I have to admit that I haven’t done my homework on Red Faction 2. Coming out several months ago, it just about completely slipped through the cracks, and I didn’t try the first one in the series at all. Furthermore, though I played it just last week, and it took only four or five hours to complete the single player game, I can’t find my notes, and almost nothing of the experience stands out in my mind. As such, I think the word bland would probably describe it best, but I’ll dredge through my mind and come up with what I can remember, and let you decide for yourself.
Who are the Red Faction? What do they stand for? Perhaps that was covered in Red Faction 1, or maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention to the in-game cutscenes. I’m suffused with vague images of a military socialist government, but that could be my 60’s upbringing meshing badly with the word ‘red’ in the title. I do know that you play as Alias, a member of a whole race of super-soldiers enhanced with nanotechnology. Some Chancellor named Sopot has decided that you’re either obsolete or an inconvenience (I’m not sure which) and has been trying to hunt you to extinction. With only six of you remaining, you have decided it is necessary to take the Chancellor out. Does all of this have some connection to the first RF? I don’t know. Some of the missions are somewhat squad-based, but mostly it’s just you alone, or you with one other team member. Eventually, and more or less predictably, you end up going against some of the other squad members. These are kind of like boss levels, but owing to the poor one-on-one AI they were very easy. You also run across some of a “new” generation of nano-soldiers, but they’re no great shakes either. And then the game is over, your future a giant question mark left unanswered.
One thing that I do remember that seemed like the game’s big selling point, was that literally everything can be destroyed if you have enough firepower to do so (they call it GeoMod). No more standing in a hallway battering ineffectively against a locked door with a bazooka that can destroy a tank, I thought to myself. RF2 seemed to indicate that the GeoMod solved all that; the door could go, as could the whole wall. The reality? “Reinforced” objects are still impervious to destruction, and guess how many of those you come across. What I hoped would be an opportunity to avoid the linearity of the level design with a few well-placed explosives, instead became a kind of plot gimmick where here and there a conveniently piled stack of explosive barrels could be used to blow a door, or a wall with a big crack in it could be widened out to allow me through. Sure, you can go into the bathrooms and blow up the toilets, or knock down all the cubicle walls in an office building, but the net result is that with a collection of reinforced doors, steel gates, and bulkheads, RF2 levels are about as linear as I’ve ever seen. The addition of the destructible objects turns out to be not so much a benefit to you, but the enemy, as you can no longer hide behind an object indefinitely from gunfire, because they’re going to keep chipping away at it until they get to you. That does have the tendency to speed up the action slightly, because you can no longer really catch your breath behind a pillar or statue safe from enemy gunfire; you’ve got to keep moving. As a whole, though, GeoMod feels more like a promise unfullfilled.
The enemy AI appears on the surface to be pretty smart, in that they duck, run, shoot from cover, and all of that stuff. Yet the sum is somehow less than the parts. I’m no great fragfest guru, though I play half a dozen or so 1st person shooters a year; mostly I play RTS games. The point is that there are people out there 100 times better than I am, and yet I went whizzing through RF2 without difficulty, only dying, I think, twice, and one of those was in a submarine explosion. Even on ‘hard’ I didn’t find it all that hard. Maybe your weapons are too powerful, or maybe the AI doesn’t lead you enough when you run and so doesn’t hit you, or perhaps enemies are just poorly placed, never allowing them to generate an effect assault. In any case, something in the balance is off, and the result is a game that is very easy. Your squadmate (when you have one) AI appears no better, though they have the advantage of being utterly indestructible in the face of enemy or friendly gunfire. The gamespace is also filled with innocent people who don’t have enough sense to get out of the hail of lead. The game tells you that pegging one of these poor souls reduces your karma (or some such nonsense), and is supposed to somehow change the game. Going through a couple of levels twice, once normally and once mowing down every person I saw, didn’t bring any variation that I noticed. I think perhaps it changes just the ending movie? You don’t pay me enough (a.k.a. nothing) to go through a game like RF2 twice.
Weaponry is mostly realistic, consisting of a collection of handguns, shotguns, machineguns, and rifles, as well as some heavier weaponry like a rocket launcher and grenade launcher. The sole modern weapon is a rail gun that lets you see through walls and shoots an odd looking beam of light, kind of like in Eraser. It has a ridiculously slow rep rate and a very small 2-shot clip, and was far from my weapon of choice. There are neat-looking armored ATV vehicles, but you don’t get to drive any, though you do blow quite a few of them up. There are helicopters, but you don’t get to fly them, though you do act as gunner a couple of times, and you also get the opportunity to be the gunner on a tank. A chance to pilot a mini-submarine changes the flavor of the action somewhat and I was glad for that. Finally, you get to stomp around a little in a mechanized suit of armor, which I thought was one of the game’s high points. Maybe they should have made the whole game based on that. Strategically-placed low doorways keeps you from wearing the armor forever, and it was always just a little sad getting out.
The graphics, and maybe I’m reminiscing through rose-colored glasses, felt an awful lot like Sin or Halflife. Not bad, not great, but old. Textures are flat and very repetitive, and particle and shadowing and whatnot, while present, are at a minimum. The sound effects are strictly OK, nothing more or less, and the music (lacking my notes) left no impression upon me at all. Soviet military inspired something, maybe? I can’t recall.
The multiplayer game has a whole slew of the usual variants – CTF, deathmatch, team deathmatch, etc – and you can play them against built-in bots, but the game does not support online play. The only multiplayer option against other humans is that up to four players are supported on a single computer with a splitscreen. Ever try to pack four people around a single computer? Wahoo. We’re having some fun now. I also found the maps, and the whole multiplayer experience, lacking a certain gameplay pizzazz that has me playing UT2003, even often against just bots, still.
For the most part, the game seemed to be fair. I was running along, shooting bad guys, blowing stuff up. The plot, while not exactly Shakespeare, kept pulling me along. Then all of a sudden, a pretty short time later, it was over, and I’m left like “Huh, that was fast.” It’s too short, too flat, and too plain. Maybe if you find it sufficiently entrenched on the discount rack I could recommend it (and maybe by now you can), but otherwise I have to say that the world is full of 1st person shooters, most of them offering you a whole lot more gameplay for your buck.