It has been a long time since we’ve gotten our hands on a new Red Faction experience, but that will all change come June. For those, like myself, that simply cannot wait to begin destroying Mars brick by brick, THQ and Volition Studios has seen fit to throw a one level demo our way, provided you pre-order the game at your local GameStop.
Red Faction, along with TimeSplitters, helped lay the foundation for the massive popularity of console first-person shooters, a foundation that Halo would cement a short time later. However, Red Faction had something that Halo and nearly every other shooter has never had until last year’s release of Battlefield: Bad Company, realistic destructible environments. Not only did it look cool, but it added a level of strategy not yet seen in the genre.
Guerilla is bringing back the destruction in a big way with their new, retooled Geo-Mod 2 engine. This time, instead of using quick art swaps like all games that have come before it, RFG is using real-time piece by piece implosions. I am happy to say it works brilliantly.
You begin the demo with a default slegehammer, capable of being swung vertically or horizontally. This may not sound like a noteworthy feature, however considering the precision in which you can destroy everything around you, it comes in handy. Your sledge is joined by remote charges for some impressive explosions as well as an assault rifle with a slight zoom feature.
You are tasked with recovering a walker confiscated by the EDF (Earth Defense Force, not to be confused with the Pixels and Grids Defense Force, join today!) from the miners of the area. They call it a mining tool, I call it a walking tank. Your map/compass on the bottom right shows you the location of the walker along with any EDF forces that are hostile towards you at that moment. Another ingenius use of the map is to show you the structural integrity of any EDF buildings you may be laying waste to which is helpful should you be taking a sledgehammer to it from the inside as it collapsing on top of you will result in an almost certain death. Better to use remote charges from a distance to bring it down.
You read that last paragraph right! Your sledgehammer can single handedly take out entire buildings. It also results in one hit kills to any enemy in bludgeoning range. It is extremely fun and satisying, but leads to a frustrating lack of balance in weaponry.
While the simple sledge is infinitely powerful, your assault rifle requires more than a few bullets to bring an EDF soldier down, even if you’re hitting them with well placed headshots. Luckily the game provides you with a cover/lean mechanic that snaps you behind safety and pop out to fire off a few rounds. It works well… when it works. The problem is that the same button that gets you into cover functions as the sprint button. Too often I would try to grab some cover and instead go running into the middle of the firefight where I rarely survived.
This is not to say the game was overly difficult by any means. While you should never expect to survive a one on five firefight with no cover, your character can take a decent amount of bullets himself. Simply find some cover, should the controls let you, and your health will regenerate after a short time. Instead of enemies, the leading cause of death turned out to be random explosions. In a mining colony it would make sense that there would be a fair amount of combustible materials around. However, these are not your standard video game cliche glowing red barrels. Too often you never saw the exploding barrel in question as they blend into the rest of the sandy brick environment. Even more frustrating still were the random explosions that would occur inside a building. Many times I would be ruining the inside of a structure with my anger only to hit a computer terminal and blow myself away. I was never aware that hitting a computer with a hammer resulted in a building collapsing explosion. Hmmm, the more you know….
There were two effective strategies that worked when making my way to the walker. The first, no nonsense approach, was to trespass my way onto the far EDF base, take cover, shoot everyone and make my way to the storage facility until there was no one left. The second and more satisfying technique was to cause a ruckus at the nearest, less fortified EDF base, clear a way to a vehicle and drive it all the way to the walker, then using a remote charge to gain access to the side of the facility. Twice I was impeded by gates too narrow for my vehicle. However, there are no impediments with the Geo-Mod 2 engine. Merely, make the gates wider with the sledge that Gallagher would die for.
Once aboard the walker you are nearly invincible. First, swing the giant robot arms wildly to clear a path to a truck that will take you to safety. Next, when aboard the truck, use a turret-like cannon to blast the swarms of vehicles chasing after you. These final segments of the demo were awe-inspiring in their destruction and feeling of power but also led to the one aspect of the game that hopefully does not see it’s way into the final retail version: framerate chugging. Explosions and enemies were so prevalent that the game had a tough time keeping up, but was never brought to a screeching hault.
While the demo is short, just this one mission, it did leave me excited for the final product that promises 120 missions, 34 vehicles and 24 unique weapons spread out over a massive open world environment. That is saying nothing of the 16 person, 6 mode mutiplayer. I just hope THQ’s decision to lay off quality assurace workers doesn’t hinder the, well, quality.