Whether it’s destroying fences, knocking down trees, or leveling entire structures, environmental destruction helps create a deeper level of immersion for gamers. The Battlefield series immediately comes to mind when we think of environmental destruction. Level entire buildings to get to the enemy, create cover by terraforming the ground, it’s one of the few games in which environmental manipulation is entirely based off player action. But it isn’t the first.
Red Faction, a series that has been dormant since 2011, is the one of the earliest examples of non-scripted environmental manipulation. First released in 2001 for the PS2, Red Faction at first glance seemed like your run of the mill FPS. Players would engage the villainous Ultor Corporation with the various machine guns, sniper rifles, pistols, and explosive weapons found in the majority of FPS games What made Red Faction stand out in the genre was a gameplay mechanic in which players could freely manipulate the terrain to reach their objectives.
After the opening cut-scene, players were given the freedom to test out the Geo-Mod engine that was heavily promoted by developer Volition. If you wanted to tunnel around an enemy encampment or completely destroy a structure, players were given the freedom to do so as Red Faction did little to hold the player back. In the first 30 minutes of the game, players were given an objective to destroy a bridge to eliminate an armored personnel carrier. You could either set remote explosives or shoot the bridge down with a rocket launcher. Doing so gave players a taste of what they could expect with the Geo-Mod engine. It was relatively game-changing, the freedom of destruction was a refreshing change from the corridor shooters that littered the market during the early 2000’s.
Without the Geo-Mod technology, I believe Red Faction would have still been well received as it featured a lengthy campaign, intriguing sci-fi narrative, and fairly competent multiplayer. It might’ve received a sequel, but it would have ultimately been forgotten. Introducing the Geo-Mod technology elevated Red Faction and helped create a franchise that is still fondly remembered today. While the sequel Red Faction 2 was pretty good, it felt as if the developers were trying to capitalize off the success of the first game. There weren’t any real changes to the Geo-Mod technology and while the game featured visual upgrades, there weren’t enough gameplay changes and this was considered a letdown. It felt far too by the numbers and as a result it was a moderate commercial and critical success and could have very well been a quiet end to the series.
Luckily, this wasn’t the case as in 2009, Red Faction Guerrilla was released for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. While I loved the original Red Faction, I felt that Guerilla is easily the best in the series. Set in an open world environment on Mars, players worked to liberate 6 sectors from the Earth Defense Force and were quickly introduced to the Geo-Mod 2.0 engine. Honestly, the narrative was forgettable and I wasn’t playing Guerilla for it’s plot, I was playing because I had free reign to destroy every single structure in the game with a sledgehammer. At first, it was disappointing to learn that the Geo-Mod 2.0 would not include environmental terraforming. Instead, destruction was limited to structures and vehicles, but the detail in which you could destroy said structures was impressive. It was an absolute joy breaking down buildings to their foundations. I would spend hours testing the Geo-Mod 2.0 engine because I wanted to see it’s limits and the destruction acted as a catharsis of sorts. Red Faction Guerilla was well received critically and commercially, developer Volition had brought the Red Faction series back to prominence and hopes were high when a sequel was announced in the form of Red Faction: Armageddon.
Now, Armageddon wasn’t a bad game. One could consider it to be pretty good sequel as the introduction of a Nano Forge mechanic which allowed players to recreate destroyed structures was a solid addition. The problem lies in the fact that Red Faction Armageddon was linear. It was cramped and while the Geo-Mod engine allowed the players to create their own breathing room, Armageddon would have benefitted from building off of the open world environment found in its predecessor. It was not met with high critical praise, in fact it released to mixed reviews and performed so poorly commercially that it practically killed the franchise. Publisher THQ filed for bankruptcy shortly after its release and developer Volition was auctioned off. When you think about it, Armageddon was an apt title for the game as it acted as the end of the franchise.
While Red Faction will not be receiving any sequels in the near future. Red Faction Guerrilla is getting a re-mastered version that will be releasing sometime later this year for the current console generation. If this sells well, it might just revive the franchise. It made environmental destruction more than just a cosmetic feature, it was a key gameplay mechanic. Red Faction paved the way for the Battlefields and the Sieges of the gaming world and for that it deserves another chance.
Who doesn’t like blowing stuff up?