Red Faction Updated Preview
We take a look at the game's new weapons, characters, and environments.
Although both Monolith's No One Lives Forever and Gray Matter's Return to Castle Wolfenstein made a showing at last year's E3, the most promising first-person shooter on the show floor at the time was arguably Red Faction. In development at Champaign, Illinois-based Volition, the game was originally supposed to be Descent 4, but a licensing conflict with Interplay prevented the developer from using the famous space-simulation reference. Instead, Volition took its existing technology and reshaped the game into a sci-fi shooter that seems to borrow heavily from the likes of Total Recall. You play the role of Parker, a miner who works the caverns of a Martian colony and takes part in a rebellion against the Ultor Corporation after a deadly virus is unleashed within the mines. Since seeing it for the first time at
As we noted earlier, the centerpiece of Red Faction is undoubtedly its 3D-engine technology. Called Geo-Mod, which is short for geometry modification, this technology finally allows for truly interactive environments and deformable terrains, the likes of which similar games have been able to only approach in the past. Through its Geo-Mod engine, Red Faction will basically let you use your weapons to change the face of your surroundings in the game. Come to a dead end? Pick up a rocket launcher and make your own door. Can't find the key to open that locked door? Blast right through it with a satchel charge. Each object in the game can be given a different level of deformability by the designers, so, for instance, material like sheet metal will have a tendency to bend and shatter much more than solid rock will. This not only lets the Volition level designers breath easier - just imagine if the game gave you the ability to tunnel anywhere - but it also makes deformable objects of various compositions react differently; and, more importantly, it makes them react in a realistic manner.
Despite the fact that Volition programmers have been working on the Geo-Mod technology for years now, they're still spending all their time getting it just right. In fact, the Geo-Mod engine has been updated since the last public showing of Red Faction. Now, when you fire a rocket at a deformable wall, a close inspection of the resulting explosion will reveal two types of debris. The first simply falls straight down to the ground from the newly created crater. The second layer of debris, however, actually ejects outward from the face of the wall. Especially impressive is that the engine takes into account a number of factors such as the speed of the rocket, its trajectory, the type of material it impacts, and the force of the explosion, all of which determine the size and direction of this other layer of flying rock and debris. The physics engine has also been reworked to accommodate for large, falling structures. If you shoot out the base of a tower, for example, the structure will crumble as it falls to the ground instead of falling over as one, large piece of cement. Likewise, water will now affect falling objects as well. Dislodge a stalactite from a cave ceiling, and it'll splash down in a pool of water, only to have its rate of descent impeded by friction from that water. All these additions might seem trivial, but when they're combined, they go a long way in giving the Red Faction environments a realistic look and feel.
Other additions to Red Faction have been a series of new and upgraded weapons. In earlier builds of the game, your character, Parker, was able to wield a pistol, a submachine gun, a medium rifle, a sniper rifle, satchel charges, a rocket launcher, and a wicked electric riot stick. During the latest demonstration of the game, we were shown all but one of Red Faction's arsenal of 15 weapons. Easily, the most outlandish of these was a gigantic shoulder-carried cannon that's tentatively being called the Geo-gun. Much like a Howitzer cannon, this massive weapon fires a single shell that can utterly destroy any deformable object in the game. And while not yet complete, its alternate mode of fire promises to be even more destructive. THQ producer Rob Loftus likens the Geo-gun's secondary mode to Robotech's "drunken missiles," which any fan of anime will know to be a salvo of swarming, inaccurate but deadly rockets.
The other weapons we saw include a slightly different sniper rifle, which seems to be designed for situations that call for close-quarters readiness. This gun's scope doesn't quite zoom in to the same level of the game's original sniper rifle, but it has the capability of firing in full auto, even when you're looking through the scope. Parker will also be able to carry a heavy machine gun that spits out chain-fed ammo at a very high rate of fire. Loftus says that the game's designers are toying with the idea of making this weapon's secondary mode deploy into an unmanned sentry gun, much like the turrets in Half-Life. Another interesting piece of firepower in the game will be a small railgun, which will detect enemy soldiers standing behind solid objects, such as crates and walls. This gun can fire an extremely fast bolt through any object and kill anything standing in its trajectory, but it suffers from an extremely long reload time - an expected and understandable balancing measure. We also saw the game's flamethrower, which bellows forth a cloud of burning fuel. Its secondary mode of fire will most likely involve your removing the fuel canister and using it as a form of incendiary bomb. Red Faction will also feature a grenade, which will be somewhat weaker than the satchel charge we've already seen in previous demonstrations. With this grenade, you'll be able to toggle between an explosive mode and a mode that emits a blinding cloud of smoke. As Parker, you'll even be able to pick up a Plexiglas riot shield, with which you can either deflect incoming fire or bash enemy guards. Probably inspired from the shield in Metal Gear Solid 2, this defensive weapon will be able to withstand only so much punishment before completely losing its effectiveness.
In the time since Red Faction was last on public display, the designers have gone back and revamped some of the older weapons too. The shotgun, while it still retains its original functionality, has been remodeled - it now looks much more imposing. The rocket-propelled grenades from the rocket launcher now have a finite amount of fuel, and if they're fired over long distances, they will actually run out of propellant and arc toward the ground. While this might seem like a handicap, it actually adds functionality to the rocket launcher, which now becomes the perfect weapon with which to bombard any enemy base. Just imagine pointing the rocket at a 45-degree angle and raining down a barrage of rockets onto a fortified bunker.
Adding Some Character
While the new technical advancements we've noticed throughout Red Faction's development cycle are certainly welcomed, the design team at Volition understands that the game needs a compelling story, believable characters, and a near-perfect pace if it hopes to compete with greats like Half-Life. To that end, Red Faction won't be just a mindless shooter, but rather a varied action game heavy with character interaction. All the back stories and histories of the game's characters are currently being fleshed out, including those for Parker; the hired gun Masako; Hendrix, the disgruntled Ultor technician; Gryphon, the disenfranchised Ultor executive; Eos, the leader of the miner rebellion; and Capek, the scheming Ultor scientist. Red Faction will also have a number of different enemies, each with his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Loftus showed off several new enemy models, including mercenaries and mutants. This latter group is actually made up of Ultor miners and workers who've been infected by the deadly plague that's been claiming lives in the Martian colonies. The virus has ravaged these creatures' bodies and minds, leaving them hideously deformed, with skinless bodies and hunched frames. The mutants will come in two forms - large and small - and will attack with their fists and any crude weapons they might have access to.
The levels in Red Faction are equally as varied as the selection of weapons and characters as well. One of the newer environments is a massive cavernous area, which is beautifully lit by a white glow that seems to emanate from a mysterious light source. While you won't run into any soldiers or guards in this area, an equally insidious creature roams the caverns in this level. Called reapers, these ratlike creatures don sharp teeth and equally sharp claws, and, like the mutants, they can be found in large, as well as abnormally large, sizes. And speaking of large, Red Faction's water levels will be populated by massive, albeit harmless, creatures that can best be described as an amalgamation of a crocodile and a blue whale. Other levels will require you to holster your gun, disguise yourself, and mingle among the locals in order to gather bits of intelligence. During these missions, stealth will play a very important role - since your cover will often get blown, you'll quickly need to find a hiding spot from patrolling guards. As in Thief: The Dark Project, some scenarios will even require you to kill without being spotted at all. In cases like this, you'll be able to lift the dead bodies of your victims and stash them away from prying eyes. If enemy guards spot one of their own lying in a crumpled heap, the game's AI will automatically ratchet up their level of awareness and enhance their patrol routes.
A robust multiplayer component will be integrated into Red Faction by the time it ships. As of now, Volition has committed to designing deathmatch and capture-the-flag modes for the game, and it's seriously considering including Geo-Mod specific modes too. A race to see who can tunnel to the center of the map first, or something of this sort, would be a viable idea, according to Loftus. The game will have eight unique multiplayer-only maps, and it will support up to 32 people simultaneously over either a LAN or Internet connection. Red Faction is fast nearing completion: 19 of the game's 20 levels are geometry-complete, and 17 are lit. The designers are sanding away the game's rough edges, populating the levels with characters and enemies, fleshing out the story, and working on the game's pacing. Red Faction is right on schedule for a mid-summer release for the PC, which follows the PlayStation 2 version by a few months. From what we've seen of the game for the past year, we can safely say that Red Faction is poised to provide gamers with a fresh perspective on the sluggish first-person shooter genre.
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