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Red Faction
Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Volition
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: First Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
The graphics engine in Red Faction is both solid and detailed, a combination that hasn't really been seen on the PS2 yet. Sure, we've had the fast-but-simple TimeSplitters, and Unreal Tournament was another step up from that, but while Red Faction's framerates never quite reach the level of TimeSplitters, it never falters from the lower rate, and the world itself is much, much sharper. From the Martian caves to the buildings on the surface, everything looks and feels dangerously real. The character models are detailed and articulate, the explosions are sweet, and the animation is solid. You probably won't have the same feeling as the first time you played something like Quake, but there's no denying Red Faction's visual charm.

Going along with the visuals is a solid set of sound. The music varies from the game, going from nonexistent to banging when the need and mood strikes; it's one of those soundtracks that you only really notice when it's off. More so than the music, however, the sound effects in the game get you into the mood. The explosions are satisfying, the staccato of the pistol is impressive, and throughout the game I was continually surprised by the nice effects. The voice acting is also top-notch; while not quite Metal Gear Solid, it's still some of the best work I've ever seen in a game. Volition spared no expense with the presentation of the game.

And they came very close in the gameplay as well. While the fact that you have to use a Dual Shock controller definitely takes away from what would be perfect as a mouse-and-keyboard combo, and the game has a few bits that are 'silly', Red Faction is perhaps the most entertaining romp I've had on my PS2 yet. [Well, not counting Swing Away Golf, but we won't talk about that little addiction.] With style to spare and action aplenty, Red Faction throws you to the wolves and never really relents.

The game tells the story of a group of rebelling miners on Mars, people who are tired of The Man bringing them down and decide to mete a little justice on their own. You start off coming back from work on a normal day when one of your friends gets accosted by a guard. The worst happens, and before you know it you're busting up baddies with a pistol. While the story progression isn't as smooth as I would have liked, it's definitely entertaining, and makes playing Red Faction that much more enjoyable.

The basic gameplay is much like you'd expect. You can run around and fire your weapons, taking out good guys and bad guys alike, although it's wise to stick with the latter. The game allows you to do some fine-tuned targeting, and while it's still annoying on the Dual Shock, it's not unsurmountable. The environments range all over, from expansive caverns to tight inside corridors, and you have to adapt your play style depending on the location.

One of the things that Red Faction does that hasn't been seen before is very, very cool--the Geo-Mod technology. This is basically a cute name for 'blow crap up'. We're not talking Duke Nukem 3D blow-stuff-up levels; we're talking taking chunks out of walls, blowing escape tunnels in the floor, taking out land bridges, and other sorts of destructive mayhem. While it may first seem like a gimmick, it soon shows its usefulness; you'll find yourself blowing up new passageways around doors you can't find the key for, making shortcuts between tunnels, and in general making a nuisance of yourself to the poor chaps who have to keep the place repaired.

The game itself is long, and along with the single-player experience, there's a solid two-player deathmatch feature. You can have computer-controlled bots to make the battles more interesting. The AI in the game is truly something to behold; your foes group, hide, and in general do the sorts of things that real people would do in the situations they're in. Nothing amused me more the first time a guard ran out of ammo and started running away, screaming 'Don't shoot! I'm unarmed!'. Shame I had to cap him in the back. Of course, they're just using it as a tactic to reload, so he deserved it.

You can choose your difficulty level at the beginning of the game, but even on the Easy and Medium levels, the game definitely gets hard enough as you progress. Fortunately, the game doesn't use a checkpoint method of saving, instead letting you record your progress at any point; while creep-and-save is slower than it would be on a PC, it's still a viable tactic that can get you through the more difficult sections of the game. Unfortunately, a good bit of the game's difficulty comes from fighting the controls as well.

Game Mechanics:
Red Faction is simple enough to control, especially once you've been through the tutorial, which shows you all of the various controls. The problem is that the Dual Shock controller quite simply isn't made to be useful in first person shooters, and try as you might, you'll never be anywhere near as accurate with the controller as you can be with a mouse-and-keyboard combo. I'm not entirely sure why THQ and Volition didn't want the game to support USB mice and keyboards. It's a shame, because the rest of the game's mechanics are rock solid. Because of the slight lack of control, Red Faction features slight auto-aiming, but it's not as useful as I would have liked it to be. The ability to save anywhere is a major plus, even if it sucks memory card space like no tomorrow.

Flaws aside, Red Faction is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had on the PS2 so far. On a system without any real killer apps, Red Faction comes close. This PS2 version has really whetted my appetite for the PC version; if it's this playable despite control issues, just how much fun will it be on my computer? For those of you without a monster PC capable of playing these sorts of things in their full glory, I highly suggest picking the PS2 version of Red Faction up; there's enough gameplay here to last you days. However, those of you with good machines may want to just give it a rent; it's definitely entertaining enough to play on the console, but the upcoming PC version promises to fix the few flaws the game has. As it stands, though, Red Faction is the clear winner in the unofficial PS2 FPS wars for the time being.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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