Daily Archives: January 8, 2005

Different (Red) Factions, Different Experiences

In my continuing marathon of gaming before classes start again, I’ve completed Deus Ex 2 and have finished playing Red Faction 2. Notice I didn’t say I completed it. I couldn’t force myself to make it through the final boss battle but other than that, both games were fun in their own way. I must admit that after playing Doom 3, Half-Life 2 and Deus Ex 2, to start up Red Faction 2 was quite a shock. I have written before that the graphics of the new games were pretty naturalized for me and I didn’t really notice them. However, when I saw Red Faction 2’s two year old graphics, I suddenly did appreciate the prettiness of the other games, especially when I jumped into Counter-Strike:Source or HL2 Deathmatch.

Because I went from Deus Ex 2 to Red Faction 2, in addition to comparing their graphics, I also couldn’t help myself from comparing other aspects. The first thing I noticed was that both games betray their console heritage. I played both of them on my l33t computer, rather than the x-box and while both played find with keyboard and mouse, there were obvious consessions made for the consoles. The most talked about console feature in Deus Ex 2 was the small levels and the frequent loading. Interestingly, Red Faction 2 had small levels too, but they weren’t nearly as frustrating as Deus Ex 2’s — and in fact, because Red Faction 2 doesn’t feature any in game saves — another console carry over — the short levels were actually welcome. That I found myself hoping to end the level in Red Faction 2, and thus automatically save my progress, and yet dreading loading a level in Deus Ex 2 was interesting. Constant backtracking was the reason why the small levels in Deus Ex stuck out so much. I especially dreaded settings like Cairo where you had to backtrack through one level just to get to the other level you wanted to go to. I found myself longing for the little lightening bolt thingys that Riven had where you could just zip past things and skip the stuff in between. Red Faction 2, on the other hand, is purely linear with no backtracking through levels.

So we have one game that features non-linear gameplay, which is supposed to be the hottness, and one that features linear gameplay, which is supposed to be lame and broke-down, and yet the linear gameplay is less frustrating. Now I’m not saying red Faction 2 is better than Deus Ex 2 because I don’t think that is the case at all. I’m saying that gameplay is meaningless if the technology behind it isn’t up to par. Deus Ex 2 looked pretty and had progressive gameplay, but the technology of the levels hindered the gameplay and made it frustrating. Red Faction 2, on the other hand, managed to somehow turn 3 liabilities – short levels, linear gameplay, and no in-game saves, which are both technological limits and non-progressive gameplay, and make it work.

Red Faction 2 had a lot of other problems, losing the Mars setting, continued underuse of their Geo-Mod technology, stupid cut scenes, and lame characters just to name a few, but they managed to make an OK game. Playing these two games back to back made me stop and rethink the relationship between gameplay and technology and how gameplay needs to work with the limits of the game engines to hide the limitations of the engine. For the most part Red Faction 2 managed to hide the limitations of their engine, while Deus Ex 2’s gameplay unfortunately highlighted the limitations of its engine.