'RTX Red Rock' could have been a contender

Tuesday, July 1, 2003

"RTX Red Rock" is a game that could have been great. It's set on Mars, it stars a "RoboCop"-like hero with replaceable eye and arm, and it features some interesting enemies.

Instead, it will have you scratching your head and asking, "Why did they do THAT?"

The game comes from LucasArts for the PlayStation 2. The company has an excellent track record, especially with the "Star Wars" franchise, so you might assume this game would follow that trend.

Name a space-based game you enjoyed: "Metroid Prime," LucasArts' own "Star Wars Jedi Starfighter" and the magnificent "Halo" come to mind. All have a story that gets you involved, an adventure that pulls you in and makes you want to play until the end.

I felt no such compulsion with "RTX Red Rock."

The first section, where the wise developer sets the hook, instead is a dizzying traipse through a space station where you'll be climbing through the same doors over and over as you try to move on.

By the time I'd made it out of the blasted craft, I didn't care if our hero, E.Z. Wheeler, lost his head, let alone an eye or two.

An example: The game has a novel way of viewing things, with four different vision modes for Wheeler's missing eye. He lost it, and an arm, during one of his many extraterrestrial adventures.

The eye is a neat idea. The problem is that it's difficult to access the four options smoothly. In the end, it causes more problems than it cures.

There's also a clunky targeting system.

Wheeler's missing arm has been replaced with a tools-and-weapons gadget that is fairly easy to use and turns him into one of the top dogs in a crew of soldiers with the title RTX, for radical tactics expert. It features such handy gizmos as a grappling hook, Taser, catapult and torque wrench.

Wheeler is shipped off to Mars to check up on a colony which is being attacked by LEDs -- light-emitting demons. It's a tough job, and you eventually find out how important it is to the human race that he succeed.

Your AI enemies don't make life easy for you. They're smart enough to hide when you're shooting at them, for instance, something that can't be said about the bad guys in a number of games I could mention.

Annoying in the extreme is Wheeler's handler and girl Friday, Iris, who is accessed at conveniently located computer terminals. Ignore her voice and listen up -- she almost always has something important to say.

Graphics get a C+. The game isn't ugly, and the cut scenes are especially attractive, but most environments are lacking in detail and just look half-baked. The frame rate is occasionally balky.

Sound gets a C+. Again, the cut scenes seem to have gotten the bulk of the effort. The music there is graceful and entertaining, with some decent voice acting in the bargain. The music takes a nose dive in the game, and the weapons effects are positively pathetic.

Control gets a B. Controlling Wheeler is smooth and easy, but using his multi-use eye and managing his inventory, especially when the lead starts flying, is a real problem.

"RTX Red Rock" gets a C+. It's better than average, but not much, and the real problem is that it could have been so much more with a little fine-tuning. You won't hate it, but you won't love it, either.

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