Red Faction: Battlegrounds
With the impending release of Red Factions Armageddon in the coming months, THQ though it would be a good idea to start implanting the Red Faction brand back into the minds of gamers after nearly a two year hiatus. They are trying to pull this off with Red Faction: Battlegrounds, a vehicular combat downloadable title for the Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network ($10 of each platform). Unfortunately, this game has just as much in common with the Red Faction universe as my coffee maker. The thin story doesn't stretch much farther than the name and only serves to prop up an otherwise forgettable combat title.
The single player missions only serve as a training ground for the multiplayer modes. The entire set can be knocked out in about 45 minutes, slightly more time if you want to try for gold medals. You are awarded medals based on the amount of time spent finishing the goals such as survival, flag delivery or destruction. Repeating the levels can help you rank up, but the repetitiveness of playing against the idiotic AI is mind numbing. The only element of challenge in the game is fighting against the lagging control scheme. You often have to overcompensate when handling the various vehicles, a giant pain for a vehicular combat game.
Rife with connection issues, the multiplayer in Battlegrounds starts off with problems immediately. I had trouble with lag issues and dropped connections. There's also nagging visual glitched that pop up while playing and directly affect the gameplay. I can't adjust to the position of other players in the match when they are popping in and out of my screen. When I did connect in a stable game, I mostly stuck with Capture the Flag and King of the Hill; both entertaining in spurts. Unfortunately, the maps seem far too large for the maximum amount of players allowed (four). There's also an extremely small online player base at the moment, thus you have to wonder if it will ever take off. Beyond the multiplayer, there are 12 achievements to earn in the game., most of which are related to ranking up or killing players in multiplayer.
The biggest problem with the visuals are the ridiculous camera angles, typically too far away from the car to even discern where you are on the screen. The overhead camera picks terrible angles and the developer's must think that all of their players are using a 90" screen. The lighting effects pop against the Mars backdrop, typically when firing on exploding objects rather than other cars. The ground textures are fairly detailed, but the physics engine seems to favor Mars rather than the player. The floaty handling leaves much to be desired.
The developer took a giant misstep in leaving out audio cues when killing enemies. As repetitive as I've heard them in other games, taking the time to read a text update at the bottom of the screen about my last kill usually meant that I was the next kill. Would it really have killed them to provide some voiceovers, even annoying ones? The sound effects are definitely solid though and support the vehicular combat concept. The soundtrack was unmemorable and doesn't help (or hurt) the game.
What strikes me as most offensive is attaching the Red Faction franchise name to this poorly thought out shooter. THQ certainly has ever right to do whatever they wish with the Red Faction brand name, but this devalues it significantly prior to the launch of Red Faction Armageddon for consoles and the Red Faction Origins film airing on the SyFy channel in late May. Oddly, THQ seems more worried about their "transmedia strategy" than pleasing the core Red Faction fanbase. The smart play would have been to release this game as a free appetizer (so to speak) for the upcoming main course in May.
Beyond the almost useless tie-in with the Red Faction universe, the game is a frustrating mess of control issues and camera angle problems. In addition, the single player campaign can be knocked out in less than an hour and the multiplayer is filled with lag / connection issues. Red Factions: Battlegrounds is a waste of 800 Marketplace points and will disappoint every Red Faction fan right out of the gate. Skip it.