interacting with other characters. The D-pad can be used to holster your weapon, switch to a manual aiming scheme, and to reload your weapon. These controls take only a few moments to learn and work very well. The game has an auto-aim feature that helps new players to find targets. The auto-aim is very well done and doesn't oversimplify the action by helping players too much--you'll have to be very close to your actual target to activate the auto-aim, which generally tracks a moving target only a small ways before it disengages. Additionally, the game uses an accurate shooting model for its weapons. Like the weapons in such PC games as Half-Life: Counter Strike and SWAT3, Red Faction's weapons accurately simulate recoil and are best fired in short bursts. Some weapons, like the suppressed precision rifle, will shoot accurately almost every time, while other weapons, like the futuristic submachine gun, spit rounds all over the target radius and are very inaccurate after the sixth continuous round. The game also uses a painfully realistic clip-based system that ditches any remaining ammo in the current magazine when you reload. This forces you to use every bullet conservatively and reload only when absolutely necessary. This combined with the sometimes scarce amount of ammo in some areas makes Red Faction unnecessarily difficult at times. At this point in time, there are some collision errors in the levels, which you can find if you attempt to jump over everything you see. We found ourselves stuck in the world or behind unbreakable items several times.

A guard bot aboard an Ultor spaceship.
A guard bot aboard an Ultor spaceship.

The game uses a large assortment of weapons that are a futuristic take on current military technology. As such, the game features a good amount of machine guns and rifles, only a few missile-based firearms, and even fewer energy weapons. But even with such a large range of weapons, the game seems a bit lacking. There didn't seem to be any one mainstay in the group, and no weapon was superior to any other. Still, there are plenty of impressive and fun-to-use weapons in the group. One of these is the railgun, a weapon reminiscent of the gun from the movie Eraser and similar to the farsight rifle featured in Perfect Dark. The railgun fires a supercharged uranium slug through walls and at anything that gets in its way. The game uses a very nice technique to simulate the gun's ability to shoot through walls--a monochrome green scope zooms in on any wall and shows you an infared readout of anything behind it. You can use this to send uranium slugs flying into unsuspecting guards and other characters without even entering a room. Another fun weapon is the fusion missile launcher, a weapon so powerful that it can be used only in massive rooms. The fusion missile launcher launches a huge missile that lights up the screen on impact and can dig a crater twice as deep as a man. Two sniper rifles, a flamethrower, grenades, mines, several machine guns, and an automatic shotgun round out the weapon list.

Fellow members of the Red Faction.
Fellow members of the Red Faction.

The geo-mod technology is a whole lot of fun to play with. Even in the midst of harrowing combat, it was difficult not switching to the fusion missile launcher and making some holes in the environment. Blowing stuff up and exploring is extremely satisfying, and the game really encourages you to use the geo-mod technology. This can be as simple as blowing your way around a stuck door to taking out a sniper in a tower by toppling the tower itself. Also, the level design has plenty of hidden access shafts, as well as tunnels that you can easily find by blowing a hole in the floor near vents. These tunnels often allow you to bypass particularly difficult or well-guarded areas in the Ultor complex and reward you for creative thinking. Still, the geo-mod technology can be a bit of a pain at times. Using rockets indoors isn't without consequences anymore, as you can get hurt from falling debris and can even get stuck in a deep crater. But even with these risks, the geo-mod technology is easily one of the most revolutionary and creative uses of technology to be used in a game like this.

The geo-mod technology at work.
The geo-mod technology at work.

Red Faction is very nice to look at. The levels are both expansive and detailed, and the textures are clean and pretty. The game is split up into several levels that feature several subareas. Like Half-Life, the game loads one area at a time and pauses to load as you progress from one area to the next. The individual areas are actually quite big, and they feature all sorts of graphical goodies to keep things interesting. The game's locales range from the red underground mines of Mars and the bleak green and gray walls of the subareas of Ultor's complex to the classy high-tech look of the Ultor's corporate division and the interior of different spaceships. The level design really helps give the game a solid sense of realism, and Ultor is well painted as a megacorporation with too many divisions to keep track of. The complex has trams, elevators, airlocks, spaceship hangars, submarine bays, and huge outdoor locations, as well as plenty of soldiers, security stations, tech labs, and menacing robots moving about. Additionally, the Ultor complex has plenty of propaganda posted all over it. Posters such as recruitment messages, wanted signs, and company baseball schedules line the walls of the complex and help make the environment even more believable. And since Ultor is a huge company with more to deal with than just one well-armed miner, the game has plenty of action going on--action that's unrelated to you and your quest. The characters in the game are extremely detailed and could give the character models of several PC first-person shooters a run for their money. The game features a wide assortment of character faces, and creative costumes and character design really stick out in this game. Each of the characters looks exactly like you would expect them to--the basic security guards look like cream puffs, Ultor's militaristic mercenary force looks frightening, doctors look shady, and other miners look like rough and rugged terrorists. The animations are smooth and look very realistic, but at this point, the game's frame rate has some major problems. At some points, the game chugs along and will even play sound effects after an actual event happens. Volition is no doubt addressing the problematic frame rate and has promised that the game will be close to--if not--60fps by the time it ships. A very conservative use of fog in the outdoor levels and almost no pop-up make Red Faction a visually powerful game.

A large guard bot as seen through the cockpit of a stolen Ultor fighter.
A large guard bot as seen through the cockpit of a stolen Ultor fighter.

The sound in Red Faction is very well done. The game features a rocking soundtrack of several completely original pieces, most of which are a weird fusion of techno and butt rock. The music does a great job of setting the mood for the game, and music will change depending on the area and scenario you're currently in. Red Faction also features some very nice sound effects. All the weapons have a distinct sound to them, and the different textures will make an appropriate sound as you traverse them. Other sounds, such as chain link fences rattling as you brush against them, metallic ladders pinging as you climb them, and generators and other electronic equipment chugging, whirring, and beeping really round out the audio. Additionally, the game features comprehensive voice work for every piece of dialogue in the game. Soldiers will cry out when they alert you, characters will actually talk to you directly when you're conversing via your video unit, and technicians and other nonplayer characters will whistle and mumble as they go about their work. Most of the voices are very appropriate and really work for the game, but some seem wrong--it's entirely possible that those voices are placeholder. Not all the voice acting was in the game, so, for example, we were unable to judge how Eos sounded. Still, given the excellent audio effort of Volition's last PS2 game, Summoner, it's likely that Red Faction will have outstanding sound.

A close-up shot of a concerned Parker.
A close-up shot of a concerned Parker.

From everything we've seen so far, Red Faction looks like it could be the defining single-player FPS for the PS2. While it's doubtful that the game will have the same impact that Half-Life did when it was first released on the PC, Red Faction has all the qualities that made Half-Life so great and has the potential to be an excellent game in its own right. Volition has plenty of time to fix the problems we encountered in the nonalpha build we played, since the game is currently scheduled for a May 2001 release.

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