Geography Modification (Geo-Mod): The arbitrary alteration of the domain which makes up a video game’s environment. Its implications to the world of gaming were incredible—finally, rockets, bombs, and other assorted explosives could cause some semblance of destruction. Players now could blast through a wall to create an artificial exit, or tunnel their way out of an enclosed situation, or finally make a mark on those blasted doors which outright refuse to open, not mattering how many keycards in the player’s possession or how many switches the player had hit. Well, okay, maybe that last one was a little unrealistic, but regardless, Geo-Mod is some nifty technology.
The original Red Faction for PlayStation 2 was the first video game to implement this Geo-Mod technology. In Red Faction, one plays through the guns of Parker, a stressed-out Earthling looking to straighten his life out in the mining camps of Mars. Unfortunately for both his mental and physical health, a mysterious plague is killing off miners at an alarming rate, and before he knows it, Parker hinds himself on the rebellious end of a bloody revolution against the boss company, the Ultor Corporation.
Parker is aided in his confused assault by rebel leader Eos and Ultor paper-pusher Hendrix, who contact him via a dubiously ubiquitous intercom system. Virtually all alone in this rebellion (Eos and Hendrix are as helpful in guiding the player through levels as most high-school counselors are through academic affairs), Parker must kill hundreds of his own species, rekill tens of his own species in an undead state, and commandeer various vehicles that do not belong to him—all in the name of freedom.
The control system of suggested use by the player in this fight for freedom is cumbersome, if not an outright pain in the arse to employ. Switching weapons is exceedingly anti-intuitive, and attempting to do so (whether intentionally or not) in the midst of a shoot-out is a recipe for dead rebel. Actual character movement is achieved by awkwardly controlling both analog sticks simultaneously (one controls direction and the other controls motion), which, no matter in how many games it is used and how many times one attempts it, is a control scheme with which it is impossible to grow comfortable. Jumping and crouching are easily confused, and climbing ladders is the game’s most impossible mission.
On the plus side, Parker can travel in some nifty vehicles, including a jeep, submarine, and space ship. On the minus side, they, too, are ridden with incomprehensibly bad controls and lead flawlessly to the player’s spatial disorientation. With the vast number of model first-person shooters that predate Red Faction, there is absolutely no excuse for such a horrid control system.
One high point in Red Faction is how well the visual environment coincides with the game’s storyline. Parker’s surroundings for the majority of the game are as dark, gloomy, and mysterious as its plot, which adds considerably to Red Faction‘s atmosphere. Sadly, the surroundings are so dark, gloomy, and mysterious at an abundance of points that the player can barely perceive that which is taking place. The music does not exactly do much good here either, because the pleasantly orchestrated soundtrack is inconsistent with the game’s morbid mood, and the songs themselves start and stop at seemingly random intervals, distracting the player from his murderous ways, and giving no hints whatsoever as to forthcoming events, as games do from time to time. All is not audibly lost, though, because even when the obnoxiously repetitive dialogue makes you want to take a gray Zapper to your temple, the intercom system by which Eos, Hendrix, and other miscellaneous NPCs contact Parker is wonderfully realistic.
Despite its numerous outstanding flaws, Red Faction has a few underlying positives. Besides the obvious breakthrough Geo-Mod technology, the player is able to save where/whenever he desires, lessening the immediate frustration that death entails. Also, the multiplayer deathmatch mode is halfway decent, for the controls are not so much of an issue when nobody knows how the fuck to move, and for most levels the lighting is bearable. But the opaque environments of single player mode, along with the oddly distracting music and the regardlessly disgusting controls, cancel out most of Red Faction‘s high points. Combine those with the surrealistically slow mid-action loading times that crop up whenever Parker enters a new area (which occurs about every 4-7 minutes), and you have the makings of a rental at best. Head over to Blockbuster if you’re curious to experience blasting through a virtual wall, or you have an urge to check out the predecessor of the recently-released Red Faction II. Otherwise, avoid this game like its conceptual plague, for there exist far better PlayStation 2 first-person shooters to play.