I’ve played some franchises in the past that at some point they changed a major aspect of the game. A lot of franchises do this, from Super Mario (look at Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy) to Castlevania (“linear side-scrolling” to “free-roam the castle”) to even Mega Man (“side-scrolling choose your own stage” to “full-blow RPGs”). The thing is these franchises did well in that transition. Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 are two of the best games for the Nintendo Wii, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is hands down one of the top games in the franchise, and fans today are foaming at the mouth for Mega Man Legends 3 on the Nintendo 3DS. However, not all franchises can make that kind of drastic change and come out the other end okay, and today’s review takes a look at one of those franchises. With that said, let’s dive into Red Faction: Battlegrounds.
For those not familiar with the franchise, Red Faction was a first person shooter initially released by THQ back in 2001 for the PC and PS2. The game takes place on Mars in the 21st century where you play as Parker, a miner who helps lead a rebellion against Ultor Corporation. While I never played the original game, I did pick up Red Faction 2 several years ago as a bargain bin game and loved it. Red Faction: Guerrilla was released a couple years ago and Red Faction: Armageddon, which Red Faction: Battlegrounds ties into, is set to release later this year. Whereas the other games are first person shooters, Red Faction: Battlegrounds is a top-down game that more resembles a demolition derby than a Red Faction game.
When you first fire up the game you have three game options: Training Missions, Local Multiplayer, and Xbox Live Multiplayer. Let’s cover Training Missions first. These serve as training for the different types of vehicles (six in all). At first only one is available but as you complete one the next unlocks, and after completing a few you’ll have two unlocked at once (so you can skip a troublesome mission and go to the next if you wish). There are four different types of training missions: Speed Trial, Shooting Range, Survival, and Annihilate. Speed Trial has you collecting flags and delivering them somewhere else on the map. By “collecting and delivering” I mean “run over a marked spot to pick up the flag and run over another marked spot to deliver it”. It’s not that bad and basically serves to help you learn the vehicles controls and speed for the smaller vehicles. Shooting Range has you destroying purple exploding mines as fast as you can, which can also serve for learning how the vehicles work. Survival has you taking down enemies and just trying to stay alive as long as possible. The longer you survive the better medal you can achieve. Finally, Annihilate has you destroying multiple waves of enemies (typically fifteen) as fast as possible.
Depending on your final time for the missions you can get a bronze, silver, or gold medal. For Speed Trial, Shooting Range, and Annihilate you can get a bronze, silver, or gold medal depending on how fast you complete your objective while the medal you get for Survival depends on how long you can survive. I’m not sure if you must medal to unlock the next mission or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you do, as there’s really no penalty for dying in three of the mission types. Aside from medals you can also gain ranks for completing missions and doing well in them. I don’t remember if the ranks actually do anything other than something to show off online, but completing some of the missions will actually help make the vehicles a bit better for use.
Speaking of which there are a total of six different vehicles you can use, ranging from the small Miner ATV to the EDF Medium Tank to a Light Walker that reminds me of the AT-STs in Star Wars. Ironically I only recall one mission that uses the Light Walker, but I digress. Each vehicle has its own unique traits to it. The Miner ATV and Rover Flatbed don’t have the greatest firepower but have excellent maneuverability while the heavier EDF Medium Tank and EDF MLRS sacrifice speed for power. Controlling each vehicle is relatively easy once you get used to it. Using the Left Stick moves and turns the vehicle to an extent. If you want to reverse you use LT to back up, which is useful if under heavy fire as your back armor is weaker than your front armor. Using the Right Stick rotates your vehicle’s turret and can also fire the turret depending on the settings. You can have it set to either fire using the Right Stick or RT. Since the turret can overheat if used too much at one time, using RT can help save firepower, but I prefer using the Right Stick to fire as that’s one less thing to have to worry about pressing. If you are worried about your turret overheating though, not to worry. The icon below your tank will change colors the more you use your turret, but it tends to cool down quickly.
There are several different types of items you can pick up on each map, including weapons and power-ups. For the weapons you have remote mines that you can deploy and will explode when you detonate it, proximity mines that will explode when an enemy draws near, and bombs that when detonated will suck up any vehicle near it like a black hole and destroy it (including your vehicle if you’re too close). These are all deployed using RB and detonated using LB. You can also find a few power-ups on each map to help you out, including yellow lightning bolts to increase your speed, a blue shield to protect you from damage for a short amount of time, and a green wrench to repair a good amount of damage done to you.Now all of this sounds fine and dandy on paper, but the big question is “how does the execution hold up”? For the most part it’s not too bad, but leaves a bit to be desired. With the smaller vehicles like the Miner ATV and Rover Flatbed you may find yourself wanting to turn a corner and almost slide past it (or with me, I did keep sliding past it) as there’s really no breaks per-se. You can use LT to slow down, but within moments you’ll be moving backwards which will throw off your timing on your turn. The heavier vehicles tend to fire in bursts and while the firepower is better than their smaller counterparts you’ll be a sitting duck if you get trapped in a corner against vehicles with faster turrets than yours. I tend to prefer the somewhat speedy vehicles which is nice for getting away from incoming fire, but it would have been much better if they used one of the face buttons (that get no use during the main game) as a brake to help take turns a bit easier.
There may be a total of sixteen missions but you’re basically playing the same four mission types over and over again with different maps and vehicles and a slight change in difficulty for Survival and Annihilate. There are leaderboards so you can see where you rank amongst your friends or complete strangers, which is nice, but once I completed a mission (typically with no less than a bronze medal) I really had no inkling to go through the mission again, and that leads into a major problem in my eyes. These sixteen training missions are the entire single-player experience with Red Faction: Battlegrounds. Since there’s no real penalty for dying on three of the mission types other than a time penalty, I really felt no sense of accomplishment once I completed a mission. I felt plenty of frustration during the Survival missions (the one mission type where dying does cost you big time) but the others really didn’t make me get up and say “YEAH, TAKE THAT MARTIAN SCUM”. I just proceeded on and within an hour I was practically done with single player. If the game had more missions and made them seem like actual missions and not just training for online battles, it would have been a lot better in my eyes, or at least have certain penalties for dying on the missions present.
With that said, let’s take a look at multiplayer. Like most other Xbox Live games you can play Red Faction: Battlegrounds either locally or online, each with up to four players total. There are five different game types to choose from: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, and Flag Frenzy. If you’re familiar with games like Halo and Unreal Tournament, then four of these should be all too familiar to you. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch has you fighting your opponents to see who can destroy the others more, King of the Hill pits players against each other to keep control of a certain part of the map, and Capture the Flag as teams trying to get the other team’s flag and take it back to their own base…or part of the map in this case. Flag Frenzy is essentially Speed Trial from the training missions, as it has players collecting and dropping off flags, with the most drop-offs winning. Given the size of each map some game types can’t be played on most maps. The two Deathmatch types can be played on all nine maps, while King of the Hill and Capture the Flag can be played on two maps each, and Flag Frenzy has four maps that players can contend on. Each match can be customized in several ways, including turret speed, and length of the match itself. On top of that, each player can pick one of the six types of vehicles and when destroyed they can hit X before respawning and choose another vehicle.
So I went through all of the training missions, I got myself familiar with all six vehicles, and I’m ready to take the fight online. There’s just one problem though: there seems to be absolutely no one playing this game online. Games like Halo or Super Street Fighter IV can typically have players in the United States online at any given hour, but not here. Granted I did try this at 9 a.m. on a Friday morning so your experience may vary. However, provided you can find some games open to join you can filter your search by game type or map and if any games are available you can jump in and begin annihilating your opponents. Can’t find an open game or wish to game with Xbox Live friends? Simply create your own game, chose the game type, invite your friends, and off you go.
In conclusion, I’m kind of mixed here. I did somewhat enjoy what I played, but without finding anyone online to play with most of my experience was with the single player “missions”, which only lasted about an hour or so. My main frustration with the missions is that while you’re driving around and completing your objective, you might wind up shooting some obstacles, and some of these obstacles can be destroyed. Thing is, these obstacles can also explode, and if you’re anywhere near them when they do, you’re taking some damage. This is a pain in the rear on Survival where you absolutely do not want to die. A lot of my damage came from something exploding that’s one and a half vehicle lengths away from me. Unless you have some friends who want to play the game with you or luck out and find people playing online, there doesn’t seem like much to do outside of getting better times on the missions, which to me is a huge let down.