Red Faction: Battlegrounds Review

Red Faction: Battlegrounds is kind of a strange game to review. For starters itís available as a pre-order bonus at some stores to those who put their money up for Red Faction: Armageddon early, so chances are many hardcore Red Faction fans already have the game for free. For those pre-orderers and others who pony up some Microsoft Points for it, Battlegrounds offers a bonus in that if you advance to level 10 in the game you unlock some bonus items in Red Faction: Armageddon when it arrives. Iím opening this review with all of this because your decision on whether or not to buy Battlegrounds should depend heavily on whether or not the chance to unlock bonus items is important to you, and how much youíre willing to pay for that chance. Otherwise, there is a plethora of other titles available on XBLA that are more worth your time and money.

Now thereís another reason that Battlegrounds is an odd sort of game. Thereís been a trend of late in game publishers releasing arcade titles to build anticipation of an upcoming game release with the promise of providing fans with a look into the background of the upcoming gameís story, a prequel to the events in the upcoming game, or a parallel peripheral storyline. But itís not really easy to determine just where Battlegrounds fits into the Red Faction universe. The text screen introductions to the series of training missions that serve as the gameís story mode indicate that Battlegrounds represents a Red Faction training course to prepare recruits for vehicular combat against the EDF. This makes it seem like Battlegrounds would have been a better precursor to Guerilla than Armageddon, which takes place two generations after the EDF has been kicked off of Mars. In fact, if you played Guerilla, then all the vehicles appearing in Battlegrounds will be familiar to you, albeit they were a lot larger when you last saw them. Furthermore, vehicles play a comparatively tiny role in the more claustrophobic Armageddon. Thereís really nothing to be gleaned from Battlegrounds as far as the Red Faction universe is concerned, so you wonít really miss out on anything in that department if you pass on Battlegrounds.

If youíve made it this far, it probably means that youíre going to base your buy decision pretty much on gameplay alone. In turn, that means that youíre probably going to end up disappointed in Battlegrounds. The game feels less like Red Faction meets Mad Max and more like an RC car battle. Matches are played with two to four players in small arenas that have the feel of an MX track. The vehicles are controlled with the sticks in much the same was as a twin-stick shooter game Ė the left stick is used to both steer and move your vehicle and the right fires the weapon in the direction that the stick is pushed. The controls are relatively loose and the physics exaggerated, which makes driving the vehicles feel like youíre controlling an RC car on a slick surface. The vehicles have some weight to them so the effect is not as bad in a tank, but the smaller vehicles will feel like youíre driving them on an ice rink. Because of the loose controls and some wonky targeting and fire control, matches feel like random free-for-alls in which success is attributable to luck as much as skill, if not more so. Bonus items such as mines appear on the track at random times, but they donít really give enough of an advantage to make them worth going out of your way to pick up and it seems that most players were ignoring them during my sessions online. Lastly, there is a nod to Red Faction: Guerilla in that there are some structures in each arena that explode when hit a few times. This feature is one of the gameís brighter spots as itís a more enjoyable way to take out an opponent.

There are a few game modes available. Annihilation and survival come down to killing the other players more than they kill you, and both of these modes will grow tiresome rather quickly due to the controls and the random nature of the combat in the game. Capture the flag has players racing to grab a flag and get it to a checkpoint, but the need to select a fast car for this mode coupled with the fact that fast cars slide all over the place makes this mode more frustrating than fun. Lastly there is King of the Hill, which is by far the most enjoyable of the modes but not so much so that itís enough alone to save the title. No matter which mode you play, the loose controls and spastic camera make for random chaos (and not in a good way) that quickly grows tiresome. In fact, the only ones who will probably put more than an hour or so into the game are those trying to reach level 10 to enable the Armageddon bonus items, and even they will find it all to be an increasingly trying exercise.

Final Rating: 48%. Red Faction: Battlegrounds is only recommendable to those who already got it for free as a pre-order bonus, and itís not even that good of a deal for them.

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