Red Faction: Guerilla Xbox 360, PS3 Review

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Alec Mason has come to Mars to work in the mining colonies alongside his brother Dan, unaware that the Earth Defence Force – the liberators in the first Red Faction – have turned into a fascist regime and are making everybody’s lives a living hell. Why should we care? Because Alec is going to bring them down, and he’s going to destroy absolutely everything to do it. That’s it, that’s your story, and now that it’s out of the way, we can get down to the important stuff: Blowing shit up.

Not in the literal sense, of course. Instead, Volition have somehow managed to make every single wall, building, vehicle and signpost fully destructible. If you’ve been playing video games for a good while now, the alarm bells should be ringing and vivid memories of such promises from years gone by should be flashing before your eyes. Forget them, right now. This is not some clever masquerade in which 3D models are replaced behind smoke screens, or preset animations take over as soon as an event is triggered; this is real-time physics-based destruction, and much like the game’s protagonist, it is revolutionary. God knows what sort of black magic Volition have used to make it work, but the important thing is that it does. Striking the base of a chimney stack with Mason’s iconic sledgehammer causes bricks to go flying, leaving a jagged hole at the place of impact. Hitting the base again removes more of the tower’s foundations, causing it to creak and moan under the strain.  A final blow and the entire thing starts to lean, toppling over and smashing into a nearby building, crumbling on impact and taking out half of the adjacent structure with it.

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Never has something so simple felt so satisfying. Had this been a tech-demo, or a toy in which you can simply wreak havoc and observe the nature of collisions and demolition it would have been good, but surrounding the fundamental laws of Guerrilla’s technology is an action game to rival the best of them. Volition are no strangers to success. Saints Row 2 was one of the surprise hits of 2007, and like their tongue-in-cheek crime sim, Guerrilla takes place in an open-world sandbox. In order to claim victory over the EDF, each of the six sectors of colonised Mars must be liberated. This is done by accepting a variety of missions that are scattered about the map in true sandbox fashion. It may sound a little generic, but there is a twist. The condition of each sector is displayed via two status bars – one shows the amount of control the EDF has over the sector and the other shows the morale of the civilian population. Demolishing key EDF buildings and structures will cause them to lose control, as will successfully completing missions such as raids on EDF property and stealing EDF vehicles from convoys. Civilian morale can be raised by freeing hostages and protecting guerrilla strongholds, though civilian deaths will result in the opposite effect.

The impressive bit is how well these missions work with the Geomod technology. When charged with the task of freeing a hostage it’s quite easy to let the gamer inside you take over, spending a lengthy amount of time getting shredded by enemy gunfire as you attempt to approach the building head-on. Then you remember that you’re playing Red Faction: Guerrilla and normal gaming rules don’t apply, so you drive around to the back, smack a hole in the wall, untie the prisoner, and drive off into the sunset. Buildings are no longer static scenery; they’re part of the solution. From taking out the supports of an overhead bridge to slow pursuers, to bombing important structural areas of an enemy base in order to take out an entire legion of soldiers at once, there’s no end to the way in which the destructive nature of Guerrilla can be used to your advantage. Thanks to the physics based nature of it all, it never happens the same way twice. This would all fall flat, however, had the driving and shooting aspects failed to impress; amazingly, they don’t.

I say amazingly because given the open-world mechanics of the game, combined with the fact that everything can be reduced to rubble, it seemed too much to ask for a decent driving system as well. Regardless, they’ve somehow managed to pull it off, and although it’s not GTA IV standard, it features solid handling that emphasises the low gravity physics of the red planet. Combat is similarly robust, with a surprisingly competent cover system (initiated by a quick tap of the left bumper) which forces you to constantly rethink your tactical approach, as the scenery being used as a defence is blasted to smithereens. Enemies will flank your position, and constantly seek cover to evade the multitude of weapons that Alec Mason has at his disposal. This results in some truly epic fire fights, with tanks leveling buildings around you while you cling for dear life to the last bit of existing cover. It helps that Mason’s arsenal of modified mining tools are a joy to use, from the trusty hammer to the electrifying Arc Welder. Each one is unlocked by collecting salvage from the remains of demolished buildings and provides new ways to rid the planet of EDF troops. Volition have played on the fact the game isn’t exactly stooped in realism, and provide all sorts of weird and wonderful weapons with which to play.

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As if the lengthy single player and everything it involves wasn’t enough, Guerrilla also comes packaged with an excellent online and local multiplayer. Online features five different game modes, some of which (capture the flag for instance) are quite familiar. The difference here is that all of the real time destruction seen in the single player campaign has made it online completely intact. This adds a whole new aspect to online play, requiring some serious thought into how to approach situations that in the past would only really have a single solution. This is made even more interesting by the inclusion of backpacks. Acting as a sort of class system, backpacks are pick-ups that are scattered around the battlefield and provide the user with a different ability depending on which pack it is. For example, the stealth pack renders the wearer temporarily invisible, while the rhino pack provides the ability to simply smash through whatever stands in their way. These can be changed at any time, provided a backpack distribution point can be located, and can change a game drastically.

While the main focus will no doubt be on the things you can get up to during the online modes, it should be noted that behind the scenes, the online experience is also handled incredibly well. Guerrilla uses a lobby system not so dissimilar to Halo 3, making it easy to invite friends, party up and move from game to game as a single entity. Its XP system works in a similar way to Call of Duty 4, providing new weapons and customisable options as you progress. Local multiplayer exists in the form of ‘Wrecking Crew’, a pass the pad party game in which players must take it in turns to cause as much damage as possible within a certain time limit and with a set weapon. There are four variations on this and each one demands a different approach, often resulting in great hilarity. If you’ve played Burnout’s crash mode, you’ll know the sort of thing to expect. Needless to say, it’s a welcome addition to an already full-to-bursting package.

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It’s very difficult to say anything negative at all about Red Faction Guerrilla. Occasionally there’s pop up in the background, and missions that can get a little repetitive, but if that’s the kind of thing to put you off a game that’s chock-full of such delightful experiences, then you really don’t have a soul. From smacking your first wall with the sledge hammer, to running full speed through a military complex in a giant mech, like some kind of demented toddler at Lego Land, Red Faction: Guerrilla never ceases to excite or satisfy. It constantly rewards players throughout the single player campaign and always manages to introduce something new to change the way the game is played. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable adventure in an original and believable (if not exactly realistic) setting, and sets a totally new benchmark for technical achievement in a video game. Now go and blow something up already.

9/10

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Version tested: Xbox 360, Playstation 3

Developer: Volition

Publisher: THQ

Genre: Destructive Sandbox Action

Players: 1-16