The Red Faction franchise has gone through several evolutions, but its latest game is a true departure from the series' formula. Developer Volition assigned the creation of Red Faction: Battlegrounds to the studio behind the racing series Juiced. Battlegrounds is a downloadable vehicle-based shooter and is meant to build excitement for Volition’s upcoming title Red Faction: Armageddon.
The Twisted Metal series popularized vehicular combat and was very successful in the mid to late ‘90s. However, in recent times the genre has almost fallen dead and could really use an update. Unfortunately, Red Faction: Battlegrounds squanders the opportunity to revitalize the genre and instead delivers a mostly lackluster and unoriginal gaming experience.
Red Faction: Battlegrounds’ gameplay can be described as a mix of Geometry Wars, Twisted Metal, and Micro Machines. The game, which doesn’t have anything to do with Red Faction, is played from a top-down perspective and involves racing and shooting one’s way through different objectives by way of a twin-stick shooter control scheme. For a better understanding, watch the Red Faction: Battlegrounds trailer.
The tight and simple controls work well and maneuvering the different vehicles is a breeze. There are eight vehicles to choose from which range from walkers, to rovers, to tanks -- each of which has a fairly unique balance of speed, attack power and armor. Everything sounds great. That is, until the game actually starts.
The single player campaign consists of 16 “Training Missions” that are all based around beating the clock. Each mission only takes a few minutes to complete and most players will be able to beat them on their first try. The core gameplay is very solid, and the first few missions are genuinely fun, but after playing for 15-20 minutes you will have seen just about everything the game has to offer. The major problems with this game are not immediately obvious, but become apparent quite early. There simply isn’t much substance to Red Faction: Battlegrounds.
There are nine different maps in the game, but they all feel remarkably similar. In every mission the objective is to either, survive an onslaught of enemies, defeat numerous waves of enemies, destroy a number of reactors, or race through checkpoints. Also, long loading times for such short missions become increasingly annoying. The saving grace of the “Training Missions” is the medal and leaderboard system. Although players will be able to complete most missions on their first try, those who enjoy a real challenge will be kept busy trying to obtain gold medals. The medal system is well balanced and trying to get a gold in every mission ramps up the difficulty and easily quadruples the time it takes to complete all the missions. In addition to the medals, a leaderboard keeps track of how your personal times match up with other people playing. The “Training Missions” will offer a fun, albeit short experience. Even though it lacks depth, the single player mode is actually the highlight of the game.
Both the local and online multiplayer take place on the same nine maps as the single player missions, yet incorporate standard shooter game types such as deathmatch, king of the hill, and capture the flag -- along with a mode that has players racing from point to point. One would think that multiplayer mayhem is where Battlegrounds would shine, but that is not the case. Many of the modes restrict map choice to only two or four of the nine maps. Also, it takes forever to find other players (most likely due to a lack of people playing) over Xbox Live and when it finally does, the matches are anticlimactic.
Local matches don’t have to deal with connection problems, but end up being equally disappointing. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why the multiplayer isn’t any fun, but it stems from the fact that apart from choosing your vehicle you don’t have many options for strategy or creativity. Nothing done in the “Training Missions” is expanded upon and the matches quickly become monotonous and boring. Instead of an entertaining romp, the multiplayer games are messy and there isn’t any satisfaction in winning.
In short, if Battlegrounds was a mini-game within a larger title it’d be great, but there simply isn’t enough here to warrant a stand-alone title. Players that enjoy a challenge may end up spending a couple hours with the training missions, but other than that, the game isn’t worth much. It is hard to imagine getting more than 2-3 hours of gameplay out of Battlegrounds. It is fun at first, but grows stale at a rapid pace. Unless you are dying for a vehicle-based combat game or are a die-hard Red Faction fan, it is probably not worth a purchase.
Red Faction: Battlegrounds is currently available on both XBLA and PSN.
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