When Red Faction was released on the PC and PS2 last year, it was touted as being an entertaining and innovative FPS, and rightly so. Its incredibly tight gameplay, intriguing storyline, and new-fangled Geo-Mod system that allowed gamers to destroy their surroundings like never before, garnered huge amounts of attention, and even sold enough PS2 copies to make it one of the top selling games on the platform. So it goes without saying that fans of the original have high-expectations for this second installment in the series. And after playing through the game, I can officially attest to the fact that Red Faction II won’t disappoint. That is, if you are willing to look past some annoying level-progression issues.
The story in Red Faction II goes something like this. Nano-technology is created in the 22nd century on Mars, allowing for the creation of super-soldiers that are faster, stronger, and smarter than anything before them. This technology was stolen and brought to earth, stolen back, and stolen again. One Chancellor Sopot used this advent in technology to breed two thousand warriors of the Commonwealth. Soon Sopot began to fear his creations, and fashioned a new army that were hopelessly loyal to him in order to wipe out the previous generation of nano-tech-empowered soldiers. You’ll play the part of Alias, a super-soldier with self-government and part of a coalition known as the Red Faction. Along with five other nano-tech enhanced fugitives, all specializing in unique and useful abilities, your goal will be to eliminate Chancellor Sopot for his alleged crimes against humanity. But this is all basically just an excuse to throw you into a barrage of different situations where the ultimate goal is to blow sh*t up.
And Red Faction II gives you more reason to be trigger happy than any game before it. The only limiting factor for the amount of stuff you can destroy is the amount of ammo in your possession. The Geo-Mod system still isn’t to the point where literally everything can get blown up but, well, it sure has come a long way. I mean, where areas the original game allowed you to plow tunnels through underground mines, Red Faction 2 pits you in an environment where almost any non-metal structure you point your tricked-out gun at can be blown up.
And believe me, these guns are tricked-out. In the 22nd century, alien-technology is within arm’s length, so to speak. The lower-end of the firearm spectrum includes such obligatory offerings as a standard semi-automatic pistol and hand-held machine gun, both of which can be double-fisted and independently controlled. But as you make your way towards the more impressive hardware you’ll start to see things like the magnetic rail driver, capable of taking out a so-called “impenetrable” tank with two shots, and the nanotech grenade launcher that discharges super-powered explode-on-contact grenades. In all there are 17 weapon configs, and what’s more, almost all of’em have a secondary fire function.
The play-control is about the best that you can expect wielding a Dual Shock controller; X & Y axis can be easily manipulated for sensitivity and so forth. But FPS purists will no doubt want to take advantage of Red Faction II’s mouse and keyboard support. Every function that you can perform -- jumping, ducking, independent left and right firing, activating, secondary weapon, reloading, etc., is all intuitively laid out on either Dual Shock or keyboard/mouse control configurations by default. Control-wise, this game is spot-on, with style to spare.
Red Faction II goes above and beyond the call of standard FPS shoot-em-ups and allows you to get behind the proverbial wheel of a multitude of vehicles. Though the majority of these sequences are essentially “on rails,” allowing you only to manage the firing duties, there are particularly notable exceptions such as the mini-mech battle armor and highly maneuverable stealth submarine that change up the flow of the game while giving you complete control.
Visually, Red Faction II looks world’s better than the original. Textures are crisp and detailed, somehow making the surroundings look like they are layered with multiple texture maps despite the PS2’s obvious limitation to do so. In certain areas of the game, like the war-torn High-Rise Hell level, the environments, when viewed from a certain perspective, look almost photo-realistic. Character models are outfitted with a plethora of polygons, and loading times are fast as hell, all considered. Animation is smooth, with its fluidity credited in part to the motion-capture method the developers used for bringing the characters to life. Blowing stuff up is satisfying on a level rarely experienced in past shooters. Frame rate can tend to slow down at particularly hectic times but it is so infrequent that you’ll hardly notice.
The developers also made sure that Red Faction II was up-to-snuff in the audio department. Ambient sound effects can be heard in almost every stage and the positional sound scheme is convincingly realistic. The sounds of unloading a missile and watching it crash into a destructible structure gives off a sense of visceral excitement that the first game couldn’t touch. Perhaps the coolest instance of sound in the game comes when you are battling a stationary helicopter that is throwing more lead your way than is humanly possible. The sounds of armor-piercing bullets and missiles whizzing past your head is eerily believable. Voice acting is up to par but almost entirely unimpressive. The music consists of a large collection of fast-tempo electronic rock that, while not very noticeable, does compliment the on-screen action nicely.
I think it is safe to assume that Red Faction II will go down as one of the most impressive and entertaining console FPS games of 2002, but – and here it is: occasionally the fluidity of progression is majorly hindered by confused level layout. For instance, in the sub-marine level, you’ll be given the objective to enter the hatch-bay doors of some underwater base, but the surroundings are so bland and repetitive that you’ll be swimming around for ages before you finally find the location you’re supposed to go. And it happens a few times during the relatively short span of the experience. Ultimately, it is this that will keep Red Faction II from attaining the same sort of wide acceptance as games like Halo, Time Splitters 2, and Unreal Championship.
Nevertheless, this game proves to be an impressive and completely satisfying successor to Red Faction. Added bonuses include making-of featurettes, previews of upcoming games, original and humorous marketing productions, concept illustrations, and a slew of other cool niceties. Not to mention an adequately fleshed-out multiplayer component that even supports surprisingly intelligent bots. All in all, you’d do well to pick this game up, its visual presentation is amazing and the gameplay is even better. If not for the progression-stilting level design this could be a contender for game of the year.