I recognize that with all the reviews of this game already available from reputable and talented writers, it's a bold claim to state that this review is, in fact, unique. Allow me to explain myself up front and assuage your doubts, good readers. . .
The reason for this claim is simple -- Red Faction : Guerilla is set on the 4th planet from our sun, and this, of course, brings the sweet temptation to indulge in any number of played out pop-culture references, as many have understandably done. As such, I hereby swear that this review is guaranteed to be entirely free of Total Recall, Ghosts of Mars, and Mars Volta references. It will take great fortitude and restraint to deliver on this promise, but I feel that we as the gaming public deserve it, so on with the review!
Red Faction : Guerilla (abbreviated as RF:G from here on out) is actually the third iteration of the Red Faction IP, which is set approximately 50 years after the events of the previous Red Faction installment. Since Red Faction II was released 7 years ago on the XBox and PS2, this lends further weight to my theory that game studios do, in fact, measure their development time in dog years,
Volition had a solid foundation to build upon with the modest success of Red Faction's first two installments during the previous console generation. Does RF:G herald a revolution in current-gen gameplay, or does it find itself coming apart under the constant impacts of gamer scrutiny?
Red Faction : Guerilla (XBox 360, PS3) Developer: Volition, Inc. Publisher: THQ Story
The plot of RF:G is a plain and simple construction, much like an origami crane. In the same spirit, I offer you a summary of the game's plot in haiku form. Think of it as an O HAI
O hai there, Mason! Break that with sledgehammers, please. Mars is now free, thanks!
Now that we've explored the entirety of the complex wonder which is the literary backdrop of RF:G, let's get to the real meat of the matter. Flippant commentary aside -- while an immersive story will always add depth and enjoyment to an already solid video game, its absence can be easily forgiven if the core gameplay is well crafted and fun. RF:G delivers that in spades.
Gameplay -- Weapons
In most open world shooters, the player begins the game with a lame, generic weapon like a under-powered pistol or knife. In RF:G, the weapon you begin the game with, the sledgehammer, is in many way the best weapon of the enitre game.
Oh, the magnificent glory of the sledgehammer! Its uses are myriad and joyful. Even when out of ammunition for all your other toys, the trusty sledge is always there to help you bring down a building or knock out the supports from a bridge. It is incredibly satisfying to crunch the extremely Overwatch-ish in appearance EDF soldiers with it. If Gordon Freeman didn't have the physique of a theoretical physicist, he would have dropped the crowbar in a heartbeat in favor of swinging this sweet baby around.
As the game progresses, you earn salvage from completing missions, guerilla actions (side missions), and also from destroying enemy structures. Salvage can be used to purchase new weapons and upgrades from Red Faction member "Sam" (short for Samanaya) who is extremely impressive due to her ability to anticipate which safehouse you will be travelling to and to be waiting for you when you get there.
There is a good selection of weapons and upgrades to work with -- their look and feel are appropriately scrapped together and bad-ass. Without spoiling too much for those who haven't played this game yet, the Nano Rifle was one of the few weapons I've used in a game in the past year that made me go "Swweeeeeeeet." when I fired it off for the first time. This doesn't count as popular culture -- No one watches music videos anymore! Gameplay -- Destructible Environments
If there's one element that sets RF:G apart from its contemporaries, it's the tech that Volition created for managing environmental damage to buildings. Almost every structure in the game can be razed to the ground by either explosives, your faithful sledgehammer, or ramming a vehicle into crucial supports.
Now, while many games have featured similar gameplay, they have relied mainly on canned animations to depict the destruction. RF:G allows for dynamic destruction of buildings through the physics engine. When you destroy all the support beams on the left side of a structure and the whole shebang finally comes down, it will come crashing down to the left. Taking down structures makes logical sense in RF:G, which is a refreshing change of pace from the "if buildingHP=0, then play buildingfalldowngoboom.avi" model of destruction used in other games.
The most memorable experience I had from this entire game was when I was scouting an EDF structure which needed to be destroyed. As I was looking around, I began to take fire from a sniper on an adjacent building. Not having a sniper rifle equipped myself, I couldn't pick him off, and I knew I couldn't close the gap on foot before I was dropped like Firefly. So I pulled out the trusty rocket launcher, and proceeded to fire 5 rockets into the base of the building, aiming for supports and retaining walls. Due to my judicious placement, my rocket blasts destroyed just the right bits, and I watched as my foe slid off the edge of the falling building only to have it land on top of his sorry ass once he hit the ground.
Taking out that sniper by taking out the building under him and burying him in rubble was a completely original experience for me in gaming, and that just doesn't happen to me very often. While there are other ingredients and layers, destroying buildings is really the chewy nougat center of this gameplay candy bar.
Gameplay -- Combat
While the weapons and destructible environments in RF:G ensure the fun factor for the duration of the game, the combat leaves much to be desired. Fighting, both on foot and in vehicles, feels both floaty and spastic. I was reminded instantly of the gameplay in Mercenaries 2.
It's difficult to get a bead on your opponents in this environment. Unless you're picking off the EDF from a distance, you'll find yourself running crazily like a conservative from health-care reform. Circle strafing or relying on explosives for area damage rapidly become your go-to strategies for medium range combat. Unfortunately, this makes it almost impossible to avoid killing off friendlies in a firefight, which feels both frustrating and cheap.
As mentioned before, closed-quarters combat does feel great with the sledgehammer, and I found myself abandoning medium range combat to charge in instead to turn EDF heads into Play-Doh.
Despite my complaints, there was really nothing broken about the combat in RF:G for me -- but there was nothing that made it stand out either.
Combat -- More like Red Faction : VANILLA! Gameplay -- Mission Design
RF:G did a stellar job overall in the realm of mission design. Story missions had a variety of objectives, and allowed for a wide range of strategies to be successfully employed. I had equal fun with picking off EDF one by one and slowly working my way in, just blowing up everything in my path, or driving a vehicle frantically through enemy lines to make a surgical strike on a vital target.
Volition really did a good job with their version of side quests, called Guerilla Actions. There was a broad spectrum of activities that you could take part in -- from demolition challenges, to transporting vital data, to defending or attacking structures, to rescuing civilians and more. My personal favorite was riding in a turret on the back of a modified motorbike, taking out targets to cause maximum monetary damage to the EDF.
You are able to advance throughout the game without having to do very many Guerilla Actions at all, but they tend to be short and fun, and completing them will unlock new weapons and upgrades. They also provide much need salvage for purchasing said weapons and upgrades.
I did come away with a few nitpicks in this area. Some story missions suffered from an inadequate checkpoint system; it seems that other open world developers have not yet learned the lessons taught by the shortcomings of the GTA series in this regard. Many failures were accompanied by having to drive across Mars to reach the objective all over again.
Additionally, whereas most of the missions contain a finite number of enemies, I would periodically encounter areas or structures in missions where EDF soldiers continually respawned. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, as it dramatically changes you approach to accomplishing an objective -- I shouldn't have to run out of ammo for my weapons trying to figure out which areas are respawns vs. ones where there are just a lot of baddies.
EDF troopers were injected with salmon DNA in some areas for infinite spawning ability. Gameplay -- Multiplayer
You'd think that in an open world TPS game with average combat that the multiplayer would be thoroughly underwhelming. You'd also be vey wrong in the case of RF:G. While the standard deathmatch and team deathmatch type mode are just as bland as you'd expect, other team based modes take full advantage of the destructible environment tech to provide maximum fun.
Capture the flag becomes really interesting with the inclusion of the backpacks, which equate more or less to an interchangeable class system. Rhino packs allow you to charge through walls and people. Stealth packs allow you to get your creep on and give your opponent the one-hitter-quitter treatment with your sledge. Rocket packs, speed packs and more give a lot of strategic variety in this mode, and well coordinated teams can take full advantage.
Demolition, Siege, and Damage Control modes focus on teams defending or destroying structures, and were the most enjoyable modes I played during my time with multiplayer.
It is frustrating to note, less than 2 months after its release, that this game doesn't crack the Top 10 Xbox Live games in terms of multiplayer traffic -- finding a game in one of the more interesting modes was often a time-consuming affair.
RF:G, like most games in the sandbox genres, has its share of technical issues which are noticable, but ultimately forgivable. Occasional frame-rate hiccups during building collapses and pop-in while driving were present, but weren't a hinderance to the overall experience. Multi-player matches ran like butter for me.
The graphics were scaled well to meet the needs of an open world environment and, limited Martian color palette aside, impressive to look at. Much like the combat, they weren't a point of contention for me even while being nothing to write home about.
Your sentence? Trade me that sledgehammer for this baseball bat! The Verdict
Red Faction : Guerilla flew well under my radar until I gave it a spin recently due to what I was hearing about it from peers and the internet. I never fully buy into the hype surrounding a game until I've played it for myself, but I'm overjoyed to discover that all the feedback about this game was right.
The technology used for destructible environments in this game were impressive from top to bottom, and when we're reviewing similar games 5 years from now, we'll be referring back to Red Faction : Guerilla to point out where the jump in gameplay took place.
RF:G was a great deal of fun to play in both single and multi-player modes, and its flaws were easily outshined by the things it did very well. Along with Flower, this game was one of the year's most pleasant console gaming surprises for me. Red Faction : Guerilla gets a strong walkyourpath recommendation -- it is a worthy addition to any gaming collection.
And this last image? Please, I implore you, just ignore it. . . I can't resist the temptation much longer!!!!!