Red Faction Preview

If the mantra of "pick up a shotgun, run through linear landscapes, blast mindless enemies, and repeat" is starting to wear on you after all these years, check out the new kid on the block. Volition's Red Faction for the PlayStation2 wants to prove there's still some innovation to be found in the tiring first-person genre.

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First-person shooters have a routine so rote that nowadays, its retardation is comedic. Look back at a game like Doom, compare that to, say, Sin, Daikatana, or Blood II, and find more than one radical gameplay addition that isn't related to the new graphic engine each flaunts. Stagnation has set in, and revolutions are few and far between - especially when the last one was Half-Life (a title more than three years old). Predictably, waves of buzz build early for any title that shows even a smattering of something other than the now-conventional "pick up a shotgun, run through linear landscapes, blast mindless enemies, and repeat." Though it adheres to the same formula of "blowing stuff up," Volition's Red Faction for the PlayStation2 has high hopes to break the mold with innovative features that, if successful, will give a stale genre some new life.

Red Faction places you in the role of Parker, a futuristic miner in the underground caverns beneath a colonized Mars. The Ultor Corporation - the mine's operators - are callous employers. They've ignored the difficult living conditions they're subjecting their employees to. Even worse for the workers, a lethal plague is spreading through the mines, and rebellion against the heartless corporation is not far behind. As the game begins, you watch Parker become the instrument that is ready to ignite the tinder of open insurrection against Ultor. In an adventure that will take you from the underground grottos of Mars to Ultor's state-of-the-art research laboratories to the surface of Mars itself and beyond, Red Faction's expansive plot and scope will compel you toward a conclusion. Your progress through the levels and varied environments will be marked by the revelations of the secrets behind the disease that strikes down your comrades, as well as the truth behind Ultor's motives.

Volition, though it's obviously brushing up on its megacorporation-gone-corrupt conspiracy theories, isn't placing all its proverbial eggs on the story that sells its game. It knows that as engrossing as a good plot can be, Red Faction will need to have killer graphics and some great gameplay if it wants attention from the masses. That's where Red Faction introduces its innovative take on the genre, geo-mod technology. Essentially, geo mod gives you the ability to knock down walls, take out chunks of rock, and blow holes in almost any structure, in addition to your enemies. Coupled with a realistic physics engine that Volition promises will be able to accurately calculate and render falling geometry, particles, and liquid, this graphical physics engine might be the first that attempts to place reality within the confines of a game.

To those of you who would argue that Half-Life has already done the same thing whenever a rockslide occurs or marines blow the roof off a building, you are slightly mistaken. In other games, events like these are programmed to occur at certain instances in the game and are triggered by the player. Volition visualizes something far more arbitrary and player-responsive with its geo-mod engine. With fully deformable terrain, as well as objects that have weight and mass, Red Faction gives players a choice in their actions. In other games of the genre, where finding "the key" was the all-elusive grail to solving most problems, Red Faction offers multiple solutions. Can't find the key? Take out a rocket launcher and blow the door down. Sure, it might trigger an alarm and make life worse in the long run, but that's the price you pay for modern-day conveniences.

Besides having realistically modeling physics and terrain, geo mod also is one of the few advanced graphics engines that isn't licensed from id or Epic. The geo-mod engine promises shadow-casting and amazing lighting effects by using the PS2's advanced lighting capabilities. Like Half-Life, geo mod will use skeletal deformation and location-based damage to allow for realistic character reactions and animations.

Gameplay will rely on the tried and true FPS formula of mass destruction before serious character interaction. Red Faction promises to combine stealth and conflict evenly; however, it will make fighting optional (and more realistic) in some situations. Continuing with the theme of player choice, Volition also plans to let you commandeer several types of vehicles to accomplish your objectives - it claims that you'll be able to take on the enemy from "land, sea, and air." Enemies won't be pushovers either, since they will be given the capabilities to react and adapt to changes in the environment and the situation. They also have freedom to behave independently of one another - meaning that while some enemies, looking for a quick kill, may blindly charge you, others will prefer to hide in the shadows and attack you from a distance.

Red Faction is so ambitious that in some ways, it seems as if Volition could easily be biting more than it can chew. Bypassing a licensed graphics engine to focus on creating a game that's unhindered by the limitations of what's already out there, Volition has saddled itself with an impressive undertaking. Though it's too early to get a definite read either way, Red Faction has the potential to give first-person shooters the shot in the arm they need.

Look for it on PlayStation2 consoles in late 2001.

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