Stolen Pixels #184: Dead Faction

By Shamus
on Apr 9, 2010
Filed under:
Column

My final shot at Red Faction: Baboon.

This was a difficult game to cover. It was silly, but it was always complicated silly. The plot was full of goofy stuff, but I didn’t want to have to explain the premise before deconstructing it. Like the plot itself, the jokes would need too much setup for too little payoff.

Saints Row 2 had a great system for adding gangsters to your party and dismissing them as needed. I’m not sure why they didn’t include that feature here. It would have made the combat a lot less aggravating. Sometimes I wanted more helpers, but I couldn’t attract any. (Okay, there was really only one time when I wanted help. And that was when I was making this comic.) Other times I wanted to work alone but ended up doing a lot of babysitting.

They need to extract the good parts of RFG with a scalpel and transplant them to a more viable game.

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From the Archives:

  1. Greg says:

    not that it’s really a problem, but you didn’t include a link to the comic.

  2. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Hilarious, Shamus!

  3. Edtopia says:

    My favorite experience with the NPC teammates was when one ran me down with a truck, catapulting me forward into the building I was blowing up.

  4. Galad says:

    Do you mind describing some of the not-so-accidental deaths of your companions? :D

  5. krellen says:

    Someday, someone’s going to put a brilliant friendly AI system in a game.

    And no one will play it, so it will be completely forgotten.

  6. Dev Null says:

    Oh you can’t _officially_ change sides…

  7. Garden Ninja says:

    They need to extract the good parts of RFG with a scalpel and transplant them to a more viable game.

    The core of the game (blowing stuff up) is well done, but they ignored, or screwed up several things, that were extremely well done in Saint’s Row 2. (Referring to the 360 version of both; PC version may be slightly different.)

    – The map took literally 2 seconds to come up in RF:G. I have a feeling that is was a design choice, (rather than bad performance), to show that the rebels didn’t have the technological advantage that the EDF did
    – The vehicles, which were presumably designed for the rough terrain of Mars had an annoying tendency to bounce whenever you hit a rock
    – GPS system being displayed on the ground was really cool, but it occasionally took me on a really bad route (because my target was moving) and it didn’t have the Shortcut Discovery system from SR2. That was an awesome feature. It felt very gamey in SR2 (which I was fine with, since it was useful, and the game is crazy anyway), but it could actually be justified in RF:G, since it takes place in the future, in space.
    – It was also stupidly hard on anything but Casual. That’s not a bad thing per se, but in this case it meant that the game was contradicting itself: on the one hand, they give you this hammer, and some explosives, and say have fun blowing stuff up, and on the other, they force you to play really safely, with a busted cover system.
    – Edit: Forgot to mention no recruitment system (like you mentioned). I can’t figure why they didn’t include it.

    Beyond that, the game takes itself far too seriously, which is why what I would really love is for them to include the GeoMod Engine in Saint’s Row 3. Don’t get me wrong: I really liked RF:G. I just thought SR2 was a more fun game in almost every way.

    • Macil says:

      I didn’t play SR2, but as far as the difficulty on RFG: I loved it. I agree that it was brutal, but that was what was great about it. If you can manage to stick with it and learn the ropes, it actually becomes fairly trivial and I didn’t play “safely” at all. I beat it on Insane twice and used the hammer all the time. Great for unexpected close encounters …

      The game didn’t need a “cover” system beyond what it had — cover was hiding behind vehicles/buildings or jumping INTO vehicles and using them as extra padding to your health. Shoot to kill and don’t get shot. :P

      As far as bouncing, the gravity on Mars is a lot less than that on Earth.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Gravity on mars is one third of earths gravity.And rough terrain vehicles are usually heavier than civilian vehicles.So if you were drive a small compact car on rough terrain here on earth,youd get about the same thing as driving a hummer on mars.And I doubt that youd bounce even once in that compact,no matter how rough the terrain is.

      • Garden Ninja says:

        as the difficulty on RFG: I loved it. I agree that it was brutal, but that was what was great about it.

        Fair enough. I just tend not to like brutally hard games, largely because most of the time, the game is hard for the wrong reasons (e.g. cheap attacks, ridiculous health bars, uncancelable combos, bad AI, poor pacing). If a game has these things, but is fairly easy otherwise, I don’t mind so much. But if is hard, and has them, then it’s just, as Shamus says, “Do it again, Stupid”, which isn’t fun. When that happens, I either turn down the difficulty (when possible), or stop playing the game.

        In this case, I didn’t think that the shooter aspect was that great, and the focus was one wrecking stuff, so having it be really difficult seemed to be missing the point.

        I have been meaning to replay it, and based on your recommendation, I’ll at least try it on a higher difficulty.

        • Macil says:

          Actually, I generally agree with you enthusiastically (we would all be better off with smarter AI, not “cheating” AI.) and I used to do the EXACT same thing — set the difficulty easier when the game was giving me too much trouble.

          RFG was something of a revelation for me, though. With that game, I realized I had been cheating myself, because overcoming the difficulty turned out to be a lot of fun — it gave the game the challenge I used to get from games when I was not as good — and taught me some patience.

          Since RFG, I have been playing all my games on their hardest settings — not only does this prolong the game, but makes beating them all that more satisfying.

    • eri says:

      My problem with the difficult is basically that it feels like they give you these huge challenges to overcome, without giving you the breathing room to deal with them. As soon as you start attacking something, you get swarmed by enemies, and the only way to get rid of them is to run away. It makes assaulting a large base almost impossible without dying a hundred times in the process.

      • acronix says:

        That was done because of the “Guerrilla” on the name, I think. Your side is, suppousedly, outnumbered, outmanned and outgeared. Big battles in those situations would be a big no-no, but because you get infinite reinforcements (even though they come in patches of 1-3)infinite respawns and the fact that theres no other way to get into the bases makes going into big battles the only option. Or you can:

        a)Mongol tactics: run into the base, do some damage, run away, and come back later when the alarm wears off. It´s more time consuming, though.
        b)Play coward: run into the base, run a lot from enemies (while shooting), find a chokepoint with one entrance (inside a building) and start blowing the place apart while fending off the waves that come from the gate. The difficult part is getting in and once you blow up most walls and the friggin´ game considers the base still standing.
        Note how both a) and b) still need you to rise the alarm to the maximum.

        What killed me was that there was no stealth option. You can´t hide from the guards, put the charges, get out and finally blow all up once you get back to your truck. The only option is to be a one-man army.

        • eri says:

          You can be stealthy, you just have to avoid taking on more than one guard at once and kill him before he sees you. The hammer kills silently, but stealth does not get more complex than the occasional assassination to get into a better position.

          I’d be all for the “guerrilla” tactics if you could actually practice them effectively. It seems like the only way to take out enemy bases is by spamming as many explosives as possible… it really makes the whole “systematic, strategic destruction” thing a bit irrelevant.

          Also, what’s up with the lack of mechs in the game? They give you them once in a while for a few different missions, but it’s like the entire game is spent waiting for those rare moments you can really cause chaos without fear of being killed in five seconds flat.

          Oh, and I really, really hate how NPCs will drive up to you in the middle of the desert every 3 minutes and drop off a car for you… usually because it results in me getting crushed by said car as the NPC fails to stop for me in time.

  8. Macil says:

    Ha.

    I usually agree with your opinions on games almost 100% Shamus, but on this one I have to disagree. RFG has been one of the best releases in years, in my opinion. The gameplay is just *fun* … obscenely fun. What it needs is a co-op mode and it’d be perfect.

    I don’t think story was the focus of Volition — and I never expected RFG to have a good one when I bought it — I think they spent their time making the engine that allows you to destroy anything. :)

    I never had the problems with the colonists you did. I think being able to control the colonists to any degree, in fact, would be a detriment to the experience. The game is insanely fast-paced and followers with questionable AI would just slow it down.

    I think RFG does a great job of making you feel like you’re on Mars — and the story is just a loose “reason” for the mayhem.

    P.S. — if you’re having a lot of problems with combat, have you tried the Arc Welder? It can kill enemies INSIDE vehicles (didn’t know about this weapon until my 2nd playthrough.)

    • silver Harloe says:

      “I think being able to control the colonists to any degree, in fact, would be a detriment to the experience.”

      You mean like having the ability to send them dialog like, “you might not want to follow me, I have a jetpack, you don’t?” or “hey, this building is about to explode, you might want to leave the area?”

    • Shamus says:

      “I don’t think story was the focus of Volition — and I never expected RFG to have a good one when I bought it — I think they spent their time making the engine that allows you to destroy anything. :)”

      I didn’t expect the story to be the FOCUS. But I think expecting it to attain some sort of minimum level of competency and coherence is perfectly reasonable.

      • Macil says:

        True enough — I can’t argue with that. I’m a bit curious as to how the story was handled in the prior Red Factions.

        For my part, at least, the gameplay so completely overshadows the story, I have a hard time knocking RFG for it — not that bad writing shouldn’t be mentioned, though.

    • eri says:

      Red Faction Guerrilla has a story?

      In all seriousness, I agree with you in theory. The problem with games that rely on that “pure fun” element is that when the fun dries up, the reason for playing does as well. Guerrilla is pretty enjoyable most of the time, unless you’re trying to play some absurdly hard challenge for the 30th time in a row… or you keep dying because of the awkward and annoying vehicle controls… or because you got stranded somewhere with no ammo… or because you suddenly got ambushed by 20 Marauders from out of nowhere… or because you got stuck in permanent ragdoll mode when exiting a vehicle… you get the idea. There are a lot of fun moments to be had in this game, but the frustrations come up too often and have too serious an impact on the game’s flow for them to be ignored.

      As far as “pure fun” goes, I’d say Just Cause 2 has it totally nailed – it’s a game that knows it’s stupid, and revels in it, without being too self-indulgent. It plays great, looks great, allows for a lot of creativity, and it has that same “gotta collect ’em all” or “one more mission” thing down perfectly. It has none of the cheap deaths, bugs, broken friendly AI, etc. that drag it down, and the result is that you are always enjoying yourself, no matter what you’re doing. It’s almost like Mario, in a sense – perfectly honed and refined mechanics, with almost no real flaws to take away from the experience of playing. Get the basic interaction with the game down, and the rest is just gravy. It’s telling that where many games stumble the most is in the basics.

  9. MichaelG says:

    You mean like the squads in Half-Life 2? Where they yell “sniper!” or “strider!” and then run into the street to be killed?

    • SolkaTruesilver says:

      They were effective suicide scouts…

    • eri says:

      Not sure if you noticed, but the entire reason the AI teammates existed in those sections of the game was to eat bullets so you’d have a chance to get by. Notice how the enemies always prioritise them over you? They’re meat shields and were never meant to be much else.

  10. David V.S. says:

    Heh. That AI, combined with the demolition objectives, prompts me to imagine the world’s first second-person 3D shooter.

  11. Irridium says:

    You know those huge bombs you find after finding a certain number of audio files?

    Yeah, that + Red Faction Base = fantastic therapy for dealing with the NPC’s.

    “Giant explosion officer? I have no idea what your talking about. Whats that? You saw me detonate it? Man you crazy.”

  12. KremlinLaptop says:

    I have to admit I enjoy your non-gmod comics the most, they tend to have more of the sort of wry humour you seem to specialize in and that had me reading DM of the Rings. I think it’s also partially because my first exposure to a gmod comic was Concerned and it completely spoiled me in terms of the quality of posing, type of humour, etc and now every comic done with gmod I read is seen through this warped lens.

  13. theonlymegumegu says:

    Oh man, NPC allies acting as walls is one of the things that got me into a lot of trouble in Rainbow Six Vegas 2… >< Walking through allies is just… a good idea for game design.

  14. PhoenixUltima says:

    What’s funny is that the title “Dead Faction” is actually a reference to the first game’s backstory, and nobody (including Shamus) probably realized it.

    THQ used to have a website for Red Faction (the original, not Guerrilla) with detailed backstories for all the major characters (did you know Masako grew up on the streets? Or that Hendrix used to fuck around with his parents by hacking into the apartment auto-lights? Fun stuff!). Sadly they changed it to a RF: Guerrilla site long ago, though you can still wayback machine it if you want to read it – it’s some good stuff. Anyway, in Eos’s backstory we’re told that they started up a basketball program for the miners so that they could hold meetings without drawing suspicion (Ultor would have to monitor all the different teams, and the Red Faction could couch their meetings in sports terminology). Thing is, since they were more interested in planning raids and such rather than actually playing basketball they did really poorly, to the point that all the other teams started calling them “Dead Faction”. They even started getting listed under that name in the official rosters! And so, the Red Faction actually was called Dead Faction for a while. So I got a kick out of this comic’s title.

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