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Red Faction: Guerrilla Review

6 June 2009

The Red Faction series is all about destruction. When developer Volition created the GeoMod engine back in 2001, it afforded players with the freedom to completely destroy environments with explosive devices and heavy weaponry. Back then, it must have dreamt of the day that it could get its hands on some hardware that would really showcase its technology. Those dreams have now been turned into reality with Red Faction: Guerrilla. Needless to say, the third game in the popular series has evolved dramatically since the last iteration in 2002.

The original Red Faction was a linear, first person shooter. You could punch holes in walls and use powerful weapons to blast through the earth to create caverns. Red Faction: Guerrilla, however, is a third-person, sprawling, open-world action adventure that showcases the powerful GeoMod 2 engine magnificently by delivering destruction on an unprecedented scale. Volition has harnessed the power of the PlayStation 3 to spectacular effect to deliver one of the most impressive games on Sony’s console to date.

In Red Faction: Guerrilla you play as Alec Mason, a mining engineer who joins the Red Faction movement as they battle for freedom against the corrupt Earth Defensive Force (EDF). Ruling the planet by force, the EDF has taken to kidnapping settlers and forcing them into labour camps. With advanced knowledge of explosive devices, it's up to you to boost civilian morale, destroy important EDF buildings, wipe out the oppressing faction and gain territorial control. Typical to many other sandbox games, such as the Grand Theft Auto series, Red Faction: Guerrilla involves completing set missions and objectives across an open world-environment. The difference with this third person shooter is that you have the power to take down huge structures and destroy whole enemy convoys with just one press of your detonator. Kaboom!

Armed with a sledgehammer, Mason begins his journey by learning how to use the tool of his trade, smashing his way through walls, rock and metal in the search for salvage, the game's currency. This is the first indication that Volition weren’t just hyping the game’s destructive values. When it claimed that its Geo Mod engine was “three to five years” more advanced than other industry destruction engines, it wasn’t joking. Walls tumble, wood splinters and glass shatters realistically under the weight of Manson’s hammer -- it’s impressive stuff, and that’s just the first five minutes! It’s not long before you really get to see the power of the GeoMod 2 technology. As you head out across Martian lands armed to the hilt with sticky remote mine charges, machine guns, rocket launchers and proximity mines and you get to blow up your first enemy out-post, it’s a real sight to behold.

Red Faction: Guerrilla gets all of the basics right in terms of creating an enjoyable experience and a smooth control scheme, but it’s the destruction-based gameplay that really takes the genre to the next level. Offering rewards for destroying buildings and structures is a clever feature that encourages you to blow up almost any large object you come across. Each time you bring down an enemy structure you’re awarded with the salvage that it produces, which can then be spent on upgrades. Alternatively, you can head out to designated enemy out-posts and destroy their buildings in return for control points which sway the battle and territorial control in your favor. You can use heavy weaponry to take large chunks out of structures, or use your strategically placed mines to bring them crashing to the ground. Visually, watching a communication tower explode and seeing how it then impacts on the surroundings is nothing short of stunning.

If you place a mine on a specific wall of a building or support girder of a bridge, or toss a sticky mine onto the bonnet of an armored car, it's that exact spot where it landed that will explode. Take out some of the surrounding walls of a building, for example, and the roof will eventually collapse and come crashing down on any enemies caught underneath. Set an explosive up on a particular support column of a tower and you'll be able to send it crashing down at exactly the angle you want it to. You can create utter carnage throughout the game’s six levels, but you’re not just blowing stuff up. You’re blowing stuff up with style!

You can also use the destruction-based gameplay tactically. If you want to bring a building down swiftly and effectively you have to apply the laws of physics. Choosing to place mines on each structure's support columns, for example, is going to bring it down more quickly than hacking at it with your sledgehammer (though that will also impressively do the job). You can set traps for enemy convoys in a variety of ways, placing mines of the support girders of a bridge, for example, and then detonating them at the appropriate moment. Try running your truck into the front of the building and watch the walls realistically crumble and disintegrate from the impact.

The GeoMod 2 engine is an impressive piece of technology that has made blowing up stuff more fun than we could ever have imagined. Large structures often dominate the barren Martian lands, so taking them down one at a time feels very satisfying. Watching metal girders bend and buckle when hitting the floor, or a fortified building crumble in a black, voluminous cloud of smoke and seeing how their impact has a knock on effect to everything around it is a lot of fun. As you progress and trade in your scrap metal and get to buy upgrades, such as a larger capacity to hold mines, or a more destructive weapon such as the rocket launcher, then the explosions just keep getting bigger and better.

Just having big and impressive explosions at the core of the gameplay wouldn't be enough on its own to make Red Faction: Guerrilla worth recommending. Cleverly, it's supported by a lengthy single-player campaign that boasts dozens of side objectives that advance your control over territories. Like any sandbox game, some of the side objectives in particular can get a little repetitive, but there's enough diversity to keep things from feeling too stale. You can look forward to a few driving missions, alongside protection and defend objectives, hostage rescues, escort missions and raids. These missions run neatly alongside the morale system, which sees your actions affect the behavior of both your Red Faction teammates and the enemy. You can choose to ignore the more tactical side of the gameplay and just blow stuff up, or get involved at a deeper level. Either way you'll have a blast.

The action doesn't stop at the campaign either. Red Faction: Guerrilla boasts an enjoyable offline game mode called 'Wrecking Crew,' where you're challenged to cause as much damage as possible with certain restrictions put in place. The highlight of the other game modes though is the strong multiplayer component, which caters for up to 16 players across 21 maps. Standard game modes such as ‘Deathmatch’ and ‘Capture The Flag’ complement some new ideas, like the introduction of 'back-packs' that give you a unique ability such as a speed boost, a jetpack, or a shockwave. There's also the likes of 'Damage Control,' where you can have great fun destroying enemy emplacements and then rebuilding them for your team to control. There's enough enjoyment here to keep you going for a long while.

Despite all the positives, there are inevitably some negatives to tell you about, though it's worth noting that none of these really hampered our enjoyment of the game. There are swarms of enemy A.I. to deal with in the game and whenever you blow up an EDF stronghold you'll face attacks from all angles. The problem is that they're not the cleverest bunch of villains in the world. You won't see EDF soldiers diving for cover, or trying to flank you. Instead, you'll more or less see them take up a position and stick to it as they pick away at you. It's still very challenging though, probably because they're so many of them, so you still find that you have to think tactically, even if they don't.

Another small bone of contention was the boredom we felt while constantly trekking across some large and barren spaces to get to our next objective. Mars does look like what we'd expect it would look like in real-life, with a red hue, rocky climbs and sandy surfaces, but still it feels a bit empty when moving from one place to the next. While we weren't expecting to see a McDonald's on every corner or any other such incongruities, we would have liked to have seen a bit more activity on our travels. Nevertheless, you can't grumble about the graphics. For the most part, despite some background pop-ins destroying the illusion of being on the Red Planet, the six areas of Red Faction Guerrilla look fantastic.

Red Faction: Guerrilla doesn't have a great narrative to drive the gameplay along, but when you're having as much as this it really isn't a major issue. What it does offer, in abundance, is the chance to have a lot of fun playing around with its brilliant destruction-based gameplay. Fans of the original will have been waiting for the glorious triumphant return of Red Faction, and in many ways it will surpass their expectations. Not only does it thrill and excite in a way that only pioneering games can, it sets the benchmark for any other developer who dares to say that their latest game features destructible environments. Before they dare do that, they ought to check out Red Faction: Guerrilla.

-The Final Word-

Red Faction: Guerrilla sets a new benchmark for destruction-based gameplay. It's an absolute blast!
  • The rewarding destruction-based gameplay
  • The engaging morale system
  • The solid multiplayer component
  • The lack of a decent story
  • The monotonous, long distance journeys
  • The inconsistent behavior of the A.I.
9.0
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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