Reviewed: May 31, 2011
Released: April 6, 2011
With the upcoming release of Red Faction: Armageddon, the folks at THQ aim to whet the palates of gamers with the Xbox Live Arcade release of Red Faction: Battlegrounds. A twin stick arena-based vehicular shooter, Battlegrounds doesn’t initially seem to have much to offer – but the tried-and-true old school gameplay definitely has an addictive quality that can’t be denied.|
The twin stick shooter has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity that seems to have begun right around the release of the original Geometry Wars on Xbox Live Arcade. And over the years, we have seen a fairly constant stream of releases that have capitalized on the addictive nature of the gameplay that dates back to the days of the original Robotron arcade cabinets, and games like Combat for the Atari 2600 (yes, I do realize Combat used a single stick, but the concept was the same).
In fact, it would be pretty safe to say that Red Faction: Battlegrounds is little more than an updated, stylized version of Atari’s Combat – gamers navigate their vehicles around an obstacle-laden arena, attempting to blast away their opponents using guns, missiles, mines, and bombs. The levels may be a bit more complex, and the visuals a bit more detailed (really?), but the gameplay is for all intents and purposes the same, which is actually a good thing.
Battlegrounds does try to spice things up by adding a forgettable “reluctant gladiator” backstory delivered via a series of still shots with overlaid text. It’s a nice touch, but it adds very little to the overall experience other than to serve as a vehicle to incorporate the Red Faction universe into the proceedings. As for the vehicles, they vary between different buggies, assault vehicles, and tanks. Obviously, each has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to speed, maneuverability, weapons, and armor. Sadly, there seems to be an imbalance when it comes to using certain vehicles in certain levels – the general rule being that tanks almost always rule, and very few levels are designed to capitalize on the speed and maneuverability of the buggies.
Still, there is a great deal of enjoyment to be had from firing a salvo of missiles at an approaching enemy and seeing the resulting explosion and collateral damage unfolds. While Battlegrounds does not feature the franchises’ trademark GeoMod landscape destruction, there is plenty of periphery equipment (fuel tanks, power stations, etc.) to destroy. The visual effects that come with these explosions are absolutely stunning, and the fact that this equipment can be used to augment surprise back-door attacks is icing on the cake.
The Robotron-style control scheme works well and there are even provisions to allow gamers to adjust turret direction without actually firing – which comes in handy since most of the weaponry succumbs to overheating issues if fired for too long without rest. Long-distance aiming is aided with the help of an auto-homing feature that locks missiles onto opponents, following them as they attempt to dodge – it’s not 100% accurate, but accurate enough to keep things interesting. Battlegrounds is a bit lackluster in the sound department – stock sound effects and absolutely no voiceovers make for a less than stellar audio presentation. Thankfully, the visuals are surprisingly impressive for an arcade title, and more than make up for the poor sound quality.
The biggest issue with Battlegrounds is that the gameplay gets tiresome quickly – in fact, the most exciting feature of the gameplay is the challenge-based training mode. After working through challenges surrounding the four arena-based gameplay modes (Deathmatch, defend the base, and capture-the-flag, with a checkpoint racing mode thrown in to boot) the gamer has pretty much seen It all, and there’s little reason to slog through the single player missions.
Granted, Battleground is intended to be played online, but more often than not the online lobbies are empty. This lack of popularity all-but signs the death warrant for an online-heavy game like Battlegrounds - as a significant portion of the game’s longevity is thrown out the window when there is nobody to play it with. In closing, while Red Faction: Battlegrounds is certainly a serviceable spiritual successor to the classic Atari game Combat, it really has little to offer for veteran gamers looking for more than an arena-based blast fest.