ALSO ON: Mac, N-Gage (!), PC, PS4
Sometime in the mid 2000s, first-person shooters started taking themselves way too seriously. Games like Killzone, Gears of War, Resistance: Fall of Man, and of course, the Call of Duty franchise were technically polished, but void of any levity. Gone are the big head modes found in Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. Pithy one-liners from Duke Nukem 3D are no more. As the cliché saying goes, all good things eventually get shot down in a pile of alien blood. The mid-00s tidal wave of dark and depressing FPSes sold millions of copies, and any chance for humor within the genre more or less disappeared.
The jury’s still out on whether this series is funny.
Red Faction emerged in May 2001 as a curious transition point. The game aims for grim revolution, but can’t shake off the silliness coursing through its DNA.
You play Parker, a miner who works for the Ultor Corporation on Mars. He signed a one-year contract with Ultor in order to “get his life together,” which means things on Earth must have been really bad for him. Once he arrives on Mars, however, he realizes he just signed up for one year (and let’s face it, probably a lifetime) of slave labor. After Parker witnesses a guard kill a miner first-hand, he takes up arms and becomes the unlikely leader in a rebellion against Ultor.
Blowing things up for freedom!
Red Faction takes its story seriously, and were this happening in our reality, I could understand why. Right from the game’s opening act, however, it’s hard to care about what happens in this bonkers alternate universe. The miners are worthless and can’t defend themselves. Parker is the only miner who can shoot a gun with any decent regularity, and that’s because the player is the one controlling him. The guards shout hilarious lines and are not intimidating in the slightest. “Please don’t shoot me, I’m unarmed!” they yell, before proceeding to fire several shotgun shells at you. Classic bad guy behavior.
Villainous guards… they’re just like us.
Red Faction loads you up with explosives early on – remote charges, rocket launchers, etc. – so you can take advantage of Volition’s patented GeoMod technology. GeoMod allows you to blow holes into just about any wall, building, or terrain and change the landscape significantly. When the game incorporates the tech into the story – like when you’re forced to destroy a rock wall around a broken door in order to progress – you feel like an unstoppable badass. Unfortunately, the GeoMod tech isn’t really necessary beyond a couple areas. Still, use your imagination, and you’ll find plenty of ways to make your own fun.
Wall explosions brought to you by GeoMod
Shooting dudes and making things go boom is Red Faction‘s primary objective, but the game does stifle the gun play from time to time. Occasionally, you’ll drive vehicles like a submarine, a mine driller, and an armored personal carrier to progress into the next area. These segments are a nice change of pace, even though they don’t last very long. The stealth portions, on the other hand, are white hot garbage. In the latter, you can’t carry your arsenal with you (save for a single pistol), and you can’t look at anyone lest they recognize you and start shooting. Twelve against one, not fair!
Not even the water is safe from death and destruction.
Ultimately, Red Faction works for me due to its janky tonal shifts and smooth shooting. One minute, you’re listening to very serious NPCs talk about saving the miners and blowing up Ultor, the next you’re listening to guards talk about how “They’re gonna get you, miner.” The juxtaposition is hilarious and feeds right into the gameplay at large. Shooting and blowing up things/guards/creatures feels great and is never not entertaining (FYI, the best gun in the game is the Assault Rifle and it’s not even close).
“I’m sorry, sir, the Perfect Dark try outs ended last week…”
Nobody who played Red Faction in 2001 could have predicted this, but the game was the last of a dying breed. Cheat codes, wise cracks, and a ridiculous premise were on their way out. Frowning, gray palette swaps, and gore aplenty were on their way in, and here to stay. I suppose the technological leaps from console to console dictated this. The more realistic game graphics became, the less room for childish leanings like “joy” and “color.” Still, it’s sad that the bulk of first-person shooters (and most AAA games as a whole) don’t allow for some manner of ridiculousness. Red Faction‘s notion that corporate capitalist oppression needs to be destroyed might be a serious one. Ultimately, though, the game is an over-the-top popcorn shooter that reminds us of what we once had.
Listen to our Red Faction podcast here.