PUBLISHER/ THQ DEVELOPER/Volition fonte Red Faction was something of a nice surprise on PlayStation2. Released barely half a year after the European launch of Sony’s machine, it managed to grab the attention of PS2 owners who were looking for more than the relatively unfulfilling single-player in TimeSplitters. Not to mention that you could blast the merry hell out of scenery thanks to the Geo-Mod engine. Whilst before backdrops and environments were relatively static and as moveable as a drunk at closing time, Red Faction was amongst the first FPS to allow huge chunks to be blown out of the wall, stairs or whatever came across your laser-eye. It was a great gameplay move that not only satisfied those with huge destructive tendencies -"not us", say the GD crew - but also as a gameplay progression that made you a bit more ermm..."creative" in overcoming problems. Locked gate? Pah, just blow a hole through the mountain wall next to it, and squeeze through. How about an unreachably high section that needs to be traversed? Pffft. Just do an Art Attack on that tower block and make a veritable stairway via some handy rockets. Top! So Red Faction 2 had us curious as to how developer Volition had added to the game on a whole, with the improved Geo Mod engine, increased AI and bigger and better weapons, vehicles and gadgets to play with. Not only that, but the team also managed to scoop up sci-fi star Lance Henriksen (of Aliens, The Terminator and Millennium fame) into the bargain to lend his vocal tones as Commander Molov. The excuse to blast things apart this time comes in the relatively vague story of defending the country as Alias, a demolitions expert, with the help of five elite squad members, all ready to help and guide you in the various missions, which can range from infiltration and assassination, to collecting certain items and all-out carnage. The ultimate aim? To overthrown the government of course! Don’t tell us that you’ve never considered it... All nice, but how does the preview version fair? Well, in its near complete form, Red Faction 2 played an absolute blinder. Although from initial impressions, the graphics seem a bit bland and uninspiring, with rather flat textures and jumpy animation, the game itself is a playable storm-riot. Things are fast and responsive, with speedy action taking place with no jarring of the player or a let down in pace. In fact, Red Faction’s narrative is one of the more impressive for a console FPS, progressing the story with visual and audio cues working well to keep you informed of clues and plot advancement, while the on-screen melee remains intense. The controls are decently mapped, and although the weapon change system is finicky and awkward, there are plenty of options to keep things customisable and comfortable. Once you’re up and running, we found missions engrossing, with some superb scenarios that envelop you into your team and the game environment. Helping things along is the great Geo-Mod system, which really makes a difference to the way you approach your tasks. Hiding behind certain stone pillars are no longer an option when they’re being whittled down to toothpicks by large rockets. Within moments you’re having to assess your situation and battle tactics, blowing up overhead bridges so your opponents fall off, and using the surroundings as part of your mutilation spree. And when you pick up a gun in each hand, both with individual fire controls, you’ll be smiling like a Cheshire cat on super-fun-happy juice. Deathmatching is also outstanding at this stage, providing some fast, playable and very adaptable blasting with up to four bots to join you and four "partners". The levels are well designed, and not too spacious for the minimum of two players, the weapons gratuitous and best of all, some of the scenery is Geo-Modded up for maximum destruction. While not looking as nice or packing as many computer controlled players as TimeSplitters 2, Volition has managed to create a multiplayer that should be able to rival Free Radical Design’s magnum opus for addictive gaming if the final version is as slick as the one here. Red Faction 2 still has a few bits to sort out before it’s the finished article, with a little graphic optimisation needed and some occasionally glitchy AI that has enemies say "I’m running away" and then have them charging at you at full pelt when they’re clearly outclassed. That may be a cunning plan on their behalf, seeing as the last thing you’d expect a retreating enemy to do is rush you, but when their only reward is getting disembowelled by a rocket launcher at close range, you have to wonder if it wasn’t actually meant to be like that. Hmmm. All the same, it makes for entertaining encounters, if a little twisted. But heck, it’s all great fun, and a superb prospect for when it gets a release this November. They may be two different types of FPS, but TimeSplitters 2 may have some competition on its hands when they go head-to-head later in the year, because Red Faction 2 is definitely shaping up to be red hot stuff.