Friday, February 22, 2019

The Month of Red...Faction: Red Faction Guerrilla (Xbox 360, PlayStaion 4)


After the release of Red Faction II, Volition took a break from the series to focus on other projects, including a game adaptation of The Punisher and a crime titled called Saints Row.  Compared to the studio's other projects, Saints Row marked the company's first foray into the open world genre, and it proved to be a success.  While Saints Row garnered all the attention, Red Faction remained quiet until 2009, when the series was brought back through a new entry, Red Faction Guerrilla.  This installment was also a departure from what we had seen before.  No doubt influenced by the success of Saints Row, Red Faction Guerrilla was an open-world experience, and a damn good one at that.  Say goodbye to linearity and minimal destruction, as this one brings full-fledged destructibility into the sandbox.

Ever since the Earth Defense Force liberated Mars from Ultor's control, things have gotten worse for people living on the red planet.  Under the EDF's strict control, citizens are forced to mine and put up with their authoritative behavior.  Alex Mason has come to the planet to help his brother out, only to find out he's secretly working with the Red Faction, a mysterious resistance fighting back against the EDF.  The two go to and destroy an abandoned research facility; at least, that's what Dan tells him, but they get arrested and Dan gets killed when trying to escape.  Angered by his brother's death, Alex decides to find and join the Red Faction, who are ready and willing to liberate Mars by any means necessary.

In the DLC campaign Demon of the Badlands, you play as Samanya, a Red Faction member who comes from a group of scavengers known as the Marauders.  Set eight years before the events of the game, the DLC chronicles her efforts to keep her homeland free of EDF presence.  During the story, she frees her sister Vasha and learns the EDF are planning an attack on their turf.  After killing the commander in charge, Samanya rescues a bunch of civilians, including Dan Mason, from prison, and then the two find and free Hugo Davies, the leader of the Red Faction.

Red Faction Guerrilla continues the proud tradition of offering a barebones plot with little in the way of major twists, turns, or character moments.  Similar to Parker, Alex Mason is the everyman caught up in a struggle he originally wanted no part in.  Yet, as the game progresses and more of Mars is liberated, he ends up becoming the face of the resistance, and the one people look up to.  But as the buildings collapse and the Red Faction comes closer and closer to freeing the planet, your interest in the story starts to wane.  The callbacks to the first game are a nice treat, such as the fact many of the locations are named after characters from that installment, but otherwise, the stories for both the main game and the DLC are nothing special.

Eschewing the linear, first-person shooter gameplay of the previous two installments, Red Faction Guerrilla is an open-world game, one where the player can do anything they want and blow up as much stuff to their heart's content.  The principle goal is to liberate Mars, which consists of six sectors, by completing missions, side quests, and destroying anything and everything controlled by the EDF.  At any time, the player can pull up the map and see two meters, one showing the EDF's grasp on the district you're in, and another which shows the morale of the citizens.  The EDF meter is lowered by destroying targets of interests or beating side tasks.

Lowering the EDF's control is how you unlock new missions.  As for the civilian meter, the higher it gets, the more likely people will help out Mason, and it also acts as a bonus whenever you earn scrap from story missions.  Just make sure not to kill them, since it decreases their morale.  In Demon of the Badlands, there's only one area, Mariner Valley, and three story quests, so more content is put in for players to accomplish.  Beating missions, challenges, and destroying stuff rewards Mason with scrap, which can be used to buy new weapons, armor, or upgrades.  Besides the shift to a sandbox formula, the biggest change in Red Faction Guerrilla is the introduction of Geo-Mod 2.0.

Looks nice, can't wait to reduce it to a smoldering pile of rubble!
No longer is the destruction limited to caves or walls; now, entire buildings can be destroyed, one brick at a time.  In other games such as Destroy All Humans or Mercenaries, buildings collapse once they receive a set amount of damage.  Here, the physics are more realistic.  Structures will slowly start to fall apart the more damage they receive, especially when the support beams are knocked out.  Seeing office buildings fall to pieces or a smokestack fall over like a tree is still impressive, and I'd argue Red Faction Guerrilla is still the champion in regards to destruction physics, since I've yet to see a game with this level in detail in regards to destruction.

To knock down buildings, though, Mason needs weapons, and the arsenal includes a mixture of everyday and unique firearms.  There are pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, and rocket launchers, good enough, but then there's interesting fare like a gun that shoots sawblades, or a rifle which fires nanite rounds that eat through anything it touches, be it humans, vehicles, or buildings.  The Re-Mars-stered Edition adds in a repair gun not found in the original release, so anything you destroy can be rebuilt, only to get destroyed again.  The circle of life, am I right?  The game also gets props for featuring the greatest melee weapon ever, the sledgehammer.  Who needs remote charges when you have a sledgehammer?

Though not ground-breaking (pardon the pun), Red Faction Guerrilla is one of the open-world genre's most entertaining titles.  There's a lot of content to dive into, and the optional side tasks enhance the feeling of being a revolutionist trying to free Mars.  You'll raid EDF buildings, protect Red Faction hideouts from enemy reinforcements, or pilot a vehicle to hold off enemy soldiers while the Red Faction steals supplies.  Then, there are the demolition puzzles, which put the player into a situation where he or she must destroy something using the pre-determined loadout.  It's great showcase of how intuitive the physics system is, and some of puzzles can be a bit tricky to figure out.

Of course, all of this mayhem is going to attract the bad guy's attention.  At times, the game can be quite challenging, which is due to Mason's frail nature.  Even with maxed-out armor, it doesn't take much to bring him down.  If you don't play it smart, expect to die a lot.  On the other hand, the ridiculously aggressive nature of the enemies leads to comical moments of stupidity, like when there's a massive pile-up of EDF jeeps filled soldiers trying to get a bullet onto Mason.

Whether it's on the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 4, the game looks good.  The PS4 version supports better lighting and a smoother framerate, but it looks about on par visually with the Xbox 360 version.  Most of Mars consists arid deserts, which does make the world feel a bit empty, but as stated before, the destruction physics are and still remain impressive.  Expect some occasional physics glitches, such as when you destroy a tower, and the ladder attached to it is still intact and possible to climb on.

As for the voice acting, it's competent but forgettable.  Veteran voice actor Troy Baker voices Alex Mason, and he gives the performance all of the excitement of someone who found out they have to work extra hours.  Plus, it's not hard to think of Crackdown while playing the game given how the leader of the Red Faction is voiced by the same dude who voices the head of the Agency.  I expect him to shout at any moment, "Kills for skills, Mason!"

It took the series three games, but Red Faction Guerrilla is without a doubt the best entry in the series.  The shift from linearity to open-world does the gameplay wonders.  It's frantic, challenging, and an all-around blast to play thanks to the inventive guns, wealth of content, and incredible destruction.  The story is hardly improvement from what we've seen before, but it's hard to criticize it when the game itself is thoroughly entertaining.  Red Faction finally found its footing, its sense of identity, and for those who weren't impressed by the first two games, this one should change your mind.


Friday, February 15, 2019

The Month of Red...Faction: Red Faction II (PS2)

Every once in a while, a game comes along and makes me ask, "Why was this so well-received?"  This question has a double-meaning; on the one hand, it could be seen as a sign of curiosity.  For years, you've heard a particular title is considered a classic, and you're finally getting to see what the fuss is all about.  However, the question could also be a reflection of how when one plays a title, isn't impressed, and then wonders why it was praised when it first came out.  These thoughts ran through my mind while playing Red Faction II.  At the time of its release, the game received extremely positive reviews, with the PlayStation 2 version holding an 84-aggregate score on Metacritic, but given how far shooters have evolved since its release, Red Faction II now seems run-of-the-mill.

Set a few years after the original, the sequel doesn't continue the adventures of Parker; instead, it follows a demolition expert named Alias.  The sinister company Ultor has gotten their hands on Dr. Capek's nanomachines, so they can genetically enhance the Earth Defense Force's (no, not that Earth Defense Force) soldiers, but the nanomachines end up in the hands of a vicious dictator, Victor Sopot.  Sopot intends to use the technology to create his own army of super-soldiers, and he uses a group of soldiers as his test subject.  However, his paranoia gets the better of him, and he orders the six of them to be executed since he fears they might turn on him.  On the run from Sopot, the squad, including Alias, partners up with the Red Faction to overthrow him and stop the spread of nano-enhanced soldiers.

If you were expecting a better story, think again.  Red Faction II's plot is paper-thin and its characters even thinner.  It's a generic "Overthrow the Evil Dictator" storyline with an extremely obvious plot twist thrown in for good measure.  The six super-soldiers show glimpses of character potential, but the game's fast pace leaves little room for development.  From the moment the game starts, it's a never-ending sequence of shoot-outs and vehicle sections from one level to next, and any development is kept to a minimum.

Makes grandiose speeches? Check. 
Is dressed like Joseph Stalin? Check.
Talks about world domination? Check.
Yep, he's the bad guy!
What does make the narrative tolerable is the voice acting.  The cast includes the likes of Lance Henriksen, Jason Statham, and Sherman Howard, and all of the performances are decent.  It is strange hearing Statham's voice in a middle-tier game like Red Faction, considering he's now a famous movie star.  Another positive is the inclusion of multiple endings.  Depending on your actions and how high or low your morality is, the ending will vary in terms of the outcome and character fates, which provides mild incentive to replay the campaign, but not by much.

Red Faction II isn't a bad game; on the contrary, there are a lot of improvements to the combat, making it a smoother experience to play than it's predecessor.  From the get-go, the game doesn't shy away from letting the player use big guns, as the first stage starts Alias off with an assault rifle that has an under-barrel grenade launcher.  Later stages let him wield pistols, SMG's, shotguns, grenade launchers, and much more.  Most of the firearms have an alternate fire function, such as incendiary shells for the shotgun, while the pistol and SMG can be dual-wielded.

Like the first game, though, Geo-Mod is rarely utilized during the campaign, even more so here.  Explosives can tear apart walls and towers, but such moments are few and far between.  Rockets and grenades will be used to primarily turn bad guys into chunks of meat, and the enemy selection is varied.  There are no sudden difficulty spikes as in the original, but a couple of the boss fights will test your skills and patience, especially the latter.  Instead of using old-school health and armor pick-ups, the game's health system is more in line with the one seen in Halo.  If you take damage, then you'll have to wait a minute or so for it to recharge.  However, health packs can be found to speed up the recovery process.

I think Red Faction II predicted the rise of generic urban shooters
during the 2010's...
Besides shooting everything in sight, there are also vehicle sections to break up the action, and these are fun.  Some of them, such as the hovercraft, are on-rails, but others, including the mech and submarine, are fully controllable.  Thankfully, there are no tacked-on stealth sequences, but the vehicular variety isn't enough to overcome the game's mediocrity.  As I said prior, the combat feels better and the weapons are fun to use, but the campaign is nothing more than a shooting gallery, and a short one at that.  The story mode takes only three to four hours to beat, and unless you want to go back and try to get a better ending, there's no other incentive to replay levels.

What could have helped out the campaign is if the other squad members besides Alias were playable characters and had their own special abilities and play-styles.  It's shown during cut-scenes each one has their own unique ability; for example, one has a cloaking device while another is a hulking tank who can soak up all sorts of damage, but the game never utilizes this idea.  As for the morality system, the meter goes up or down depending on whether or not you kill civilians or complete optional objectives such as helping out Red Faction soldiers.  A multiplayer mode is available, but to get the most fun out of the story mode, turn on the cheats.  Being able to set enemies ablaze with your bullets or turn them into exploding hunks of meat from a single round is hilarious to watch.

Not even a cast which features Bishop, The Transporter, and Bub
is enough to redeem this game.
Red Faction II looks fine for the time it came out.  Certain environments, such as the ruined cities, sewers, and military bases look washed out, but other elements, such as the weapons or destruction, look decent.  Voice acting is a step-up from the original, partially due to the big-name talents involved, although the attempts at comedy fall flat, such as when goons shout "That was my cousin twice removed!"

Red Faction II is so painfully generic it's not even funny.  Far from a bad game, the sequel, while improving on certain aspects of the first one, is mediocrity at its blandest.  The story is meaningless and while the gameplay is action-packed, it gets boring fast.  Not helping matters is the extremely short campaign, which can be completed in an afternoon, and while the cheats codes do make things amusing and the alternate endings are an interesting idea, a lot of the game's potential feels wasted.  It's a disappointing follow-up to a tile which showed a lot of promise.


Friday, February 8, 2019

The Month of Red...Faction: Red Faction (PS2)

When a gamer hears the name Volition, immediately their mind jumps to the Saints Row or Red Faction series.  In the last decade, the studio has become best known for creating over-the-top, insane open-world games, such as the aforementioned Saints Row games.  Their most recent title, Agents of Mayhem, was a spin-off from said franchise.  Yet, if you look into their history, they've done a lot more than create games where you can beat up civilians with a giant purple dildo.  During the 90's and early 2000's, the studio rose to prominence through the Descent games and the RPG Summoner.  Released in 2001, Red Faction is a first-person-shooter set on Mars, and it follows the efforts of a resistance group trying to stick it to the man.

Parker is an average Joe, not to do different from you or me, who came to Mars to make a better living.  This is far from the case.  The planet is kept under the firm grasp of the Ultor Corporation, who treat their workers like cattle as they work endlessly mining the red planet.  Not helping matters is a disease called the Plague, which is killing off the workers, but Ultor could care less.  Rumors of a resistance known as the Red Faction that's trying to overthrow Ultor gives the people hope.  During his first day in the mines, Parker witnesses the miners trying to fight back, and proceeds to help them.

He's eventually contacted by Eos, the leader of Red Faction, and Gryphon, an undercover agent for the group.  The two want Parker's help to put an end to Ultor's presence and find a cure to stop the Plague from spreading.  His trek across Mars includes kidnapping one of the company's CEO's, and finding Dr. Kapek, who is responsible for the horrible disease.


Red Faction's revolutionist story is nothing special.  It's a basic tale of the working people rising up against their corporate oppressors, and one guy, the reluctant hero, ends up becoming a symbol of hope for others through his actions.  The writing is basic and the acting is sub-par, but the setting of Mars does allow for some unique locations.  Although you spend most of the campaign traversing through similar-looking caverns, you'll also infiltrate high-tech buildings, medical facilities, and underwater caves.  Additionally, the villain, Kapek, is forgettable.  Halfway through the game, he's introduced, as is a sub-plot about how he's experimenting on humans, but after he's killed, this plot point is swiftly swept under the rug.  I give props to Red Faction: Armageddon for attempting to explain more about Kapek and what he was up to, since this game doesn't really do that.

Red Faction features classic, old-school FPS shooting mixed with elements of destructibility.  This game came out during a time when shooters began to put more of an emphasis on story and the stages became more linear and straightforward.  If you're confused by what I mean, play Half LifeRed Faction adheres to this formula.  Parker is constantly moving from one location to the next, completing whatever objectives Eos or Gryphon gives him.  To fight back the Ultor forces, he will use a large assortment of weaponry.

When the game begins, Parker only has a stun baton, a pistol with crappy accuracy, and some demolition explosives which can be used to blow apart the environment.  Eventually, he acquires a shotgun, an assault rifle, an SMG, a sniper rifle, a rocket launcher, and more.  All firearms have an alternate fire function of some kind, whether it's a silencer for the pistol or being able to fire automatically with the assault rifle.

Although he can blow up stuff, Red Faction is light on the destruction.  The game utilizes the Geo-Mod physics engine, which means the player is capable of blowing apart certain types of the environment, namely the caves.  Geo-Mod destruction comes into play only a handful of times and it comes off as a gimmick more than anything else.  It wouldn't be until the third installment that the true potential of this physics system would be realized.

One of the rare times when the destruction is put to good use.

Parker will face off against a variety of enemies over the course of the campaign.  At first, it's Ultor security guards who don't pose much of a threat.  As you progress through the story, he'll face Kapek's army of mutants and heavily-armed mercenaries employed by Ultor.  When the mercs show up, the difficulty in Red Faction spikes tremendously.  This group of bad guys is equipped with carbine rifles, heavy machine guns, and a special sniper rifle capable of shooting through walls.  Said sniper rifle is an instant death, so you have to play it smart towards the end of the campaign and make sure to save constantly.

Red Faction breaks up the shooting with vehicle sections and stealth segments.  Some of the vehicles Parker pilots include a submarine, a jeep, and a hovercraft, all of which control well.  On the other hand, the stealth parts are the worst parts of the story mode.  In these parts, he has to stealth by security guards and Ultor personnel, and his only mean of defense is the pistol with terrible accuracy.  If you get spotted and someone reaches an alarm, a never-ending horde of enemies is deployed.  There's a right way to do stealth and a wrong way to do it, Red Faction falls into the latter category.

This game came out in 2001 and though the game shows its age, it still looks passable.  Character models are rough and their animations during cut-scenes and gameplay look laughably bad.  Also, as alluded prior, since much of the action takes place in underground caves, many of the locales blend together and aren't very distinguishable.  However, the weapon animations are nice and the destruction physics, though limited, are impressive for their time.  It's a bit satisfying to blow apart a rocky path, causing an APC to fall into the bottomless pit below.  As for sound, its average, with the only stand-out element being the music.  The electronic score is well-done and heightens the action when necessary.

Take that, Graboid!

Red Faction isn't perfect by any means.  The story is paper-thin and the characters disposable, but the gameplay is a nice time capsule of where the first-person shooter genre was at the time and where it was starting to go.  The varied weapon selection and campaign help keep the action from getting tedious.  Sure, the stealth sequences are bad, but there's only two of them, so the punishment isn't too grueling.  For those interested in Volition's history prior to Saints Row, Red Faction is an interesting showcase of where the company was at the time.


Monday, February 4, 2019

VHSRevival Presents: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II (1986)

In the summer of 1986, the sequel to one of the most shocking films in cinematic history released, but audiences were in for a surprise with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II.  Instead of featuring more of the mad, macabre, visceral imagery that made the first movie so gripping, they were instead treated to what could be best described as a funhouse from hell.  Not content with recycling the same old formula, director Tobe Hooper decided to lampoon his landmark picture.  After all, the poster, which clearly spoofs the one for The Breakfast Club, clearly lets you know this is a different kind of chainsaw.

With buckets of gore, over-the-top characters, and Dennis Hopper in the role of a lifetime, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II has gone to become a cult classic.  Without it, it's likely the world wouldn't have been graced with the cinematic brilliance that is Bill Moseley, who plays the demented Sawyer family member Chop-Top.  What is probably the biggest sin, though, is that a scene was cut featuring the greatest drive-in movie critic of our time, Joe Bob Briggs, even though his name is still listed in the credits.  Damn you, Golan and Globus!