Man I loved the first Red Faction game on PS2, back in the day when I was a true Sony boy, circa 2001. It was an awesome FPS, using developers Volition’s new Geo-Mod tech that rendered pretty much everything in the environment destructible and with its theme of Martian rebellion it was just like playing Total Recall. Due to the success of the original we were treated to the cross-platform sequel, Red Faction II a year later, which continued the Geo-Mod trend but now set on earth. Again devs Volition and publishers THQ delivered another sound gaming experience. I still have fond memories of the riot that I had with the rail gun (pinning enemies to walls) in RF and in the mech like battle armour in RF II. Well, seven years on and the third installment is with us, and itis a total franchise re-boot. Red Faction is no longer an FPS; it’s gone all third person. On hearing this I was dismayed, how could they do that to my cherished FPS experience? Well they have and it plays like the bastard offspring of Grand Theft Auto and Super Bomberman 3, and that is not a bad thing at all, mostly.
Those familiar with the first installments will recognise the story line. In RF Guerrilla you play as Alec Mason, just an ordinary guy who has come to terra-formed Mars to find work as a mining engineer. Mason’s brother Dan is already working there and it soon becomes apparent that he is part of a resistance movement called Red Faction. You see, the money grabbing conglomerate fat cats on Earth are milking Mars and exploiting its population for all its worth, treating them as slaves to feed Earth’s needs (Marx would have a field day). These corporate bad guys rule Mars with an iron fist and enforce it with the EDF (Earth DefenceForce), their military lap dogs. Mason sees his brother get brutally murdered by the EDF and soon gets swept up into the Red Factions ranks, initially seeking revenge but ultimately fighting for the liberation of Mars from the tyranny of Earth. And so your quest and destruction dealing begins.
RF Guerrilla is an open sandbox game of the GTA mold, with the emphasis on blowing buildings, vehicles and people to kingdom come and who doesn’t like blowing things up? If in your youth you ever fantasised about demolishing your school, or dismantled a box of crappy fireworks in order to put them back together to make one big one or enjoyed playing with ammonium nitrate before it was difficult to get hold of, (sorry but I am guilty on all three accounts), then this is your idea of a wet dream. Volition and THQ have done a sterling job with the new Geo-Mod tech engine. Virtually everything can be satisfyingly blown to smithereens, and there are many ways to do this. There are a huge amount of weapons and explosives on offer, most of which can upgraded to do some serious damage to the EDF.
The more damage you deal to the EDF, the closer Mason comes to his goal of liberating Mars (more on this later) and the more damage you do, the more salvage you collect. In RF Guerrilla salvage is the currency and fundamental to your progress, once a building or vehicle is decimated it will leave behind scrap metal which can be picked up and exchanged for upgrading weapons, armour and abilities. This is needed as the EDF really do start to swarm you in later levels.
To kick off with Mason is only armed with his trusty sledgehammer and some remote charges, but even in later levels with many other weapons becoming available, I still found myself relying heavily on these two. Mason always carries the sledgehammer (which is a very handy one hit kill on EDF troops) but can equip himself with three other weapons allowing a good variety and approach in death-dealing. Do you carry an assault rifle and an arc welder to keep the EDF in check? Or do you go for an all out explosive combination, wielding a rocket launcher, remote mine and thermo-baricrocket (basically a mini-nuke)?
Whatever you choose there is certainly no shortage of structures to try them out on. This is the games strongest point and is all thanks to the new and improved Geo-Mod tech engine. Buildings really do seem to collapse realistically, place your explosives in the corner supporting walls at one end and if you do enough damage, then step back and enjoy your handy work: a huge pile of dust and rubble and a nice cache of salvage. But if your demolition skills are not yet up to scratch (and believe me if you invest some time they will be, I truly think it is an art form that I am getting better at) then whip out your sledgehammer and finish it off. There is something satisfying about one man knocking down a three-story building in a matter of minutes with just a sledgehammer. The diversity continues when you begin to realise that there are explosive barrels to pick up and tactically place in order to beef up your bangs, plus gas tanks to explode and vehicles to drive into buildings then detonate to add to the carnage. Sadly the vehicle design is a little boring (see below), however there is one class that truly stands out, the bloody awesome Walkers. They come in three flavours Combat (with infinite rockets, much like the battle armour in RF II), Light (with the ability to fly short distances) and the behemoth that is the Heavy walker. This resembles and moves like a huge gorilla, and once you get it in it you can behave like someone has just nicked your last banana; you can sideswipe, do overhead smashes and flip vehicles huge distances and these mechs really are a stand out feature of the game. Not only can you attack with them, if you are feeling lazy you can just walk through buildings and trample over the EDF troops inside of them, good times.
But there is, of course, a reason for all of this bloodshed. In order to liberate Mars, Mason and Red Faction have to regain control of six sectors from the EDF, with each sector offering various main and side missions to complete.To declare a sector EDF free you have to drop its control of that sector to zero, whilst hopefully also raising the morale of its populace. This morale boosting is helpful, the higher it is the more likely friendly AI will join you in a fight. Whilst not a complete bonus, (they follow you about getting in the way of your line of sight and, amusingly, your detonations), they do tend to draw off enemy fire which is rather handy in the more challenging levels. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, as the world is your soon to be deconstructed oyster and this is where your large arsenal of guns, vehicles and explosives comes into play.
Firstly there are the main missions that have to be completed to move the plot narrative forward and range from protecting specific buildings from EDF onslaughts to driving from point A to point B without getting your arse handed to you on a plate. Secondly, there are prioritised EDF and government buildings to destroy, which all carry a control point rating: destroy it and these points are deducted from the overall EDF rating for that area. Thirdly there are guerrilla actions to complete (again carrying different control and morale points) and these are a varied bunch, some great, some mediocre and a few downright dull. My personal favourites being ‘Collateral Damage’ where the actual briefing states that you have to blow ‘THE UNHOLY SHIT OUT OF THEM.’ and involves annihilating EDF strongholds with various vehicles and weapons. Conversely ‘Demolitions Master’ is a more cerebral challenge that sees you having to work out how to blow up a structure within a certain time limit with limited weapons, and is a total blast. I found myself seeking these out every time I entered a new sector, and some are a real bitch to complete. At the other end of the spectrum and one I avoided is ‘Transporter’, generally involving you transporting a vehicle from A to B within a VERY tight time limit, both frustrating and dull.
But hey that’s just one man’s view, there are enough of these for everybody’s taste, given that there are over a hundred to complete, if you choose to do so. However this is a gripe. You are not penalised in anyway for not undertaking them, sure they help you regain control of a sector and raise morale, but you are left with no real sense of urgency to complete them and some like the aforementioned Transporter missions, are repetitive. The sectors that need liberating are of course your sandbox to play in and apart from the main missions that have to be completed; you can pick and choose which of the other two mission types you use to go about kicking EDF out of an area in any order you wish.
Pausing the game and viewing a useful birds eye view map can access all of this information. The map shows the current EDF control rating, the population’s morale, missions, salvage count and safe house locales and gives you the ability to set a waypoint (gladly, as the scenery can get pretty repetitive).
Online there is the usual array of modes, from free for all to team matches involving the defense of certain structures. At the time of writing only the Team and free for all death matches were available (which I am sure you have downloaded and played) and which really are very enjoyable. All of the death, destruction and mayhem are carried over from the single player campaign with the added novelty of additional backpacks giving you new abilities such as a cloaking system, more destructive power and healing bonuses. There are also bonuses, leader-boards and secret achievements to unlock to keep you coming back for more. Also included is an offline option called Wrecking Crew that plays like the Crash Party mode in Burnout Revenge. Basically, you and up to three other players pass one controller between you, trying do as much damage as possible to an area whilst accumulating points in order to get the best score, if you often have a houseful of bored mates then this could be interesting.
Okay, so far so good? Not quite,there are some issues with this new chapter in the RF franchise. Graphically its hit and miss, don’t get me wrong the new Geo-Mod 2.0 engine looks fantastic, explosions are awesome and the physics are on the money, you can really feel the buildings crumble, but it’s the actual Martian environment and NPC’s that suffer. Now I am not expecting a fully built Martian world teeming with life, like GTA IV, but it all seems rather bland. There are few vehicles traveling the highways and not much sign of life. Things obviously heat up during firefights with never-ending EDF to massacre, but on the whole the world seems rather empty and generically created: Oasis sector has some foliage and is a greener shade of red, Dust sector is, well dusty and red, Eos being a cold sector is an icy red and so on for the rest. I know there are limitations, after all Mars is the red planet, but the sesectors could have been spiced up more, especially the building design, being all too rudimentary in form. Likewise the dress sense and vehicle design is left wanting. The art design for the denizens and vehicles of Mars appears to have been stolen from a Dr. Who and Space 1999 jumble-sale. Everyone is wearing futuristic, 1970’s style, padded jump suits and the vehicles all look like the first lunar rover buggies that we reused on the Apollo missions in the 70s.
The narrative of the story did not engage me either, most of the time I found myself forgetting or not caring about any of the characters (Alec Mason is no Niko Bellic or Carl Johnson) or what was going on and just wanting to get back to blowing the crap out of everything, this was compounded by the lackluster cut-scenes and frankly clichéd dialogue and laughable voice acting. But after all lines like: ‘Life was hard but people never lost hope’, and ‘How many are there going to be at the meeting?’ ‘Enough to make it interesting.’ Where amusing rather than grating.
Sure there are plenty of driving missions which mostly I found frustrating, uninspiring art design, characters and story, but they are only a distraction to the real joy of demolitions. There is a huge amount of fun to be had destroying stuff, with the massive amount of munitions that Volition have kindly put at your disposal. At one point I found myself spending twenty plus minutes hacking a huge bridge apart with my trusty sledgehammer, that spanned a large gorge, only to realise that there was an easier and quicker method to bring it down. What did I do? I promptly reloaded the game and tried again, and again. My next objective for the bridges in RF Guerrilla is to see if I can load a lot of explosive barrels onto a truck and… well you get the picture. It is elements like these and the multi-player options that will give the game longevity, as you try and explode buildings, friends and EDF in new and varied fun ways. Plus once the campaign is over you are free to go back and complete any missions you have missed, truly does outweigh any of the negatives I have aired and I cannot think of any current game that gives this much bang per buck. Enjoy.