When developer Volition, Inc. dropped production on their game Descent 4, they took with them a new technology that was radically different from what video games could do at that time: destructible environments. Very destructible environments.
Some games had dabbled with this concept before (try Duke Nukem 3D) but never before had a game placed players in a world where they could shape the environment to their will, blasting gigantic craters into walls and tearing buildings down to scratch.
Today, we take that idea for granted, thanks to Minecraft and Battlefield. But before Red Faction, gamers had never seen anything like that. Red Faction blew up FPS gaming, literally.
Released May 21, 2001, Red Faction showed off its destructiveness, utilizing the innovative Geo-Mod engine. Standing for geometry modification, Geo-Mod doesn’t destroy objects through specific, scripted sections. Instead, players alter the terrain and environment at their will, scripting-free. This capability was so impressive, Red Faction even came with a “Glass House” extra level, where players could chisel out endless tunnels and caverns to their heart’s content.
Indeed, Red Faction was far different from other first-person shooters at the time, and critics raved about the limitless possibilities of reshaping levels through big cinematic explosions and frantic action-packed destruction. No more narrow corridors and walls impervious to bullet holes – the deep, cavernous architecture of Martian tunnels and desert wastes had a feel that any fan of Total Recall could admire, and Red Faction’s story similarly carried distinct dystopian sci-fi elements, with a flair for the revolutionary call, of course.
Set in 2075, the Earth’s natural resources have become so depleted, the ubiquitous Ultor Corporation has taken to using exploitive mining operations deep inside the Martian depths, and Parker, a downtrodden miner with a revolutionary heart, sparks a rebellion that sees him going toe to toe with Ultor and its ruthless hired guns.
The game’s sequel, Red Faction II, was released October 15, 2002, and it continued where the events of the first game left off. With the Earth Defense Force (EDF) now controlling Ultor, the top secret nanotechnology revealed in the previous game is revealed to have changed hands with Mars’s deadliest factions, including the Commonwealth, a dystopic military group led by a deranged despot.
Red Faction II didn’t go over as well with critics when it was first released. The campaign runs a bit shorter than the original, and with no online multiplayer, Red Faction II wasn’t cashing in on the online craze at that time. There is a local multiplayer, though, with an exceptional split-screen mode, as well as a bevy of interesting new features to the gameplay, like the ability to dual-wield weapons. Red Faction II’s graphics were also updated greatly (the PC port was less impressive), with sophisticated AI bots making solo-play on multiplayer a fan favorite.
Not so often does a franchise take a tried and true formula and go for a risky change, but that’s exactly what Volition did with Red Faction: Guerilla, and fans were all the more grateful for it. Released June 2, 2009, seven years after the last installment, Red Faction: Guerilla, took the franchise out of the repetitive tropes of FPS action and switched perspective into third person. But perhaps the biggest change was Guerilla’s introduction to a more non-linear, sandbox style to its campaign mode. Roaming through an open world environment, a terraformed landscape of harsh Martian terrain, players had to seek out six separate regions of the map, completing missions to “free” those areas from the authoritarian grip of the EDF
Guerilla was a darling title for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Running on the highly enhance Geo-Mod 2.0 engine, players could level whole buildings to the ground, decimating their enemies as they decimated the terrain. The game featured a handy weapon upgrade system, where players could scan the land for “salvage,” a currency spent on new improvements to their arsenal. Many times, the more generous the destruction, the more salvage a player could yield, which obviously led to endless fun. The new installment also got its own online multiplayer, an addition fans and critics alike had been clamoring for since the beginning.
The game was a huge success, and while critics found the story slightly weaker than past installments and perhaps more repetitive because of its open-world structure, to many, Guerilla is one of the best Red Faction games the series ever produced.
Guerilla’s success may have made some fans scratch their heads when Volition decided to go back to the game’s linear roots with Red Faction: Armageddon. Released June 7, 2011, the game was a strong return to the IP’s history of mission-based campaigns, incorporating some new toys into the mix, like the novel magnet gun, as well as plenty more destructive fun.
The new decade also saw the franchise branching out into spin-off titles with the vehicle-based Red Faction: Battlegrounds coming out to promote Armageddon’s release. Fans even got to enjoy their first Red Faction feature film adaptation.
Red Faction: Origins, a television film produced by the Syfy network, tied together the storylines from Guerilla, giving fans some juicy canon to enjoy before jumping into Armageddon’s highly cinematic campaign.
But despite the creative success of Armageddon, the title proved to miss out on being a financial one, and publisher THQ quickly fell into bankruptcy by the end of 2012, leaving this beloved franchise out in the cold.
For a year, many thought Red Faction would be lost to obscurity, that is until Nordic Games picked up the IP at the last moment. While Volition’s general manager Dan Cermak made it clear the developer wouldn’t be making anymore Red Faction games, there is still hope for this IP. Today, fans continue to speculate what developer may be game for the challenge of bringing back those Martian wastelands, so we can tear them down all over again.