This Firecracker’s A Dud
With THQ revving up for the launch of Red Faction: Armageddon at the end of May, they were kind enough to offer us an appetizer in the form of Red Faction: Battlegrounds. However, with a sparse selection of game modes and an overall lack of polish, it would be more apt to compare this game to an amuse-bouche rather than an appetizer, and not a particularly flavorful one at that.
Fans of the series shouldn’t get too excited, since branding this game as a Red Faction title seems like a late addition in the development. The maps befit the Martian landscape, with areas like Parker Town paying homage to the series’ first protagonist. Also, a couple of the weapon pickups are similar to those you’ll find in the upcoming Red Faction: Armageddon, and there’s a few references to Ultor and the EDF (Earth Defense Force), two of the evil entities in the fictional world… but that’s about it. Of course, with the game’s short single-player campaign, there isn’t much room to fill with any kind of story.
There are sixteen missions in total, and THQ does nothing to hide the fact that they are merely training missions. Broken into four categories – Speed Trial, Shooting Range, Survival, and Annihilate – each is a race against the clock, or in Survival’s case, an attempt to stay alive as long as possible. With an average target time of two minutes, you complete all the missions in under an hour. You’ll receive a bronze, silver, or gold medal depending on your finish time, and could spend an extra hour or so trying to obtain gold in every mission, but the single-player experience pretty much ends there.
So, what do you do in the game? Well, if you’re expecting an FPS like in Red Faction I and II, or the third-person open world style from Guerrilla and the upcoming Armageddon, you may be shocked to hear that it’s neither. Instead, you’ll pilot a handful of vehicles, each with a different speed, armor, and firepower rating. You’ll be matched against computer-controlled bots in the single-player mode, and human-led vehicles in multiplayer, looking down at the map from an aerial view. Each map is an arena style, keeping the action focused in one area, which makes for a frantic battle experience, especially since there are few areas to hide, and unhindered you can launch your weapons from one corner of the map to the other. The action itself is actually fun, if not abrupt, as you chase down your targets or try to avoid attack by hiding behind a wall or hill. The environment itself becomes a weapon, with a slew of explosive crates, barrels, and gas tanks scattered around the playing field, making many of the would-be safe spots potential death traps.
The game is easy to pick up for gamers of every skill level, thanks to the simple control scheme. One analog stick provides movement, while the other both aims and fires from the vehicle’s turret. Throw in a trigger button to spit out different mines and bombs, and there you have it. There are two things that drag down the fun factor and heighten your inevitable frustration. The first and most egregious is the camera control, or lack thereof. Based on the position of all the vehicles and/or targets in play, the fixed position camera will zoom in and out accordingly, each with its own detriments. Zooming in cuts off sections of the map, and coupled with the speed of the vehicles, it often moves you into a hazard you would have easily avoided. While zoomed out, you’ll find it a struggle to pinpoint your enemy’s location as well as your own, only to find yourself trying to drive through an impassable barrier. The other issue is with the response delay. Since this takes place on Mars, some could debate that the loose turns and long airtime add to the authenticity of the planet’s lower gravitational pull, but in the gaming world, tight controls in a frenzied battleground should trump all.
After you’ve breezed through the single player missions, the only option left is the multiplayer, and it too is limited in features. You can partake in a quick match, create your own public or private session, or join a match. The standard fare of modes is available, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, and Flag Frenzy. The Deathmatches are the least indulging of the bunch. King of the Hill is great for all against all matches, especially if you’ve mastered the layout of each map, which considering how small they are is quite simple to achieve. Team Capture the Flag matches have the most strategic element, having one member play defense with a tank while the other tries to speed to victory using an ATV. That being said, the multiplayer is still rather linear and lackluster compared to the bevy of other multiplayer massacre games out there, and for the most part it still boils down to short bursts of trigger finger carnage. The small map size also limits the player capacity to four, a major offense for a series so heavily built on destruction.
The graphics and sound both have cons and only a few timid pros. The color palette and stage design give enough variety to each venue to keep players from wanting to stick to one. However, there are too many strong uses of earth tones (or “Mars” tones), which fit the setting, but these browns, yellows, and reds mask the vehicles all too often, making it even tougher to keep track of yourself and the enemies on screen. The sound has an expected playlist of gun and missile fire effects as well as explosions, but become repetitive very quickly. With firing weapons from the start of the match to the end, paired with a ceaseless amount of explosions, a larger quantity of sound effects would have been appreciated. The music is a blend of futuristic synthesized rock, which you’d think fits well into the series, but somehow manages to sound underwhelming.
Red Faction: Battlegrounds is fun enough in short spurts, and may be just what the doctor ordered after a rough work day, when you need to escape into a virtual world and blow something up. But with a short list of mediocre game modes and a laughable single-player campaign, this is one that will most likely sit in your hard drive until you delete it when clearing up space. Who would pay ten dollars for a bland appetizer? My suggestion is to wait for the main course coming out soon.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
The stage design befits the Martian locale, but the creativity is limited to the small map sizes. Explosion effects are decent, but the colors too often mask the vehicles. 2.0 Control
Simple controls work for the simple gameplay, but the awful camera and delayed reaction time make it more frustrating than fun. 2.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A standard mix of carnage-inspired sound effects and futuristic rock, with nothing extraordinary, but nothing irritating either. 1.5 Play Value
An hour-long single-player mission and only a handful of multiplayer modes leaves this game severely lacking in replayability. 2.3 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|