Also available on: Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Volition, Inc
Genre: Third-person shooter
Release date: June 5, 2009
Science fiction's love affair with the planet Mars has endured since the genre's formative years, delivering countless imaginative adventures across multiple mediums. While the gaming world's relationship with the Red Planet may not be as fruitful as its big screen and literary counterparts, it has yielded several noteworthy titles, and the Red Faction series is among them.
Debuting in 2001, the original Red Faction was a gimmicky but ultimately worthwhile first-person shooter that broke new ground in environmental destruction. With the first-person shooter genre in danger of becoming over-saturated, it is a something of a relief that developer Volition has opted to reinvent the series as a third-person action-adventure set in an open world.
Playing like the offspring of GTA and Gears Of War, Red Faction: Guerrilla does at least one thing right - satisfy our lust for wanton destruction. The characters may be flat, the environments unappealing, but thrills don't come any bigger than smashing buildings to rubble with an over-sized sledgehammer.
Meet Alec Mason, a miner who arrives on the now heavily-colonised Mars to ply his trade. The unassuming Mason finds the Red Planet in a bad way. The Earth Defence Force (EDF), the liberating insurgents from the first game, are now abusing their power and running the planet's mining colonies like gulag labour camps. When Mason's brother Daniel is gunned down by EDF forces, our hammer-wielding protagonist joins up with the newly-arisen Red Faction to challenge the oppressive regime.
If you can tolerate the not-so-subtle political subtext, Guerrilla has a lot to offer in the gameplay department. The game takes the sandbox approach, presenting you with a colonised Mars where everything is destructible. The planet is divided into six EDF-controlled zones, which you must liberate one by one through the completion of missions. These range from standard rescue runs to wiping enemy bases off the map.
The game is heavily weighted towards explosive carnage, never wasting an opportunity to showcase its tremendous demolition physics. Every man-made structure can be levelled, and you are provided with the perfect tools for the job. Smashing away at a building's foundations with that meaty sledgehammer is very satisfying, but to get the task done in style, the strategic placement of gas canisters and a single gunshot is just as rewarding. If the more direct approach is your thing, a rocket launcher or remote mines will get results in half the time.
As with GTA, each zone is littered with vehicles to commandeer, from giant bipedal walkers to heavily-armoured transporters. Some come equipped with mounted guns, useful when the area is swarming with enemies, while others pack enough weight to plough multi-storey buildings in aid of the demolition effort.
The early missions are well-paced and race by, but the latter ones have a tendency to drag. After liberating the first few towns, gameplay lingers within the same zone for too long and you are left with too much time on your hands between missions. A Control meter measures the EDF’s prominence in each zone, and you are unable to move on to the next until it is completely diminished. There is plenty to do in the meantime, but you soon find yourself lamenting the absence of the early tempo.
Once the action kicks in the grind becomes a distant memory, but as the game progresses, it grows increasingly unforgiving. At times, it really feels like you're up against an entire army. When the EDF troops call upon reinforcements, it doesn't take long before you are overwhelmed. A cover mechanic evens up the odds somewhat, but given that every piece of scenery is destructible, this is only useful to a point. Vehicles packing mounted weapons aren't as useful as they should be either, owing to a cumbersome targeting system. As the later missions take hold, you will find yourself reducing that difficulty level to the lowest setting.
Guerrilla's multiplayer isn't a radical departure from the genre's benchmarks, but it comes jam-packed with features and modes of play. Supporting 16 players at once, online play grants you access to every weapon in the game's arsenal, along with a few bonus items not found in solo play. Of course, there are your standard death matches and flag capture modes but the developers have added enough options to instil a sense of variety and longevity to each. There is also an offline multiplayer mode called Wrecking Crew, in which players take turns to destroy as much scenery as possible during a set time limit. Like the solo campaigns, it's fun, mindless entertainment and ideal for letting off some steam.
From a graphical standpoint, Guerrilla is trailblazer when it comes to demolition physics, but under heavy scrutiny it is not without a glitch or two. More apparent is the bland art design featured throughout the game. Mars is hardly the most scenic of planets, and even its colonised environments begin to look bland after a few hours, lacking the visual appeal to encourage off-the-beaten-track exploration. Character models are reasonably well rendered, but explosions aside, there is little to feast your eyes on here.
Delivering a compelling storyline was obviously never the developer's intention, but this game could have been so much more. There is precious little interaction between Mason and the other characters, and the supporting cast are almost an afterthought. The fact that most of the dialogue is delivered through radio transmission, rather than face-to-face, further distances the player from the human element of the plot and makes it difficult to care where the game is heading. On the plus side, this emotional detachment makes it all the easier to take up that rocket launcher and lay waste to the planet without a second thought.
It may be shallow but there is still a great deal of entertainment to be found in Red Faction: Guerrilla. Volition has successfully reinvented the series as a third-person shooter and showcased the current console generation's capacity for demolition physics in the process. If you're looking to raise some hell and blow things up, there can be few better options. Just don't expect to find any method among this madness.
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