There’s a line of dialogue in Red Faction Guerrilla that goes as follows: “Given enough explosives, any moron can destroy a building. Don’t you want to be that moron?” So it is, with charming succinctness, that the entire game is summed up.
The original Red Faction was a game about a revolution on Mars, and what set it apart from other FPSes at the time was destructible environments. Whilst cool, the actual in-game function of these much-lauded blow-uppables was lacking. “Hey!” said someone in the Volition design team, “for the next game, we should make blowing stuff up critical to the success of the revolution, and therefore key to the gameplay!”
It seems so obvious in retrospect, doesn’t it?
Set sixty billion years* after the conclusion of the original Red Faction game, you play the part of demolitions engineer Alec Mason, and it is your job to free Mars from the oppressive Earth Defense Force (EDF) by blowing everything up. Bridges, supply yards, wind farms… forget about the EDF soldiers, the real enemies are the structures. If you’ve ever hated a billboard, loathed a balcony or wanted a street of luxury homes to die, this is where the magic happens.
With a few bizarre and inexplicable exceptions, pretty much anything man-made can be destroyed. And along with this cornucopia of smashables comes an inevitable arsenal of tools for the job. Rocket launchers, proximity mines and sticky bombs – naturally. But you’ll not only be surprised by the simple effectiveness of the humble sledgehammer – which can bring down a multi-level barracks in under two minutes – you’ll also be amazed at how much fun it is to use, on buildings and enemies alike.
At first glance, it plays like a particularly destructive version of GTA. You can pinch any vehicle you like, game saves use a ‘safe-house’ system, and enemies become better equipped and more determined the naughtier you are. The missions are also very similar to GTA, being a scattering of sub-games and driving challenges that can be played in any order, all of which are optional but bring you closer to victory. There are, of course, a couple of core missions but a cup of sandbox tea is clearly being served.
Unlike the original, the action is more-or-less set outdoors, and even when you’re wandering around in an enemy facility you’re never really more than a moment’s sledgehammer-frenzy away from the outside world. The buildings themselves look, for the most part, solid enough from the outside, yet as soon as you set foot inside they have a certain flimsiness that is impossible to put your finger on. True, an accidental click of the mouse button is enough to tear a dirty great hole in the wall, complete with twisted rebar and jagged glass, so it’s hardly surprising really.
This ‘bull-in-a-china-shop’ approach is cathartic and very fun. There are very few obstacles that can’t be overcome by stealing a futuristic JCB and stacking it at full speed into a wall. It’s not a game that really applauds stealth and precision (although a few of the ‘demolitions master’ missions require pinpoint accuracy and timing).
As for the down side, there’s not really a lot that you can’t forgive. The Martian landscape is a little samey, despite each of the six ‘zones’ having a slightly different colour scheme. There’s not a particular variety in bad guys – but the bad guys are really only there to add some context to all the smashing anyway, so it’s not a huge problem. After dying, you respawn either at the beginning of the mission you were just attempting or at the nearest safehouse – which can sometimes result in a great deal of slogging back to get into the action again.
Multiplay is handled through Windows Live, and has a couple of interesting modes to hold your attention but it’s not really a game that is played against people… it’s a game that’s played against structures. There are a load of achievements to strive for, if that’s your particular bag – my particular favourite is called ‘Best Friends Forever’ and requires 100 sledgehammer kills. The sandbox approach leaves the game open-ended in terms of replayability (or, more accurately, continuation), but after a while even blowing things up with shaped charges can get tiring. Of course, there is a shop of sorts to buy upgrades, but beyond that there’s not a whole lot of character advancement to be seen.
I was pleased to find that my machine coped well with Red Faction: Guerrilla\'s system requirements, although I had to turn the shadows off for my aging graphics card to be completely happy.
All in all, Red Faction: Guerrilla knows what it wants to do and does it really well. It’s engaging and unique, despite borrowing from plenty of different sources. And when a loose grenade blows you clean through the wall, over a car and through the glass roof across the road you’ll laugh and laugh.
* - or thereabouts… does it really matter?