Red Faction: Guerrilla
Mars; the red planet that for so long was craved to be populated, now craves to be liberated. With Earth’s economy all but over, the attraction of a new world seems alluring, but forget the propaganda – free Mars is over. The Earth Defence Force, once the darlings of the people, have a nasty dose of the Communist virus and have turned the surface into a police state, enslaving the poor to provide for the rich. Upon arrival your area and line of work is designated and from here you learn of the struggles of fellow co-workers. Reluctant at first to join the fight for freedom, it takes the death of your brother to steer you into the underworld of resistance and fight against the oppressive nature of EDF.
Whilst new ground for the Red Faction series, Volition are experienced in the open, roaming world genre with their two Saints Row titles, and boy does it show. Progress through the single player campaign starts in the toughest environment, and by slowly eradicating the EDF from each sector you’ll find your way into the more complex surroundings of the higher classes. It’s also where the EDF are more powerful, meaning they pack more of a punch and are a bigger pain the arse.
In Saints Row, advancement is linked to respect from your peers; Red Faction has a similar Morale meter linked to the workers you’re helping to liberate. Blowing up EDF checkpoints and designated areas of interest lowers their influence and shows the oppressed miners that you mean business, raising morale. In a twist akin to Enemy At The Gate, news of your efforts spreads fast throughout the revolution, and hostile acts and even your own death counts against your score.
The main Faction missions advance the plot somewhat and get you access to new areas, but it’s the miscellaneous side quests that bulk out the game, and for the most part they feel like just that: filler. Escorting prisoners captured by the evil overlords, defending against raids and attacking outposts, each essentially boils down to driving into a hail of bullets, shooting your way into (or destroying) a structure, and driving away again to try to lose the heat. Some missions will introduce you to new weapons, such as a rocket launcher and a tank, others want you to demolish something in a small timeframe with limited options, which are genuinely fun. There’s also missions that will crop up as your traverse the map, coming across their signal for help. Pressing a direction on the D-Pad adds the location to the map and you’re directed to help out, although it’s usually the same scenario as the side quests.
Faction missions are where the fun is, though, helping to steal hardware confiscated by the EDF (such as that in the demo) or acting as a decoy whilst the revolution relocate or make a pass unnoticed. This means you’re given free license to shoot, kill, maim, explode and demolish anything that gets in your path.
Salvage. Get used to the term, because it’s seemingly the currency around these parts. Destroying buildings and vehicles sprays shrapnel around, some of which can be traded for access to new weapons and abilities. These range from increasing the amount of charges you can carry and plant in one go, to getting rocket launchers, guns that emit electricity and backpacks that allow you to hover or summon earthquakes. The weird thing is that you have to manually pick up the salvage yourself to add it to your tally, so sneaking into a base and demolishing a huge tower offers scant reward over a Rambo-style manoeuvre because you’ll still have to dodge bullets to pick up the scrap anyway.
Getting to a location can be tricky, what with the terrain, so your GPS has a handy direction system that appears on the road in front of you as a guide. Unfortunately it’s not the most accurate; in my experience, I found myself directed under the bridge I needed to go across – having to find my own way up – other times the track finished and I was nowhere near my objective. This is solved by going into the map manually, zooming in the furthest and having a nose round. In the heat of battle, it’s not the option you want, dropping your gun to thumb through the A-to-Z of Mars.
Which brings me to the vehicles. With such a huge area of terrain to traipse across, the activity you’ll spend most time performing is tearing right across the damn thing, so it’s a shame that the driving mechanics feel the same as Saints Row 2 – basic. Turning is often too twitchy, especially when trying to delicately navigate through steep-sided canyon walls and not rolling it, and there’s little sense of speed. You’re not sure what will happen when letting go of the accelerator, if you’ll slow to a crawl or just keep going, and bumps in the terrain will often see you flying into orbit and wrecking your vehicle. All the cruisers on offer seem to be stuck in second gear, with high revs the entire time you’re moving, and it’s only the centre of gravity that appears to change between them, the little dune buggy offering the safer ride to the SUV which loves to roll just at the wrong time, when you’re surrounded by EDF and inches from completing a mission. I’m not asking for Forza 2 amounts of tinkering camber angles, it would just be nice to enjoy the journeys between objectives instead of just hammering on the throttle and meandering round obstacles until you arrive. Rockstar showed with Grand Theft Auto IV how to at least make sure gamers drove with some degree of care with their brakes that locked under too much pressure.
The intelligence of computer-controlled opponents is fairly basic, although sometimes glitches occur leaving it bordering on laughable. Frequently running for cover whilst shooting, too often a soldier will stand out in the open, perfectly still and begging to be disposed of, whilst others will take cover in front of obstacles or sit next to gas canisters. Generally, upon shooting, guards will dive out of the way, sneak around to higher ground and appear just when you didn’t want them. It’s hard to say whether the higher difficulties make them smarter, all I found were my health levels dropping quicker in battle.
On a more positive note, the online modes look to be the source of much fun. At the time writing I couldn’t find many to experience it with, so my recommendation comes only from trailers and the writings of others.
The underlying problem I had was feeling that I’ve seen it all before. Saints Row 2, Mercenaries 2, Far Cry 2; all are open world games released in the last 8 months, and Red Faction: Guerrilla feels like a mixture of all three, carrying their strengths and weaknesses along with the ride.
Nethertheless, Red Faction: Guerrilla is a whole lot of fun. There’s explosions, guns, vehicles and some very exciting power ups. The problem is the execution feels rushed. The cover system is, unbelievable, worse than Grand Theft Auto IV in that you’re never really sure when you poke your head out that you’ll automatically hide when releasing the analogue stick or stand out in the open like a lame duck. Enemies in vehicles just ram you off the road repeatedly, again and again and again with little tactical thought for an organisation enslaving a human colony on a foreign planet. Their road blocks also don’t stretch far enough, leaving huge gaps either side and becoming just a little sight-seeing tour as you blaze back to the nearest safehouse.
For my liking, Red Faction Guerrilla has too many inconstancies to be considered grade-A material, but then maybe it was never designed to be that way. In-between the frustration of being penned into a rock face by hordes of enemy vehicles, the random nature of the AI has its charms. It leaves you entering a mission not knowing quite what will happen. Most likely you’ll just ram your way into a building, take the goods and fly back out of there, but along the way something goofy will happen that either have you thanking your lucky stars, or tearing your hair out in anger. I just don’t know whether I like it or loathe it.