Red Faction: Battlegrounds is a top-down arena combat game with very few noticeable links to the Red Faction franchise. It’s set on Mars, and some of the vehicles are somewhat familiar, but here the similarities end. Of course, distance from a set formula isn’t enough to make a game bad, and indeed, Battlegrounds isn’t awful. It is, however, rather mediocre, and it gets dull very quickly.
In lieu of a story, Battlegrounds throws you into a set of training exercises, which make up the entire single-player segment of the game. Across different levels, and using different vehicles, you play four different game modes: Speed Trial, Survival, Annihilate and Shooting Range. Respectively, these involve collecting flags, surviving an enemy assault, killing enemies in a set amount of time, and destroying targets that spawn around the level. Speed Trial is the most exciting of these, since it requires a great deal of control being maintained at high speeds. The others are really just there to pass the time and give you some experience.
The experience you gain from these exercises is twofold: firstly, you gain actual XP, which allows you to unlock new vehicles for the multiplayer segment which allegedly makes up the majority of the game’s replay value. Secondly, the exercises prepare you for the (supposed) high-paced thrill of Battlegrounds’ multiplayer. This second effect, however, is quite severely limited by the fact that the game modes in multiplayer are completely different. I can’t see any logical reason for their having done this. It clearly didn’t reduce development time, and it doesn’t improve the experience of playing the game a great deal. Granted, those game modes don’t translate very well to multiplayer, but then why include them in training? This would perhaps be permissible if the single-player segment pretended to be anything other than a set of training missions – indeed, the menu option says “Training Missions”, rather than “Single-Player Levels”.
The maps, at least, are the same in both modes. These range from Earth Defence Force facilities to slightly more developed Earth Defence Force facilities. The variety of colours is quite impressive, but it’s difficult to say this about the levels themselves. There are nine maps in total, and two of these are actually not bad at all. Unfortunately, they are almost identical. The others are horribly overengineered, with bridges and ledges protruding everywhere and generally making it impossible to hit anybody.
Battlegrounds’ vehicles suffer from a similar lack of variety, with only three clear categories discernable: light vehicles, tanks, and walkers. There are more vehicles than this, but within each category it is near impossible to tell them apart. In the majority of circumstances, walkers will destroy the other two types of vehicle, especially in King of the Hill, which is the most enjoyable of the game modes by quite a long way. Each vehicle’s weapons have different strengths and rates of fire, but they are all reasonably rapid-firing laser pulse weapons. You can also use proximity mines, remote charges and the wonderfully explosive but altogether too rare singularity bombs to gain an advantage.
Curiously, like the last game I reviewed (Alien Breed 3), Battlegrounds has an unhealthy obsession with the colour orange. Most of the vehicles are orange, all of the menu screens are orange, and the only things that aren’t orange are a handful of the levels, whose colours were likely changed just before launch as the developers realised that everything in the game was orange. Of course, Mars’ soil is actually orange (or commonly believed to be; it’s actually brown), but this doesn’t excuse the pervasiveness of the colour in all other parts of the game.
The soundtrack is mostly made up of a series of drumbeats, which may have been intended to sound Martian, but do not. The tracks do complement the action quite nicely, until a few minutes in, when you stop noticing them (and indeed, cannot hear them over the loud explosions). I will admit that the explosions, and visual effects accompanying them, are actually quite impressive for a downloadable game, and the technical graphics in general aren’t fantastic, but also aren’t too shabby.
However, Battlegrounds’ main problem isn’t its lack of variety, nor its lacklustre level design, nor its interesting colour scheme. The main issue is that it fails to hold your attention for even the 40 minutes it takes to complete the training missions, and perhaps a handful of online games to see if the multiplayer is any better (which it is, but that isn’t really saying much). It’s halfway decent while it lasts, but it doesn’t last very long at all. You will get maybe an hour out of this. There is a local multiplayer mode, which is slightly more enjoyable than online multiplayer (as it usually is for this genre), but it will still soon have you bored and switching to another game.
Essentially, Battlegrounds is a shameful cash-in, and seems to be well aware of this fact. For obvious reasons, it is nowhere near as good as Red Faction: Guerrilla, but it also falls quite far short of its competition in the genre. It’s decent while it lasts, but it’s over far too quickly and doesn’t have enough variety or excitement to keep you coming back.