Developer: Cranky Pants Games
Release Date: April 1, 2003
It’s been nearly six months since Red Faction II was released on the PS2, and not much has changed during that time in the transition to the GameCube. Does that change the fact that Red Faction II on the GC is an all-around solid and entertaining game? No. But it does raise some serious issues concerning its lack of new content or enhanced visuals. When a game is as markedly mature as Red Faction II and is ported over to another system with literally zero enhancements it would seem only prudent that the publisher reduce the MSRP of the title, especially since the PS2 version can currently be had for under thirty bucks. Then again, for those who own a GameCube exclusively, this may be the only chance to actually play the game. Either way, Red Faction II shouldn’t disappoint. That is, if you are willing to look past some annoying single-player linearity issues.
The story in Red Faction II goes something like this; nano-technology is created in the 22nd century on Mars, allowing for the creation of super-soldiers that are faster, stronger, and smarter than anything before them. This technology was stolen and brought to earth, stole back, and stolen again. One Chancellor Sopot used this advent in technology to breed two thousand warriors of the Commonwealth. Soon Sopot began to fear his creations and to destroy them fashioned a new hopelessly loyal army – equally efficient in killing but with zero will of their own. You’ll play the part of Alias, a first-generation super-soldier and part of a coalition known as the Red Faction. Along with five other nano-tech enhanced fugitives, all specializing in unique and useful abilities, your goal will be to eliminate Chancellor Sopot for his crimes against humanity. But this is all basically just an excuse to throw you into a barrage of different situations where the ultimate goal is to blow shit up.
And Red Faction II gives you more reason to be trigger happy than any game before it, the only limiting factor for the amount of stuff you can destroy is the amount of ammo in your possession. The Geo-Mod system still isn’t to the point where literally everything is destructible but, well, it sure has come a long way. I mean, whereas the original game allowed you to plow tunnels through underground mines - Red Faction 2 pits you in an environment where almost any non-metal structure you point your tricked-out gun at can be torn apart. However, these instances are somewhat sparse.
And believe me, these guns are tricked-out. In the 22nd century alien-technology is within arm’s length, so to speak. The lower-end of the firearm spectrum includes such obligatory offerings as a standard semi-automatic pistol and hand-held machine gun, both of which can be double-fisted and independently controlled. But as you make your way towards the more impressive hardware you’ll start to see things like the magnetic rail driver, capable of taking out a so-called “impenetrable” tank with two shots, and the nanotech grenade launcher that discharges super-powered explode-on-contact grenades. In all there are 17 weapons, and what’s more, almost all of them have a secondary fire function.
The play-control is about the best that you can expect from a console FPS, X & Y axis can be easily manipulated for sensitivity and so forth. Every function that you can perform - jumping, ducking, independent left and right firing, activating, secondary fire, reloading, etc - is all intuitively laid out on the GameCube controllers by default. Control-wise, this game is spot-on, with style to spare
Red Faction II goes above and beyond the call of standard FPS shoot-em-ups and allows you to get behind the wheel of a multitude of vehicles. Though the majority of these sequences are essentially “on rails” allowing you only to manage the firing duties. There are particularly notable exceptions such as the mini-mech battle armor and highly maneuverable stealth submarine that change up the flow of the game while giving you complete control, but most vehicle sequences relinquish navigational control solely to NPCs.
Visually, Red Faction II looks world’s better than the original, but is just a hair less impressive than the PS2 version. Textures are crisp and detailed, somehow making the surroundings look like they are layered with multiple texture maps. In certain areas of the game, like the war-torn High-Rise Hell level, the environments, when viewed from a certain perspective, look almost photo-realistic. Character models are outfitted with a plethora of polygons, and loading times are adequately snappy. Animation is smooth, with its fluidity credited in part to the motion-capture method the developers used for bringing the characters to life. Blowing stuff up is satisfying on a level rarely experienced in past shooters. Frame rate can tend to slow down at particularly hectic times but it is so infrequent that you’ll hardly notice.
The developers also made sure that Red Faction II was up-to-snuff in the audio department. Ambient sound effects can be heard in almost every stage and the positional sound scheme is convincingly realistic. The sounds of unloading a missile and watching it crash into a destructible structure gives off a sense of visceral excitement that the first game couldn’t touch. Perhaps the coolest instance of sound in the game comes early on when you are battling a stationary helicopter that is throwing more lead your way than is humanly possible, the sounds of armor-piercing bullets and missiles whizzing past your head is eerily believable when heard from a surround sound system or headphones. Voice acting is up to par but almost entirely unimpressive. The music consists of a large collection of fast-tempo electronic rock that, while not very noticeable, does compliment the on-screen action nicely.
I think it is safe to assume that Red Faction II will go down as one of the best FPS’ on the GameCube in 2003, but – and here it is: occasionally the fluidity of progression is majorly hindered by confused level layout and lack of alternative routes. For instance, in the submarine level, you’ll be given the objective to enter the hatch-bay doors of some underwater base, but the surroundings are so bland and repetitive that you’ll be swimming around for ages before you finally find the aforementioned location. And it happens a few times during the relatively short span of the experience. Ultimately, it is this that keeps Red Faction II from attaining greatness.
Nevertheless, this game proves to be an impressive and completely satisfying successor to Red Faction. The multiplayer component is surprisingly robust, allowing up to four people to play a few different types of competitive game styles via split-screen, and even supports surprisingly intelligent and customizable bots. All in all, you’d do well to pick this game up, its visual presentation is amazing and the game play is even better. If not for the progression-stilting level design this could have been the ‘Cube’s prime contender for FPS of the year.