Welcome to Mars. Now go blow shit up!
Never let it be said that developer, Volition, doesn’t know how to have fun. After already taking on GTA with its superbly ridiculous and over the top Saints Row titles, which eschewed Rockstar’s gritty subject matter and psudeo-serious plot with slap stick side quests and cartoon missions, the devs are back, and now they’re revisiting one of their old brands, Red Faction, in traditional, balls-to-the-wall manner. This time, Volition have dropped the traditional FPS mould and have opted for a free roaming, open, action title.
It’s been some time since we last fought alongside the fictional resistance group, Red Faction, and even longer since we challenged oppression on the red planet, as Red Faction II had little to do with the first game (although it took part in the same universe) and was based on Earth. Red Faction: Guerrilla, on the other hand, follows on from the first game in the series, and places you in the role of Alec Mason, a newcomer to Mars seeking to make a living as a miner.
Unfortunately for Alec, Mars isn’t the same hope-filled place it was after the Ultor Corporation was kicked off-planet in the first game, and the Earth Defence Force (EDF), once liberators of the planet, has become its oppressor. It controls everything, and is squeezing the workforce dry with inflated taxes, martial law and on the spot arrests.
Not wanting to take any more of this despotic rule, a group of miners take up the Red Faction banner once more, and aim to purge Mars of the EDF once and for all, and Alec Mason soon becomes the Faction’s latest recruit.
I could elaborate on the story here, but in truth, it’s not really that great. This doesn’t matter though, as I can guarantee the story will be the least of your concerns once you step foot on the soil of Mars.
Thanks to Volition’s Geo-Mod 2.0 engine, an evolution of the code seen in RF and RFII, this game is all about pure, unadulterated fun, and a story would just get in the way. What we have here is a vast playground of destruction, to coin a phrase from Mercenaries, a game that Guerrilla will no doubt remind players of.
This engine allows for an unprecedented level of destruction, and while the actual landscape of Mars itself is rock solid, everything else you see can be destroyed, and by everything, I mean, everything. Buildings, vehicles, bridges, pipelines, smoke stacks and anything else can be smashed to their component pieces, and no matter how large the building is, it can be brought down with enough firepower. This is all handled superbly by the physics engine at work under the bonnet, and if you don’t react with glee when you topple your first structure, then you should check your pulse; you might be dead.
The game starts you out relatively lightly armed, with an assault rifle, pistol, remote charges and the game’s signature weapon, an insanely effective sledgehammer. This is able to pummel its way through practically anything, and lets you smash through walls (who needs doors?), carve up vehicles and make short work of any foes stupid enough to get close to you.
The remote charges you begin with let you place strategic explosives (three at a time at first, but this can be increased) around a structure, and you can detonate them at any time afterwards, hopefully to watch your demolitions handiwork take out an entire building.
As effective as the charges are however, it’s not long before their usefulness starts to wane, and more firepower is needed to take down larger, more fortified buildings. This is where the game’s extended arsenal enters the fray. Eventually you’ll get to play with far more satisfying armaments, such as the rocket launcher, which can be further upgraded with multiple warheads and heat seekers, more powerful explosives and, perhaps most entertainingly, a rifle that can disintegrate anything it hits, including people. This actually lets you take structures apart piece by piece, and let’s you demolish buildings from a distance, making your life far easier.
The destruction element of the game works so well, that it’s hard to dismiss it as a gimmick, a worry some may have, and that’s luckily not an issue, as it’s a feature that’s used very well indeed, and never feels too much. Quite simply, blowing stuff up never felt so satisfying, and never becomes dull.
Then again, who said you need to blow things up? If you run out of ammo you could run into a building and start smashing up the supporting structure with your sledgehammer, or, if you’re feeling particularly A-Team, you could hop into a vehicle – the bigger the better – and plough through buildings from behind the wheel, with predictably joyous results. Great stuff.
With all this focus on sheer destruction, you’d be forgiven for doubting the rest of the game play, and even the most enjoyable feature in the world will become tiresome if the underlying game cannot support its weight. It’s fortunate, then, that RF: Guerrilla is solid enough to cope, and the rest of the game is as polished as they come.
The move to third person is a wise choice here, as it’s the best way to experience the action on hand, and the control system employed is both accessible and responsive. Running, sprinting, jumping and fighting is all smoothly handled, as is the inventory, which uses a simple system that doesn’t get in the way during hectic fights. There are some issues with Alec getting stuck on scenery, especially chunks of destroyed structures, but this isn’t too common. Vehicle control is good, if a little floaty at times, and all the various types of vehicle you can drive all feel right, especially as you go careering through a guard post or defensive wall.
A basic cover system is also implemented, and Alec can press up against cover such as walls, vehicles and crates, and then fire by popping in and out of cover. This works pretty well, although some glitches do occur from time to time, such as Alec leaving cover when you don’t want him to. The best thing about this cover however, is the destructive nature. Whereas in Gears Of War you could hide behind a stone wall forever, even if you were bombarded by rockets, here you have no such luxury, and it’s not long before your cover is blown to dust. This makes fire fights far more animated, and you’ll constantly need to move and find alternate cover.
The missions of the game are split into several types, and these come under two governing modes – Red Faction missions and guerrilla acts. By completing these missions and other tasks in each of the game’s several zones, you’ll reduce the EDF’s control of each zone, eventually pushing them out entirely, and establishing a controlling Red Faction presence. Each area has an EDF control value, and by completing missions this value is reduced bit by bit. This level gets increasingly larger and hard to reduce as the game goes on and you move into the more heavily defended and controlled areas.
The Red Faction modes are the main tasks, story missions if you will, and usually involve larger, more epic battles and tasks that need to be performed. Completing these will result in a large drop in EDF control.
Guerrilla side missions come in various shapes and sizes, including rescue missions that see you having to save hostages from the EDF, demolitions tests in which you have to destroy a building within a time limit and restricted resources, and ambushes, where you have to destroy EDF convoys or capture enemy documents and so on.
These side missions, while all optional, all help to reduce the EDF’s control, and by completing them, you’ll make life easier. This is partly due to lowering the EDF presence and also as you can earn scrap with each completed mission.
Scrap is used as the game’s currency, and by collecting it, and then trading it with Red Faction mechanics, you can gain access to more powerful weapons, increased ammo supplies and extra armour. You can earn this by completing both Red Faction and guerrilla missions, and can also find it around the world after destroying buildings and structures, or by finding ore deposits.
There are also other designated targets marked on the map, which need to be destroyed. These structures are spread around the world, and by destroying them you’ll further reduce EDF’s control. There are two kinds of such target, medium and high. Medium importance structures are easier to destroy, being less defended, and high importance structures that will yield a greater reduction in EDF control, but also offer a far greater challenge, as they are heavily fortified.
Another element to consider is the morale of the rebels. As you complete tasks, and missions, this morale will increase. The higher the morale of the Faction, the greater the likelihood that fellow miners and resistance fighters will come to your aid in battle. Even passersby may jump out of their trucks and lend a hand. You’ll also find more ammo in supply caches if morale is high, and these can be essential while out in the field.
However, if allies get killed in battle, this morale will drop a little, so it’s a good idea to try and keep your fellow freedom fighters alive and kicking.
This is where Guerrilla comes a cropper in places, and the friendly AI isn’t as good as it needs to be sometimes. This is especially prevalent in larger battles, as AI soldiers run into your line of fire and even take chunks out of your health if you stray into their midst. Occasionally, rescue missions can go a little awry as the AI struggles to keep up with you, meaning they get killed and you fail the mission.
Another area where Guerrilla misses the target a little lies with the enemies you’ll fight, and the approach to combat and missions. The game has almost no scope for stealth or more intelligent tactical play. While you may wish to sneak into an enemy base, plant some charges and then leave so you can detonate your explosives from a distance, covert style, here you can’t. Every mission is a high-octane fire fight. As soon as you get close enough to a target, you’ll usually be swamped with more EDF soldiers than you can count. And, no matter how many you kill, more and more keep coming. APC, after APC of soldiers come screaming towards you, meaning that you can’t even clear an area for any period of time in order to perform other tasks, and you’re constantly fending off attacks while trying to complete whatever your mission may be.
This does keep the action going, and the combat is spot on, but it’s such a shame that Volition didn’t consider the option of being stealthy. This would have suited the game just as well as all-out combat, and would have enhanced the base destruction greatly.
Alongside the single player story is a fully fleshed out multiplayer mode. And, yes, this is just as enjoyable as you’d expect, and some game modes make full use of the Geo-Mod 2.0 engine, with fully destructible buildings. In fact, one of the game modes focuses on destroying the enemy base, and works very well indeed.
An addition to the multiplayer mode comes in the form of a range of backpacks. These each bestow players with various abilities including limited flight, an impervious energy shield and, perhaps most pleasurable, the juggernaut pack, ‘Rhino’, which turns you into an unstoppable rampaging madman able to run through buildings and cause masses of chaos.
These additional powers, the OTT weapons and masses of destruction make the multiplayer a truly unique and different online experience, one which I suspect will become very popular. When the gimmick of destructible environments wears off however, I’m not sure the online portion is strong enough to keep players coming back for more, but we’ll see. If Volition can keep interest up with new maps and content, then Guerrilla could well shine as a long lasting multiplayer title.
Visually Guerilla is a great-looking game, although as you can imagine, a title set on Mars isn’t going to feature the most varied landscape. Other zones do have plenty of variety in structures and some other features, but for the most part, you’ll be treading red sands and rocky plains and some may find the landscape a little barren when compared to other, similar titles. The design of the game world is great though, and everything from the vehicles and weapons to buildings and advertisements are well produced and make you believe the game world. It also sounds pretty good too.
Red Faction: Guerrilla is a surprisingly solid, and enjoyable title. I say surprisingly as I was concerned that the Geo-Mod-centric play would overshadow any real substance. As it stands, while the underlying game isn’t the best of its type around, and the devs have missed some more tactical opportunities, everything here comes together to form a hugely enjoyable title, and one that won’t fail to entertain. Another riotous, downright fun game from Volition. Keep ‘em coming!
Red Faction: Guerrilla is out now.