Review: “Red Faction II [PC Version]” (Retro Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Red Faction II Review sketch

Although I have very fond memories of playing the Playstation 2 version of “Red Faction II” when I was a teenager, I’d almost forgotten about this game until earlier this year when I saw that the PC version of this game was on special offer on GOG. Out of sheer nostalgia, I bought a copy within an hour of seeing it.

During the sale, the game cost about two quid and this is probably what I’d recommend paying for this game (for reasons I’ll explain at the end of this review). So, it’s probably a good idea to wait until it goes on offer again. At the time of writing, this game also seems to be available on Steam for a slightly lower price than the full-price GOG version, however it also comes with all of Steam’s DRM too.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Red Faction II”:

2016 Red Faction II Main menu with bot match

“Red Faction II” is a dystopian science fiction FPS game that was originally released for the Playstation 2 in 2002 (with the PC port being released in 2003). Although it is supposedly a sequel to “Red Faction“, you don’t need to have played that game first since it’s almost a completely different game.

In “Red Faction II”, you play as Alias, a demolitions expert in a team of nanotechnology-enhanced super soldiers that serve under the command of a Stalin-like dictator called Sopot. However, after a few years, Sopot becomes suspicious of the super soldiers and orders them killed.

Fortunately, Alias and the rest of the team are able to escape execution and they decide to ally themselves with the Red Faction, a group of rebels who are waging a civil war against Sopot’s government….

Although the premise of the game sounds slightly generic, there’s a surprising amount of complexity in the game’s story. Yes, it can’t exactly be compared to a novel – or even a TV show – but, for a FPS game from the early 2000s, the story is slightly more complex than you might think. However, I don’t want to give away any plot spoilers.

I have a lot to say about this game, so I’ll start by talking about the things I loved about this game and then I’ll talk about all of it’s flaws. There are a lot of things in each category, so I’ll split this review into two segments.

The Good Things About “Red Faction II”:

One thing that I really love about this game is it’s atmosphere. Although there are at least few generic “military base”/ “dreary factory” levels, some of the levels have a very distinctive cyberpunk aesthetic to them that reminded me of a cross between “Tron” and “Blade Runner”:

Yay! An ominous-looking laboratory :)

Yay! An ominous-looking laboratory πŸ™‚

It may be a brutal dictatorship, but it also looks like "Blade Runner". Every cloud DOES have a silver lining, I guess.

It may be a brutal dictatorship, but it also looks like “Blade Runner”. Every cloud DOES have a silver lining, I guess.

The range of weapons in “Red Faction II” is surprisingly good too. Although this game includes a few boringly “realistic” guns, many of the weapons on offer here are of the futuristic variety and they all look, sound and feel really great.

The weapon that you’ll probably be using the most is the “NICW” – a futuristic assault rifle that also contains a powerful grenade launcher. Since it’s extremely useful at both short and long ranges, you’ll probably just end up ignoring all of the other weapons once you find it.

Not only is the NICW useful during normal gameplay, but it's secondary fire can also come in handy during boss battles too.

Not only is the NICW useful during normal gameplay, but it’s secondary fire can also come in handy during boss battles too.

Plus, unlike many other FPS games, “Red Faction II” contains a ridiculous number of weapons. One of the advantages of playing classic FPS games on the PC is that you can use the number keys to switch between weapons. Well, in “Red Faction II”, you’ll also have to use several punctuation keys to select weapons too. And that’s not even including the 4-5 types of grenades that you’ll find throughout the game. Seriously, I cannot fault the weapons in this game.

As for the enemies, they’re moderately interesting. Since this game came from the tail end of the time when FPS games were at their best, there is some actual creativity here. Although you’ll spend the first few levels fighting generic “enemy soldier” enemies, you’ll soon also be facing robots (large and small), evil “nano elite” super-soldiers and two types of zombies.

Yes, they’re technically nanotechnology-enhanced corpses but, well, zombies!:

Yay! It's a known fact that the presence of the undead automatically makes any FPS game about ten times as fun :)

Yay! It’s a known fact that the presence of the undead automatically makes any FPS game about ten times as fun πŸ™‚

In addition to this, the game also contains several challenging boss battles too. Does anyone else remember when FPS games used to include these? Although these battles can occasionally become frustrating due to some poor elements of the game’s design (which I’ll discuss later), they mostly provide an enjoyable challenge where you’ll have to think carefully about the tactics that you use.

This game also includes several vehicle segments too. Although I’m normally opposed to vehicle segments in FPS games, most of these segments are fairly good (especially those where you get to use a giant suit of battle armour). However, the segment where you control a gun on an aircraft plays like an on-rails shooter rather than a FPS game, which can be confusing at first. However, as I’ll explain in the other half of this review, one of the game’s other vehicle sections isn’t so good.

Another good thing about this game is the excellent voice acting. A few seconds after you see the main menu, you will be greeted by a thunderous speech from Sopot which really sets the tone for the game. Seriously, it’s something that you won’t forget – and will probably be able to recite parts from memory after listening to it a few times. Not only that, there are also a couple of famous names amongst the voice cast too:

Lance Henriksen AND Jason Statham :)

Lance Henriksen AND Jason Statham πŸ™‚

Plus, as a single-player gamer, one thing I loved about the PC port of this game is that fact that instead of a multiplayer mode (that I’ll never use), the game only includes a “bot match” mode, where you can play deathmatch, capture the flag etc… games against the computer πŸ™‚

The bot match system includes a classic-style health system and several unlockable levels. However, those expecting an online or local  multiplayer mode will be disappointed.

The bot match system includes a classic-style health system and several unlockable levels. However, those expecting an online or local multiplayer mode will be disappointed.

Since you’ll unlock extra content for it (as well as several movie/ model/ concept art galleries) as you progress through the main game, it has even more replay value than you might expect. However, if you’re a multiplayer gamer, the lack of local or online multiplayer will probably be a critical flaw rather than an awesome feature.

The Bad Things About “Red Faction II”:

Despite all of my praise for this game, it is not without a litany of serious flaws. Most of these problems stem from the fact that this game is very obviously primarily designed for consoles. These are things that I didn’t notice much when I was a naive PS2 (and PC) playing teenager but, as a more seasoned retro FPS PC gamer, they stand out from a mile away.

The first of these problems is that this game uses the dreaded checkpoint saving. Yes, I can see why this was done for practical reasons on consoles, but there’s no excuse whatsoever for it in PC games. And, as if to taunt you further, the game contains a “save game” option in the in-game menu, which only allows you to re-save your latest checkpoint.

This problem is compounded by the fact that many of the boss battles are preceded by unskippable cutscenes which you’ll have to re-watch every time that you die. And, this will probably happen again and again and again….. Seriously, I pretty much memorised the dialogue in the cutscene before the final boss battle.

This (approximately one minute-long) cutscene is permanently seared into my brain, thanks to a combination of checkpoint saving and the fact that it is totally unskippable!

This (approximately one minute-long) cutscene is permanently seared into my brain, thanks to a combination of checkpoint saving and the fact that it is totally unskippable!

In addition to checkpoint saving, this game also includes a limited form of *ugh* regenerating health. Since the original version of this game was released in 2002, the rot hadn’t fully set in yet, so you’ll still be able to collect health power-ups. However, these serve as more of a “lives” system and you lose one of them whenever your short regenerating health bar runs out.

Ironically, the “bot match” mode includes a proper non-regenerating health system, so I don’t see why this couldn’t have been added to the main game as well.

Plus, despite carrying the “Red Faction” name, this game has barely any links to the previous game. In fact, even the really cool “geo mod” system in the first game (that allowed you to destroy almost everything in the game) has been reduced to a few specific pre-determined desctructible items, walls and areas. I really don’t understand why this unique and distinctive feature was mostly removed in the second game. I mean, it was one of the things that made the original “Red Faction” stand out so much.

Not only that, there are only a few very easily-missed token references to the first game here:

Wow, I never that that I'd actually be happy to see the logo of the nefarious Ultor Mining Corporation....

Wow, I never that that I’d actually be happy to see the logo of the nefarious Ultor Mining Corporation….

The level design in “Red Faction II” is also more “modern” than classic too. What I mean by this is that many of the levels are of the highly linear variety. Yes, there are a few non-linear parts and a few cool hidden areas to find but – for the most part – there isn’t really much room for exploration. You just carry on walking along the one fixed path that the game designers have told you to follow.

This bridge may look cool, but it also sums up the design of a lot of the levels.

This bridge may look cool, but it also sums up the design of a lot of the levels.

This level is quite literally just a shooting gallery.

This level is quite literally just a shooting gallery.

Even though I’m not really much of an options nerd, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that, apart from re-bindable keys and a few gameplay options, the “options” menu is fairly limited. You can’t change the screen resolution or do many of the things that you would expect in a PC game. Still, since it’s from 2002-3, this game will run smoothly on even fairly old PCs (like mine).

Although the game’s progamming is fairly stable and reliable, I had one “shout at the screen in frustration” moment when a glitch prevented me from completing a particularly difficult boss battle. After several attempts, I’d finally completed the first half of the battle and I was moving to the second half when….

 ... I got stuck in a door. I'd just spent the past five minutes fighting a difficult boss... Oh well, back to the last checkpoint to do it all over again !!!

… I got stuck in a door. I’d just spent the past five minutes fighting a difficult boss… Oh well, back to the last checkpoint to do it all over again !!!

The absolute worst part of the game by far is, of course, the submarine section.

Many of the vehicle segments in this game are fast-paced and thrilling… and then you have to spend some time aboard a … well, I can’t think of an insult strong enough to describe it … submarine. Not only does this decrepit rust-bucket handle like a slow-moving brick (unlike the enemy submarines that will be shooting you and the homing mines scattered on the ground below you), but it’s weapons are slow-firing and inaccurate too.

 I'm not a religious person but, in the very unlikely event that hell exists, all of the computer games there probably look like this one level!

I’m not a religious person but, in the very unlikely event that hell exists, all of the computer games there probably look like this one level!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, you’ll be spending these parts of the game navigating murky underwater caverns. In fact, once you’ve completed the objective in the last part of the submarine level, you then have the fun task of finding the submarine bay that will allow you to finally leave this despicable crime against gaming behind you. Forever.

Of course, the submarine bay doors are not clearly lit or clearly marked. In fact, they’re hidden in a part of the level that doesn’t even obey the laws of physics! In one part of the level, there are several thin metal platforms (that are thinner than the submarine) protruding from a rock. If you try to land on top of them, as any sensible person would, nothing will happen. Instead, you have to go underneath one of these thin platforms… to surface inside a large indoor facility that is obviously directly above the thin metal platform that you just landed on top of twenty minutes ago! AAAARGH!!!!

Conclusion:

All in all, this game is a real mixed bag. For every wonderfully cool thing about it, there is also something absolutely terrible. Although I miss the days when I could be naively nostalgic about this game, re-playing it wasn’t an entirely bad experience. As such, I’d recommend waiting until this game goes on sale before you buy it (or, even better, buying the first “Red Faction” game instead).

Even so, there’s a lot of fun to be had here, if you’re willing to put up with some extremely frustrating moments and console-centric PC game design.

If I had to give this game a rating out of five, it would maybe get a three.

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