Here's a question you probably already know the answer to: do you like to blow things up? Yes? Well, then Volition's Red Faction: Guerrilla is for you, since smashing apart buildings and detonating large quantities of explosives is basically what it's all about. If you're familiar at all with the previous games in the franchise, reaching back to the original released in 2001, you'll find quite a bit different with this third entry. Guerrilla isn't a first-person shooter; it's a third-person action game that plays out entirely on Mars' surface. While you can't tunnel through the ground in this one, you can break to bits pretty much anything built on top. Set in a Grand Theft Auto-style sandbox environment, the game offers a number of side and story missions in its single-player component along with a multitude of multiplayer options that, though there are issues, makes for some of the most explosive action around.
Taking place years after the events of the first game, Guerrilla is again set on Mars, this time under the control of the violently oppressive Earth Defense Force, or EDF. You play as Alec Mason, a newcomer to the planet who was just looking for work, but soon finds himself wrapped up with the Red Faction resistance movement to wrestle control of the surface away from the EDF. To do so, Mason must liberate six zones on Mars, each with their own set of side and story missions.
Explosion Montage Video - Watch or download the video here (HD available).
To be able to declare a zone to be free from the EDF, you need to drop their control rating, accomplished through missions or by blowing up specific buildings marked on your map. The way Volition works this into the game world is well structured, since as you engage in activities that hack away at control of a sector you'll also be raising its morale and collecting salvage. Better morale in an area makes your life slightly easier as AI companions will join up with you in a fight and net you more salvage after completing missions. Salvage is of chief importance as you use it to purchase and upgrade weapons and tools, which include everything from remote mines and a variety of sledgehammers to better armor, devastating thermobaric rockets and eventually a jetpack. Since all of these systems are networked together, Volition delivers a nice sense of progress to the player, reinforcing the notion that you're making a difference within the virtual world instead of just spinning your wheels.
During battle Volition delivers an impressive sense of destructive freedom in Guerrilla, as structures and objects can be toppled and demolished not only by using explosive weaponry or your hammer, but with any of the vehicles you can pick up around the game world. Since there are so many ways to cripple a building, be it detonating mines set along its base, whacking apart supports with your sledge, or speeding an EDF armored transport right through the center, the game makes it easy to participate in its most entertaining aspect. It also rewards you for blowing things up, as bits of salvage will tumble from what's demolished, which contributes to making your actions feel more satisfying. That being said, the appeal of venturing out into the world and clobbering scenery doesn't last for the single-player campaign's duration. For me, after a while the urge to venture out and blow things up simply to watch them come crashing down in different ways diminished, shifting the duty of maintaining interest to the game's missions, story, and characters, which don't really have the same kind of appeal.
Using a handy map system you can mark where you'd like to visit and what challenges to take on next. Most of the main story missions tend to be fairly entertaining, offering up a variety of goals ranging from rescue attempts to escape sequences to straight-up explosive mayhem. Side missions are more of a mixed bag, many of which you're forced to take on because to diminish EDF control in a sector. Some of the better types include defense or assault sequences where you'll need to eliminate a certain number of EDF soldiers to be successful, or destruction missions which sometimes involve puzzle-like challenges, giving you limited ammunition and specific weapon types to take down structures. Other outings feel more like busywork than anything else, particularly the wearisome vehicle transporter mission types where you'll simply drive a vehicle around and return it to an outpost under a time limit, which effectively dodges all the elements of what makes Guerrilla any fun to begin with. Even a few missions that focus on blowing things up, such as the collateral damage types where you man a turret on a vehicle and must deal out a specific amount of punishment on EDF targets, the challenge feels unsatisfying since the game makes aiming from vehicles more awkward than it has to be. Other destruction type missions challenge you to wipe out a certain amount of enemies, which more or less boils down to you spamming weapons fire and hoping you don't die before time runs out. Then there's hostage rescue missions where you need to rescue friendly partners, which most of the time winds up being frustrating because amidst all the shattered staircases and busted walls it's easy to lose track of those you're trying to protect.
By performing missions EDF control in a sector will eventually drop to zero, opening up a final liberation mission that, once successfully completed, secures the land in the name of the Red Faction forces. You'll then move the story forward, which at times is delivered through radio chatter and at others through cinematics. It's tough to really care about any of this, though, as the characters are all fairly flat and unremarkable, and it's doubtful you'll really become emotionally invested in the plight of Mars' citizenry against the generally faceless and stereotypical villainy of the EDF. Instead, the unlocks and ever-increasing destructive capacity of Mason is the driving force.
As for the game world, the surface of Mars as represented in Guerrilla isn't all that developed. Little in the way of interesting habitats or elaborate structures have been set up to accommodate the EDF military or the general populace. The majority of the architecture is boxy and ugly, from the opening zone of Parker to the final area of Eos (sound familiar?). While this may exemplify an aesthetic that favors function over form and reflects a Martian surface that's very much still under construction, it doesn't make for many remarkable sights. Cars, trucks, military, and utility vehicles populate each zone's roadways as well, which can be hijacked in a manner similar to Grand Theft Auto, to try and infuse the generally desolate Martian surface with a sense of activity and routine, but in general this isn't a world that feels cohesive and alive.
Of course it's entirely possible you don't give a damn about the art design and can struggle through some of the boring and unnecessarily frustrating mission types just to blow things up. The game does afford you the opportunity to launch rockets while floating around on jetpack fumes and watch as towers collapse into the tops of buildings, and depending on which sections you knock out they'll fall and crumble in different ways. You can kill EDF enemies standing around or once you've attracted a bunch in the game's GTA-style cop chases by simply shooting them with your assault rifle or shotgun, or breaking apart the floor on which they're standing to potentially send them tumbling to their doom. In tight spots when surrounded by groups of hostiles, you can use your hammer to break through a wall and find an alcove of temporary safety to regenerate your health. The third-person shooting mechanics work reasonably well, though considering how often things are breaking apart, how many new lines of fire open up as walls crack and windows shatter, and the general aggressiveness of the enemy AI, it's unlikely the game's cover system will be of much use during extended battles. This is especially true toward the end of the game where enemies tend to attack in huge swarms, making the challenge during a fight feel more random and messy instead than something to be met and overcome with skill or tactical planning.
The level of destruction carries over into the online experience, though, which certainly makes for some interesting moments. It makes deathmatching of the free-for-all or team variety stand out from standard action fare since in addition to engaging in the game's solid third-person shooting gunplay you can take advantage of a wide variety of backpacks as well as hack through buildings and create your own avenues of attack or escape. The multiplayer backpacks, which can give you additional destructive power, stun-inducing shock waves, added healing, and jump jets, among other things, lend to the modes a more energetic feel.
In the game's more sophisticated online modes you'll find yourself organized into teams and tasked with defending certain structures from enemy assault or seizing and holding control points. To keep them in one piece as the enemy launches rockets, mines, and whacks away at supports with hammers, there's also a gun unique to the online scene that functions to rebuild decimated structures. So not only will you be trying to defend, but you can also repair any buildings you need to, adding a welcome layer of depth to the modes that take advantage of this tool. Like in any of the modes, you're always free to break apart a wall to establish a new route of attack or escape or bring down a building on top of someone, giving the games a nice dynamic, if at times making things overly chaotic.
Beyond that, there are detailed online setup and tracking features such as various character and player icons, an in-depth statistic tracking system to keep tabs on kills, flag captures, and tons of other numbers, along with a progressive unlock system that hinges on experience earned in matches. It's rounded out with leaderboards, a spectator mode, and a number of match search options, making for a well constructed multiplayer infrastructure that anyone who gets into the online play is sure to appreciate.
For players who doesn't really enjoy online gaming but are still interested in experiencing a multiplayer element there's a Wrecking Crew mode. The idea here is if you've got up to four people sitting around, each can pass the controller back and forth in the round-based modes that generally involve doing as much damage as possible given certain limitations. You're free to customize each map with the type of backpack and weapons available, and overall the mode stretches out the game's lasting appeal even further, even if it's a bit on the shallow side. Certainly if you're looking for a product that offers a lot of value in terms of single-player game length and multiplayer elements, Guerilla delivers. It even lets you continue to play around in the fully unlocked game world after completing the single player story to mop up missions you missed, enable cheats, or just blow a bunch of stuff up.
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