When night falls, I, like most individuals on this planet, look up to the skies, star at the stars, and ponder serious questions that have perplexed humanity since the beginning of time. You know, earth-shattering quandaries such as: Why are we here? Is there intelligent life on other planets? Why are the mentally unstable the only denizens of Earth that get visited by extra-terrestrials? (And what the hell is their fascination with anal probing?)
Ok, so maybe I don’t think about those last two, but I do wonder what life would be like on other planets, primarily Mars. Why do I care about the Red Planet? Well, first of all, it’s our closest celestial body that could potentially support life. Second, games, movies and cultural references basically paint Mars as humanity’s next conquest, colonizing and taming a truly new world. But more importantly, the freaking planet seems to be gobbling up rovers and scientific equipment like they were candy. Imagine if we could actually send someone to the planet to investigate what’s going on there, someone trained to repair damaged equipment while also skilled in dispatching any potential alien menace found on or below the planet’s surface. Welcome to 2103 A.D. and RTX Red Rock, Lucasarts’ space action game set on Mars.
Players are cast as E.Z. Wheeler, a Radical Tactics Expert (hence the abbreviation within the game’s title). A highly decorated military vet, E.Z.’s training makes him a one-man Special Forces squad equipped with the most advanced weaponry and vehicles in the universe. Dispatched to the direst situations, Wheeler is a highly decorated veteran of numerous skirmishes. These citations for his service have come at a price, however; E.Z’s left eye and right hand were lost in battle, replaced by biomechanical parts. His eye can display electronic maps or detect the infrared spectrum, amongst other visual modes, while his manual enhancements include tools, grappling hooks and grenade launchers.
Pulled off of the injured reserve list by the government, Wheeler is dispatched to the Martian Colony of Red Rock, a mining and scientific research station on the planet’s surface. Following a prolonged battle across Earth, an alien species known as Light Emitting Demons, or L.E.D.’s, have retreated to Mars and have apparently overrun the colony. E.Z.’s job is to restore communications with Earth, eliminate any L.E.D’s in the vicinity and establish contact with any potential survivors of the invasion. Since much of the station has been disabled, Wheeler will need to use his technical knowledge, along with his personal computer assistant, I.R.I.S. to navigate through the numerous corridors and canyons of Red Rock.
So far, RTX comes across as a very interesting title. But the actual gameplay is more lackluster than the above plot summary. First of all, the puzzles basically degenerate into the simplistic “Go to point A, retrieve item, return to point A” task. Granted, there will inevitably be delivery tasks in any puzzle-oriented section of a game, but the reliance on this form of play is incredibly tedious. Secondly, there is a severe lack of detailed information that players receive for each mission. Receiving minimal information about each section of a level that you’re in, gamers are stuck with relying on I.R.I.S. to give you hints, maps, or minute briefings about the next thing to do. Even after you’ve picked your assistant’s computerized brain for hints, you’ll inevitably wind up stumbling upon the next objective only after you’ve exhausted all other avenues available to you.
Aside from the slanted puzzle mechanics, there are other gameplay elements that are severely distorted. First of all, accessing the inventory is rather convoluted, primarily because you’ll be rotating through symbols to access the item you need. Much more than equipment you pick up along the way, this extends to your additional vision modes and your weapons as well, so choosing what you need takes practice. What’s more, accessing certain features, such as vision modes, require you to stand perfectly still (what’s also known as becoming a sitting duck in battle situations).
Additionally, you’ll never feel like you’ll run out of some items because of the overwhelming number of dispensers on each level. Stockpiling health kits and oxygen containers for later use often becomes as simplistic as tracking down a vending machine and buying what you need. Since you’ll wind up receiving plenty of money as you go through each level, you should never need to fear walking into a situation poorly equipped. What you should fear, on the other hand, is Wheeler’s incredibly poor targeting when he’s stuck in a battle. Disregarding immediate threats in favor of distant enemies, E.Z. literally has to be forced to recognize more dangerous targets. This inevitably results in plenty of Wheeler’s health being stripped away from him.
Graphically, RTX is an average title, one with few highlights and a lot of room for improvement. Cutscenes and movies are nicely rendered, with nicely detailed, animated characters. Gameplay, on the other hand, features a lot of plain, basic textures in some places (primarily outdoor settings) or repetitive, non-distinct areas with minor variances from level to level. Plenty of instances of clipping are rampant throughout the game, and it’s not uncommon to see creatures trapped in a wall still firing in your direction. Sound is better, but it can only go so far to redeem this title. Voice acting is decent, with adequate lip-syncing and some mild language to be found. The jealous attitude struck by I.R.I.S. towards other women is a particularly nice touch.
If you’re looking for a space adventure game, RTX might not be the game for you. With repetitive gameplay, basic graphics and poor controls, especially in gunfights, RTX is one of those products that sounds good on paper, but weak in execution. If you’re a fan of science fiction, you might be better off renting this one before you buy.