Red Faction: Guerrilla
Popular culture has taught me that human occupation of Mars is not going to be pretty. From what I’ve gleamed from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall and Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, human society on Mars is likely going to be wrought with the same problems that we face here on Earth, only without the rule of law to keep us in check. Picking up on this vein, the Red Faction series has demonstrated over two iterations that humans aren’t going to like life on Mars all that much, and that it might be better to simply stay home. From the Ultor Corporation in the original to the Earth Defense Force in Red Faction II (which I know takes place on Earth and not the red planet), fiction seems certain that our time on Mars won’t be utopian. That certainty extends to Red Faction: Guerrilla, the latest entry in Volition’s ever-changing series. Guerrilla drops the first-person perspective of the first two games, embraces the setting of the original, adds in the villains of the second, and uses this hodge-podge to produce a game that is superior to the previous entries in the series in almost every way.
While the setting is the same as the original, this is not the Mars that you previously visited. Mars has been terraformed by the Earth Defense Force, a cadre of ruthless soldiers once revered for saving Mars from the Ultor Corporation. With Ultor defeated, the EDF has taken on the role of ruthless authoritarian governors, serving as judge, jury and executioner over the workers of Mars as they assist Earth-based corporations in exploiting the resources of Mars. As if living on a dusty, rusty rock wasn’t bad enough, basic human rights are being ignored as the EDF rules with extreme brutality, unleashing their military might at will against anyone who disrupts their operations or defies their orders. In opposition to the EDF is the noble Red Faction, fighting a — you guessed it, astute reader — guerrilla campaign to take control of Mars away from the EDF and to hopefully lead Mars to a brighter, or at least less oppressive, future. Players assume the role of Alex Mason, who, shortly after arriving on Mars, witnesses the death of his brother at the hands of the EDF. Seeking revenge, he joins up with the rebels.
You’ll start off your insurgency in the town of Parker, a small, bright mining community. The game no longer follows a linear structure and instead embraces the open-world design of games like Grand Theft Auto or Volition’s other franchise, Saint’s Row. The same rules apply: find yourself a vehicle, drive off to a mission, complete the mission, and then head back to the safe house. But while the formula is nearly stale, Guerrilla is still a blast to play, thanks to one thing: massively destructible environments. Anything that you see can be destroyed with enough patience and firepower (or muscle, if you choose to take it down with your sledge-hammer). While lots of games have embraced destruction in recent memory (such as the Mercenary series), none have made it such a pivotal, relevant and important part of the gameplay experience like Guerilla has.
Say one mission tasks you to take out a piece of heavily-guarded EDF property (which many missions do). There are a couple of enemies on turrets on the second floor of the structure. There are two potential strategies. You could either take cover and wait for a chance to shoot them from a safe distance or you can sprint across no-man’s land, strap a couple of bombs to the first floor ceiling and blast them from their stations. Which sounds like a better strategy? If you chose big explosions, you should buy this game.
Explosions are a hugely fun part of Guerrilla. Each area is littered with EDF property which needs to be destroyed in order to bring down their control of the zone, subsequently preparing it for liberation. Some missions will task you with destroying property, but much of it can be blown up on your own as you explore the world. Blowing shit up provides a much-needed break from driving from point A to point B during missions and really allows you to creatively destroy structures. Everything is designed with real-life physics in mind, so if you place charges on the four support beams of a bridge, for instance, you can bring it down in one powerful explosion. This can be particularly fun when you set the charges, provoke the EDF to chase after you, and then detonate the charges when they’re on (or under) the bridge.
Despite how I’m billing it (it’s obvious that I’m easily impressed by explosions), there are other types of missions that you’re likely to encounter. Some are just straight-up battles. You’ll arrive at the scene to find that your fellow Red Faction members engaged in a heated battle with the EDF. You’ll then have to help them out by firing your way through the enemy, using a fairly standarded arsenal of weapons. A lot of the weapons are fun; the Gauss Rifle (basically, super assault rifle) is incredibly useful and the Rail Driver lets you see through the walls of buildings to pick enemies off. But I have seen pretty much all these weapons in other games, so there were no real surprises. I was hoping for more unique Martian tech, but that never really develops. The weapons are functional, sure, but lacking originality.
Other mission types include a set where you ride shotgun with one of the characters as he leads you around areas of EDF control. With you sitting at a rocket launcher in the back of his vehicle, you’re tasked with blasting away at EDF forces and structures in order to inflict damage on the EDF, measured in dollars. Though I found the whole idea of having to inflict a certain level of monetary damage to the EDF as a little silly (a terrorist organization would be happy committing $52 million in damage even if they did hope for $55 million and certainly wouldn’t deem the mission a “failure”), these on-rails portions were a nice change of pace. Most of the time when you’re driving around, you’re either being chased or you’re on your way to another location. These segments give you time to see some of the zone you’re in, letting you notice areas that you might want to explore later.
Another set of missions tasks you with recovering certain vehicles within EDF territory and bringing them back to the safe house. These missions really annoyed me. While I didn’t mind risking my life running into an enemy-occupied area and recovering a vehicle, you then have to drive the vehicle back to the safe house within an arbitrary time limit. I only failed a few times, but I don’t see the point of having a time limit, since the vehicle doesn’t explode if you don’t return it in time and helicopters filled with troops don’t descend on your position. When the time runs out, you’re told that you’ve failed, and then you just sit there, in the same car you stole, which is now apparently worthless. I know the time limit was included to ratchet up the tension, but it doesn’t make logical sense.
And logical sense is actually important here because, all things considered, this game really does a wonderful job at emulating insurgent guerrilla warfare. Guerrilla hideouts are almost always buried deep within a mountain range, far from EDF control. Your actions are also carefully watched by the citizens of Mars. If the morale of the population is high, you’ll earn more salvage (in-game currency) when you complete the missions. But if morale drops (because you either killed a civilian or died), you’ll get less salvage. Since you purchase most of your weapons through salvage, this becomes a particularly important consideration later in the game. In keeping with the realism, you’ll rescue people from prisons, ambush convoys and steal documents from the enemy. All in a day’s work.
All of this is brought to you through a solid graphics engine that holds steady even during the most chaotic battles. Mars itself is presented as the dry arid desert that it is, and you’ll spend most of your time on the surface trying to distinguish one rock from another. A map and waypoint system help guide you to destinations, but there are very few memorable landmarks amongst the repeated structures that make up both civilian and EDF areas. While the game world is huge and you won’t encounter loading between areas, there isn’t a lot of life or character to it, which is a disappointment.
But, even with a somewhat listless game world, Red Faction: Guerrilla is an enjoyable game. Surprisingly, it has a lot of life to it. For a game built largely around the “blow shit up” gimmick, you’d expect it to lose steam after a few hours, but Guerrilla stays entertaining through most of the game, only tapering slightly toward the conclusion. While it has weak points, most notably taking the open world structure that many other games have utilized and failing to improve upon it in significant ways, it nonetheless succeeds because, well, it’s fun. It might not be the most original game you’ll ever play, and some of the design decisions might leave you scratching your head, but even still, Guerrilla provides an entertaining experience from start to finish.