Red Faction: Guerrilla PC Review
Many gamers didn't know what to think of the third Red Faction game before it was released, but a solid demo and plenty of promise with the game's geometry-destruction technology kept it on plenty of people's radars. The release on PS3 and 360 in June of this year was a welcome surprise to those who hadn't seen much on it, as its open-world action, impressive ability to destroy just about every structure in the entire game, and its inventive multiplayer modes kept people coming back.
In Red Faction: Guerrilla you play as Alec Mason, a minor who just got to Mars, and clearly he didn't bother to check in on what life's like there first. The Earth Defense Force has a strong grip on the planet, exploiting the people who live there and sending all the profits back to Earth. Mars has has been terraformed and become habitable with oxygen in the atmosphere, and there's a history going back enough years to hide some secrets. Shortly after arriving, Alec quickly finds reason to join the cause of the Red Faction, guerrilla fighters trying to free Mars from the clutches of the EDF.
The PC version of Guerrilla could be really damn good, but a few technical issues will hold the game back for some players. Yes, the full package is here along with Games for Windows Live-based online play and even some of the paid DLC content from the consoles tossed in for free, but whatever magic Volition pulled in allowing whole multi-story buildings to realistically fall apart with solid, stable frame rates on the consoles hasn't quite made it here into the PC version.
In some versions of Windows - namely Windows 7 64-bit and possibly others - the game doesn't seem to know how to handle the wildly varying frame rates it can produce. Now, it's expected that if you cause enough simultaneous destruction, the game can slow to nearly a crawl even on a fast quad-core CPU (which the game does take at least some advantage of, but not enough to stop major slowdowns when huge buildings collapse). And in Windows 7 64-bit, any time the frame rate is high, the whole game runs faster, making it feel like someone hit the fast-forward button. As far as I can tell, in this OS the speed of the game's logic is tied somewhat directly to your frame rate - this makes the game artificially difficult to play as you're always dealing with either debilitating slowdowns in nasty firefights or a hyperactive speed that requires extremely quick reaction time. The mouse sensitivity also increases when everything else is fast, causing your aim to quickly go haywire as well - Guerrilla is already a difficult enough game on its Normal setting, and these frustrations start to stack up against it very quickly.
If you find that you're not getting a hugely variable frame rate, you will get to experience the same brilliant, yet somewhat flawed game as console players have experienced. Vehicles may handle unrealistically but they're still a blast to drive, and the number of ways you can approach attacking a target really increases the replay value as you use different tactics. If there are two hostages on the second floor you have to save, do you risk driving your garbage truck right through the front door in order to get them out? Or do you stay back and pick off the guards, then carefully move your way in? Do you take out the staircase with a remote explosive after climbing it to stop additional enemies from following you, or do you just bust a hole in the wall with your sledgehammer and jump out the gap to cover your retreat?
The variety of weapons and vehicles available to Alec is solid, with plenty of upgrades available for purchase that seriously beef up your arsenal. The same issues I found in the console versions are here, too, like the rather frustrating difficulty levels that will force many people to drop down to the lowest setting, Casual, by the end of the game. Additionally, the intriguing premise and narrative of the "native" people of Mars - societies that started just after Mars was terraformed many, many years ago - falls completely flat halfway through the campaign. Finally, your only real enemy are the EDF, and they have no stand-out characters, no main villain with a recognizable face or voice to loathe, and an ill-fitting style that resembles an evil organization in a comic book. Red Faction: Guerrilla could have tackled difficult issues about the difference between a guerrilla fighter and a terrorist, especially when one is fighting on the right side of history, but none of that winds up happening and the single player story ultimately leads to a bit of disappointment with some of the opportunities that were missed by Volition and THQ.
The multiplayer modes in Red Faction: Guerrilla mostly mirror what's seen on consoles. Online play is handled through Games for Windows Live so you'll be hooking up with people on your friends list in small-scale matches hosted on your own PCs. For anyone that was hoping for epic battles on dedicated servers with dozens of players destroying buildings in huge, open areas, well, you're going to have to wait for another game. Guerrilla does a great job making its more intimate games feel much bigger in size, and part of that comes about through the successful application of GeoMod 2.0's building destruction into the multiplayer action. But PC gamers aren't likely to give the Games For Windows Live-based online play much of a chance, as this style of online matchmaking is rather a very poor fit for the PC and its gaming community.
I've found it difficult to fully enjoy the PC version of Guerrilla because its highly variable frame rate in my version of Windows severely hurts the controls and fun factor. This issue should be the very first priority for Volition with the first patch - if they can improve some of the technical issues, I'll happily call the PC port of Red Faction: Guerrilla the best way to experience a great game that has only a few easy-to-forgive flaws. Until they do that, you might want to wait it out, but if you do decide to jump right in, at least the game's priced at a somewhat modest $40 rather than the full $50 you might expect.
[Author's Note: This review was partially revised after a developer from the team that ported the game to the PC wrote in to get some information from me about the game speed issue. So far, it does seem like my 64-bit Windows 7 is the culprit, as it happened on both of my 64-bit Windows 7 PCs and dual-booting to WinXP immediately fixed it on both. I haven't heard from him back as to exactly which versions of Windows the game is having trouble with, and am willing to further revise this review and increase the score we gave RFG if a patch can be produced to fix the game.]