Review: Red Faction: Guerrilla (PC)

RFG.jpg GamersGate offered a sweet deal where you got copies of both Red Faction and Red Faction II for free with a Red Faction: Guerrilla pre-order. Red Faction was a 2001 game that gained tons of attention during previews for its destructible environments, and Red Faction II was the critically pummeled 2004 follow-up. So by the time I received my review copy of the game I had replayed both of the original games on my netbook, which allowed me to put those games into proper perspective as I played the new addition to the series.

Matt already did an excellent and thorough review of the PS3 version of the game here, and I won’t go into that sort of detail since this game is identical in pretty much every way other than adding the ‘Demon of the Badlands’ DLC that Matt also reviewed here. While the basic outcome of my review is pretty much ‘what he said’, there are a few details I’d like to discuss and some perspective as a PC gamer who was playing Red Faction 8 years ago.

Anyone who played either of the earlier Red Faction games years ago might think that there were deep and involved plots for those games, and would come to this game with those expectations. However, that is far from the truth. When you compare the opening scene in Red Faction: Guerrilla, with Alec Mason gaining information about the situation and putting the plots of the earlier uprisings into context, with the basic ‘scenario setup’ of the original Red Faction, the contrast is stark.

In many ways, Red Faction is ‘plot lite’ for a game of its era: we were at a time when we had already seen Jedi Knight and Half-Life and Star Trek: Elite Force, so the basic ‘get a motivation, kill everyone until the boss, get a new motivation, kill everyone up to the final boss, resolve conflict and watch ending’ story of Red Faction feels very thin. It is much more in line with 1998-era games like SiN and Unreal than contemporary releases. Red Faction II is even worse in terms of story – while there are more characters and theoretically a more involved story, it feels more like they had a decent idea, made the game, and realized it was only three hours long… so they reworked the plot ending to have it once again jump from boss to boss, only this time it felt obvious and nonsensical.

Indeed, many gamers and reviewers were disappointed by the story of Red Faction, but understood that the game hinged on a single feature: destructible environments as created using the Geomod technology. The core idea was: need to get downstairs? Blow a hole in the floor. Door locked? Don’t chase after keys, just launch a missile at the wall! The problem with Geomod was that it was very narrowly applied. In other words, in one area you could destroy everything, but in the next area you could only shatter glass but even that wouldn’t let you escape having to traverse the level the way the designers intended. As a result the game felt more like an average plot-lite shooter with a gimmick attached sporadically. Red Faction II was still sporadic in application of Geomod, but had some really cool destructible set-pieces. But since the game was pretty lousy, it didn’t matter much.

Back to Red Faction: Guerrilla: by the time you are fully in control you understand the order of things on Mars, and that none of it is as you understood before you arrived. Things have returned to the state of miners being oppressed, only now by the EDF rather than the Ultor Corporation. You start out in the sector called Parker (a nod to the hero of the original game), and need to liberate each sector by taking on missions to erode the influence of the EDF in that sector. As the missions become more critical and the EDF influence wanes, the battles become more pitched and frantic. The story isn’t one that will cause you to shed tears or want to buy the book, but it is an effective framework to hang the game.

As Matt said, the game really nails the balance between sandbox and plot, because it never tries too hard to enforce its structure upon you, yet you actively seek out the structured elements because they are fun. Even when you are on a mission, if you see a target you want to destroy you can just stop and do that and watch the impact on the EDF influence. Of course, if you were in the middle of a pursuit, you would lose your target. The only times I felt that I was in the midst of a game was when I failed a major plot mission, because then I had to revert to the old ‘die and retry’ mechanic that is so tiresome. But fortunately that was extremely rare, and doesn’t feel at all like a typical GTA game in that regard.

There are definitely issues – some that Matt mentioned, others that are PC specific. Stuff that Matt mentioned includes limited inventory, colonist NPC AI, and getting stuck on debris. The colonist NPC AI was really bothersome to me, and tweaked another pet peeve – the 100% scale. I remember in games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights, where you can continuing amassing ‘good’ or ‘light’ points but they no longer count once you’ve passed 100%, yet if you choose an action that has a negative impact you see that right away and have to work to compensate since there is usually some sort of bonus associated with maintaining maximum ‘good’ or ‘light’ points. Similarly, you get a rating for each area, and it is easy to send that to 100% by killing off loads of EDF soldiers in ‘chains’ and destroying property, but long after you’ve hit 100%, a few colonists will walk in front of an EDF tank and you’re quickly back to 92%.

The other things that bothered me were Games for Windows Live and an apparent memory leak. I noticed after playing for a while that the game would bog down, and even come stuttering to a halt in graphics intensive areas. Saving, quitting and restarting would always cure the problem, so I assume it was a memory leak. As for Games for Windows Live… well, not only is it the worst matchmaking software on the PC and fail to offer class-trailing features and a marginally competent store, it also locks games by other publishers into your account for no apparent reason and makes it so no one else can use your game when you are done. I am all for reasonable means of intellectual property protection, but this isn’t it.

Ultimately the best thing about Red Faction: Guerrilla is the gameplay: I loved blowing stuff up, using my sledgehammer to take down a building, getting into a huge battle and using creative means to escape. There are loads of non-realistic explosive items around to help you out, and the more you see, the more likely you are to have a nice juicy battle on that spot. I also love how the game gives you a taste of goodies through missions – like grabbing a walker. I knew after that I would constantly seek them out because they were just a blast to use!

My assumption is that there are still some PC gamers who saw the console-first development and third-person perspective of this game and switched into ‘ignore mode’. My message to them is ‘knock it off’! Red Faction: Guerrilla is BY FAR the best game of the franchise. It loses nothing moving to a third person game (I can’t believe I just said that, but it is true), and through the excellent use of environmental destruction and a brilliant melding of missions and sandbox styles you just move seamlessly through the world advancing the story while just having fun. And have fun, you will!

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Pros:
+ Great balance between missions and sandbox gameplay
+ Just plain loads of fun
+ Really cool weapons
+ Geomod the way it SHOULD be done

Cons:
– Carry limit feels artificial in this sort of game
– Colonist AI works against your progress
– Apparent memory leak with PC version caused some performance issues

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also available for PS3 and Xbox 360
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Volition
Release Date: 9/15/09
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-16
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!