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Red Faction (PC) artwork

Red Faction (PC) review

"I See You Ultor, and I Want It Painted Red"

Red Faction, an idealistic game with the beginnings of revolutionary destructible environments as well as with the trimmings of political discourse as a theme. This series always has been more ambitious than their games could ever hope to be. Say what you will about their quality, Red Faction may be one of the most diverse series built around watching things explode and framing excuses to indulge in the carnage. Each of these games attempts to tackle the mechanics, the perspectives and the themes in different manners, yet none have ever felt perfected. The original game perhaps best illustrates this flawed, yet charming, experience that defines Red Faction.

As an aside note, this review is based on the Dash Faction mod (Steam doesn't like my link to the site) which is what I would recommend for modern compatibility. You have to delete the Red Faction program, download an older version and rename it, and then youíre set to launch it via Steam.

ĒI See You Ultor, and I Want It Painted RedĒ

In an age where politics embedded into video-games are met with public scrutiny, Red Faction goes to show you can create an entertaining experience focused around politics. The trick is that Red Faction is not solely about the political situation of Mars citizens rebelling against a corporation; itís background dressing to give it its own identity. This isnít to say these games handle the political in any noteworthy manner, yet it lends some motive for the player. Similar to games like Freedom Fighters or Saboteur, the politics of an underdog faction overturning a much larger, dominating threat is a set-up easy to translate into video-games because that can be framed into context with its mechanics.

Although the originalís theme may be best described as campy, there are the beginnings of ideas well beyond the scope of its action-packed FPS campaign. Aspects of the plot, though minimal, are left open for the player to dwell on their impact with no blatant messages such as corporate exploitation of workers beyond the limitations of Earth, revolutionary movements involving innocents, and scientific boundaries breaching humane treatment of people. One could argue these ideas showing up at all does make a point on their own, but the campaign never examines them long enough to make any point. In fact, the game often makes light of these ideas through comedy either to avoid being too serious or to vilify the antagonist beyond their comedic roles.

The only elements that do reaffirm its politics are the small in-game details that shed more light on the narrative. Players begin as an ordinary mining worker until a Red Faction agent ropes them into killing a security officer communicated through gameplay alone. The Ultor corporation is a highly militarized faction on the planet of Mars whom you will learn they are less of security force and more so a private military from the equipment they use against you such as RPGs and gunships. Facilities across Mars are focused on experiments, mining resources and containing the workersí environments, which tell a far subtler story of Ultorís terraformation of Mars. All of these details could be ignored in favor of the refined gunplay of RF, yet the attention to detail with these environments tell a far richer story than one the game chooses to focus on through what is essentially a best of Ď90s FPS campaign.

ĒBoom, Boom, Boom, Boom..! Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang..!Ē

If there is anything more iconic to Red Faction than its political undertones it is the emphasis of its destruction. Geo-Modís one main selling point is the real-time destruction of the environment through player-generated input. Before the days of Rainbow Six Siege and Battlefield Bad Company 2, this emphasis on destructible terrain was unheard of in PC gaming let alone capable on PS1. As you might expect with that latter detail, the possibilities with this idea are more limited than what was technically feasible. While I cannot attest to its usage in multiplayer, the single-player usage of this gem of an idea is more technically impressive than mechanically satisfying.

The largest culprit behind this missed opportunity is how limited the weapons, let alone the environment, are susceptible to affecting the environment. Many weapons are bullet projectiles, which often are more effective with their secondary modes than their primary ones, which leave only bullet-holes on the walls. Remote explosives, RPGs, grenades and vehiclesí artilleries offer more visual feedback with the engineís terrain, yet aside from one or two scripted moments they hardly ever impact the gameplay. Levels such as the minerís tunnels, caves, and other natural landform areas best utilize this idea with hidden caches, yet eventually you will find terrain immune to any level of destruction. Most levels, however, offer well-designed environments with some destructible elements to keep them from feeling dated as other games. The rest of the FPS campaign focuses more so on its solid FPS mechanics and its vehicles to break up the disappointment, resulting in an FPS game from the Ď90s with as much great elements as grating elements to modern tastes.

Similar to the much larger success of the original Half-Life Red Faction is an FPS with a foundation of great FPS gameplay built on shoddy execution. While staples like health and armor management in addition with various weaponry are welcomed, their shoddy execution with the gameís difficulty leaves something only fans can tolerate. Part of the problem is how weird the primary and secondary features work; you would naturally assume the primary attack is the intended one, yet weapons like the shotgun and the assault rifle have more effective secondary attacks. Most explosive or special weapons do not suffer from this issue. In addition, various sections of the game have absurd difficulty spikes due to how much damage you will take, and it makes for one of the more janky campaigns when you run into a save-scum mess to win. Itís these unrefined elements of Red Faction that keeps it from ever being a great game, yet if you appreciate what is there in the moments of its brilliance it is a game that can be entertaining.

ĒIíll Decide When Itís Time to GoÖ Okay, Letís GoĒ

You may think after as many problems I have illustrated with the narrative and the gameplay that I have a low opinion of the original Red Faction. The truth is itís one of those games I always find myself coming back to enjoy its greater moments of its campaign. Itís not obvious why I love the game as much as I do, perhaps itís the charm or the subtle details of its themes, yet I can express its many problems honestly with tough love because itís a series I would love to return. The original Red Faction may not be an exceptionally well-made game, and it may be my second favorite game in the series, yet it manages to be entertaining adventure across the sands of Mars worthy of returningÖ someday.


Brian's avatar
Community review by Brian (April 18, 2021)

Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.

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