I actually expected to like Red Faction II a bit more than Gene did. I'm an avid fan of first-person shooters and I liked the original Red Faction. I figured Volition would up the ante in every respect and would end up with a pretty solid game. But unfortunately, much of what made the first Red Faction a good shooter is gone, and the sequel not only fails to live up to the original in nearly every respect, but exposes the shortcomings of the over-hyped "Geo-Mod" technology.
While the sequel features a fairly well-developed plot, it seems to have no connection to the first, in which you were a run-of-the-mill miner starting a rebellion against oppressive rulers. Instead, you're thrust into a typical super-soldier scenario that lacks the tension and suspense of the original. While the plot is well conceived, it feels rushed and leaves the player detached from the characters' plight.
The action flows well at times, but often the game is so filled with minor nuisances that it becomes difficult to enjoy. Most disconcerting was the aim control, which accelerates in a strange fashion. If you move the reticule around quickly, your character will stay looking in the same general direction. To make a turn, you have to hold the stick in the desired direction for just a moment, which is often long enough for some enemies to get a few cheap shots in. The controls were apparently designed to eliminate the difficulties of learning to use a thumbstick, but numerous other console shooters, including Unreal Championship and the seminal Halo, have done a far superior job.
As Gene aptly described, the artificial intelligence is atrocious. Enemies run into gunfire like confused cattle and do a terrible job of using the surrounding environment for cover. They present little challenge, usually just standing there waiting for a bullet in the brain. As a result, the game is boringly unchallenging and, thanks to the linear level design, can be completed in just a few hours.
And I think we can conclude that Geo-Mod is a whole lot of nothing. Its limited and restrictive presence in the game (only certain textures are destructible, and they're usually at key areas) underscores its weakness as a contextual asset. Why can I blow up one wall, but not another than looks nearly identical? Why can't I even shoot out lights when I can put a hole in a building? How is it that I can destroy a tank, but not a pipe? The inconsistency of the Geo-Mod feature strips Red Faction II of believability.
Gene really nailed it on the head: this gameplay is outdated. Maybe this would have flown in place of the original, but now the bar has been raised with numerous newer and better first-person shooters. Red Faction II is stuck with primitive AI, contrived vehicle sequences that fail to add excitement to the gameplay, arbitrarily placed power-ups and uninteresting level design. The run-and-gun action quickly loses its appeal as the lack of depth and challenge saps the game of excitement. Games don't exist in a vacuum, and when the bar has been raised, gamers should not be willing to accept anything less.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.