Red Faction: Guerrilla Review
Action game fans are getting a triple dose of open-world excitement this summer. There's inFamous on the PS3, Prototype from Activision coming later this summer, and this week THQ's Red Faction: Guerrilla is in stores. This will be the third game in developer Volition's series, but it's been a while since the last installment so some introduction is in order.
Guerrilla tells the story of Alec Mason, a miner who lands on Mars to find work with his brother. But this futuristic version of Mars, with its desolate rocky terrain, has a story that is similar to the bleak landscape. The Earth Defense Force has the planet in a stranglehold, pushing around its citizens, bowing to the needs of greedy corporations, tossing out summary executions and torture like they were candy, and trying their best to suppress a new resistance group called the Red Faction. Alec's brother talks to him about it during the game's intro, and it's not long after that he's killed. Alec is about to be executed for his rather tenuous involvement with the whole thing - he only just landed on-planet - and the Red Faction comes in to save him.
That starts the story where Alec starts to work with the Red Faction to push the EDF out of the habitable area of Mars, one sector at a time. The explorable landscape is huge and the game does a great job showing varied terrain, although admittedly it helps that the game engine doesn't have to render water or trees. You'll find out soon enough, though, that the terraforming of Mars has not only given the planet a breathable atmosphere, but some grass has started to grow as well. Still, don't expect much of a change in the look of the place, so it's good then that Volition has added a ton of detail in destructible buildings and structures all over the place.
The game's most obvious big feature is the GeoMod system that, despite its name back from the first game with deformable geography, now represents deformable "geometry" a little more accurately. Just about every single building in the game can be brought down, piece by piece, by either Mason's sledgehammer, a range of interesting explosives, or by my favorite way: driving a huge truck into whatever needs to be leveled into a golf course. All of this works well with a solid physics system that shows buildings slowly lean before a key part cracks and crumbles, sending everything toppling down (and possibly toppling other buildings over, as well).
This is used heavily during gameplay, both in ways that the developer requires and in ways that add new, unexpected elements to what otherwise might be much more of a stereotypical third person shooter. In some missions you'll have to destroy specific buildings directly, while in others you're causing maximum damage in credits. But missions like prisoner rescues are a little different - sure, you could drive the huge garbage truck right into the front door and topple half of the building in the process, but that could very easily kill the people you're trying to recover. It also means, though, that when you're trying to take out some snipers, going to the floor under a guy, putting a series of remote charges on the ceiling, and detonating them is a very valid strategy.
In some ways, Red Faction: Guerrilla makes the hundreds of action games we've played in the past look a little, well, silly in comparison. How many times have you fired a rocket at a cubicle made of drywall and seen maybe a small black mark left behind at most? Here, you'll make huge impacts with any weapon designed to explode (or dissolve) concrete and steel, and it does it in a way that just shames any past game with military-level hardware that doesn't even make a scratch on the environment.
That being said, while the developers have leaned heavily on their new technology and it works very well in-game, it can't be the whole experience, and with respect to that, Red Faction: Guerrilla does have some minor downsides. For one, the enemy isn't terribly varied, only gaining a scant few new abilities and pieces of hardware to use by the time you're taking them on at the end of the game. The number of EDF you'll fight gets to pretty ridiculous levels at the end, creating a final mission that's maddeningly difficult, but once you develop a strategy it is surmountable and fairly rewarding. Still, these soldiers rarely talk to each other or communicate at all (other than yelling vague threats at Mason), and their AI winds up being functional but nothing spectacular. Hell, if it was all robots under those suits of armor, you'd have a hard time noticing the difference.
And there's another faction on the planet that you'll get tangled up with, and while I don't want to get into too much detail, the mystery surrounding them falls flat pretty much immediately and never really picks itself up. It's too bad, because even just a little added back-story for Mars history would add a lot to this game like it's done for so many Mars-based science fiction stories and movies of the past. And Mars itself is pretty desolate here, and while you'll find plenty of life moving around, it's not quite up to the standards set by Grand Theft Auto IV for atmosphere in an open-world game. I wouldn't really expect the whole playable world to look or feel like that, but maybe at least one major area could have had a more built-up city environment to play around in.
Luckily, the developers have a few extras in store for when you've completed the campaign. There are a ton of unlockable items and weapons for both single- and multiplayer modes, and after the story is done, the game does continue with pockets of tougher EDF forces (and additional rescue and raid missions are added too). There's a local party-style multiplayer mode called Wrecking Crew where players take turns on different maps trying to cause the most damage in a certain time or with a limited amount of ammo, and while I don't imagine this replacing Wii Sports the next time grandma comes over, it is a fun distraction. Online play consists of some interesting and unique modes, and the GeoMod destruction system works just like in the single player mode. I don't expect Guerrilla to gain the online following that franchises like Halo or Call of Duty have picked up, but it should help to make the game a good value for the money.
While Red Faction: Guerrilla offers a revolutionary new feature that lets you disassemble a building piece by piece in an action setting, it only relies and leans on it just enough to make it an important part of the game and not a crutch or a gimmick. The actual third-person shooting elements don't quite hold up to some of the high standards set by other, slicker games, but the level of destruction available does a fantastic job of making up for it. The extras and multiplayer modes aren't likely to do much for you if you can't get into the single player action, but it's hard not to love a game that lets you destroy a five-story office building with a roof-mounted rocket launcher on a garbage truck.