Review: Red Faction – Guerrilla

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If you have played an FPS, then you know how often that you have had to deal with that annoying little baddie dug in behind a column, corner, or wall while taking potshots at you with impunity. So you can imagine how satisfying it was to blow away the obstacle along with the trooper for a change in Red Faction: Guerrilla.

Volition returns to Mars with the third installment of the sci-fi series, this time placing the player in the well worn boots of Alec Mason, a man who leaves Earth in order to begin a new life on the Red Planet with his brother. In the first Red Faction, the Earth Defense Force, or the EDF, had arrived at the end to help the rebels finish off the oppressive forces of the Ultor Corporation that were gleefully exploiting them. But fifty years later, the EDF have become the enemy by doing exactly the same thing that Ultor had done before in treating the Martian workers like second-class slaves for Earth.

Alec sees some of this firsthand as he works with his brother and then watch as the EDF suddenly swoop in and kill him for being a part of the Red Faction which has been revived to fight them. At first, Alec wants only revenge, but during the course of his demolition derby thanks to his expertise with explosives and a sledgehammer than can tear through walls and vehicles, he finds a higher calling and soon takes on his brother’s cause.

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It’s disappointing that the story doesn’t get any better than this and there isn’t a lot of character development to get you teary eyed or angry enough to check your blood pressure, but it provides enough background material and atmospheric chatter to make sense out of the debris that you will be leaving in your wake. The tiny handful of cuts that showcase key turning points within the narrative here do their job and leave it at that as they take the backseat to Alec’s new career as a one man wrecking crew.

In a change from the previous two Red Faction titles, the action is now seen from third person instead which works just as well, especially when the slick controls make it easy to smash through most anything thrown against Alec. Alec can only carry four weapons which include his always present sledgehammer pick that is good against most anything he swings it at, although his personal arsenal will soon grow to match the firepower of the EDF thanks to some clever upgrades and new toys. But to get them, he’ll need to collect lots and lots of scrap which is Red Faction’s lifeblood in MacGyvering all of the gear that they can use. Scrap is easily found by destroying buildings, vehicles, and more importantly, by performing missions both for the main story and the side jobs that also crop up.

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Aside from being able to bunny hop over the red sands and green, terraformed grass, of Mars, Alec can also fly thanks to a jet pack that he can earn later on in the game. He can melee bash with his weapons, sprint like a madman to cover and use it as if it were helpful. Alec can glue himself to nearly any obstacle and blind fire or aim up or around it to get the drop on the EDF thugs that are in his way. It was a useful feature to have, but here, I barely used it since the enemy can also break apart the same cover that you are using with enough firepower.

The face of Mars is divided into several zones each of which must be liberated in turn to free the planet from EDF occupation. Although the game approaches its action with a sandbox approach, the key missions that enable the player to free each zone only become available once certain other objectives are met…such as the liberation of a previous zone before moving onto the next one. But it’s a small gripe to make considering how large each one is and how many extra opportunities there are to cause plenty of property-wrecking mayhem.

Safehouses are also found within each zone and act as Alec’s ammo dumps, upgrade stores, and where he can get a set of wheels if he needs some. He can also run to these if he’s raised the alert level on himself with the EDF on his heels, suddenly breathing a sigh of relief when they are taken care of by the rebels. Eventually, he’ll also be able to purchase the ability to teleport from one base to the next making it easy to get from one corner of Mars to the next.

Each zone’s resistance to the EDF is measured by two gauges: the amount of control that the EDF has and the overall support for the Red Faction. By whittling the strength of the EDF down in a zone and by performing key missions to further the Red Faction’s cause at the same time, the time eventually comes to free it in one final push. By growing the overall support for the Red Faction within the zone, certain benefits become available such as suddenly receiving guerrilla support from civilians that happen to be driving by and see you in a firefight. Of course, if guerrillas die in battle, you accidentally whack a civilian, or die and then respawn at the nearest base, morale will dip and you might find yourself fighting alone until you can encourage some help.

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As interesting as this sounds, it can be somewhat irritating to work with because of it’s oddball logic. For example, even if you completely destroy the EDF’s “control” over a zone, they are still able to summon countless soldiers, tanks, APCs, and armored cars to blast you into the red, Martian, soil within that same area. Hitting a stronghold or performing a rescue of civilians as a side mission, despite the impression that the EDF’s ability to control an area has been severely compromised, can make it seem as if your efforts had affected nothing. As for morale, if civilians die in battle by shooting at EDF tanks, should morale suffer for their stupidity? Apparently, that’s the case here making these assists feel like a double edged sword when you’re trying to maintain a level of morale in a zone. Since I couldn’t order them around, I had to get used to the fact that they’ll die as often as the cannon fodder that the EDF sends to deal with Alec.

The good news is that the gauge system won’t get in the way of how you want to play the game in pursuing what missions you want to take on. The variety of activities that you can explore range from racing back to a base with a special car to rescuing civilians under house arrest. There are also special buildings marked on Alec’s map menu, important structures that can damage the EDF’s control over the region after you turn them to dust. Aside from being key targets, these unique, and often huge, structures are just fun to take apart either by driving into them with a truck or by hand with your sledgehammer for scrap. Whatever works.

And it never gets old. Exploiting the Geo-Mod 2.0 engine’s ability to serve up believable building deaths can really change the way that you may ever see an action title again with the opportunities that it literally leaves open for experimentation. Can’t take aim at that sniper with your rocket launcher? Level the tower with demo charges instead. Need to cut off your pursuers chasing you up the stairs? Destroy the stairs. Can’t find a door? Make your own. A bunch of EDF holed up inside a building? Drive on through it with a tank and flatten everything. The only thing you can’t destroy is the land, but anything built on top of it is fair game for your destructive tendencies which is always exciting to toy with.

The physics of the system are also among the title’s technical triumphs. Smashing through a rooftop will drop slabs of concrete down into the room below…and the room below that…and so on, taking out whoever was foolish enough to still be down there. Tearing through the walls of a towering building and leaving only a few slivers of material will allow you to run away to safety and watch it slowly give way on your own terms. Sideswiping a building with a thermobaric rocket can shred its facade as if it were given a mammoth haymaker by the fist of Mars.

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The activities that are set up around destroying certain structures are also among some of the most creative ones in the game as Alec is given a certain weapon, a limited amount of resources, or particularly large target to deal with within the time limit. Another activity has him ride shotgun for a missile launcher as an exciting on-rails event that turns the player into an explosive wrecking ball gunning for as high a dollar amount of damage as possible. We’re talking millions upon millions here, although at the end of the game, Alec may be responsible for several billions which the game lovingly tracks.

Vehicles are also important as any one of these can be stolen as long as you can get the driver out. Most people will help Alec and happily surrender their cars and trucks, but the EDF will need a little coaxing to give up their APCs, armored jeeps, and tanks. If wheels aren’t your thing, there are also walkers that Alec can use like metal titans in crushing the toes of the EDF, three different grades of which range from small, mobile maulers to huge, missile carrying, death dealers that can turn most any structure into dust within seconds.

The game is literally one massive sandbox allowing the player to knock over whatever castles are in his or her way, but sometimes it comes up short. For one, after earning the jet pack, I was surprised to see that there was a limit to how high I could actually go. In trying to go over a ring of mountains to reach a safehouse, I found myself hitting an invisible wall blocking off the rest of the sky. And forget about talking to NPCs unless they happen to be a mission dispenser. It’s not Saint’s Row: Space Edition, but it could have used a few things from Volition’s other sandbox city here to add a little more variety to the wide open world of Red Faction in fleshing out the characters that live there.

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The AI driving the EDF all over Mars is also pretty single-minded leaving its only advantage in almost always outnumbering the player by a massive margin. The EDF will eventually hit back with increasingly painful firepower the deeper into the campaign you go, but their approach is almost always the same. But to its credit, it can find its way around obstacles and the wreckage you leave behind most of the time, adapting to the changing battlefield if not simply charging straight ahead into death.

Multiplayer, featuring up to sixteen players in any one game, also features all of this destructibility making no two fights online exactly the same. In addition to the jet backpack, there are other devices that can help the player out including damage enhancers for a temporary boost or cloaking fields that can hide you from view in order to sneak in and knock on someone’s head from behind with your handy sledgehammer. Besides the usual deathmatching and capture the flag modes, there is one special mode called Wrecking Crew in which the player who causes the most damage in a specific amount of time is the winner and gets to choose the weapon loadout for everyone to use as an additional benefit for being number one. It’s great fun for when you want to take a break from the single player or have managed to free Mars and are looking to practice your skills against the world at large.

Even without doing all of the side-missions in the game, getting through the main story and liberating Mars can take about fifteen hours or so of play. Afterwards, players can go back and finish up any activity or free roam and destroy specific targets that they may have missed the first the time through.

Going guerrilla as a member of Red Faction was an exciting and fun time despite a few shortcomings, especially in seeing what I could do with enough heavy ordinance in my inventory or simply by swinging my sledgehammer. By literally opening new doors in the way that an action game can reward a player’s creativity by thinking outside of the box with enough ammunition, Volition’s own little rebellion against obstacles will be sorely missed when I find myself fighting another soldier dug in behind a wall that I can’t blow apart.

Red Faction: Guerrilla
THQ / Volition, Inc
Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC (Xbox 360 version reviewed)
Rated M for Mature