Review: Red Faction: Guerrilla (PS3)

RedFactionGuerrilla.jpg “A person who engages in irregular warfare especially as a member of an independent unit carrying out harassment and sabotage.”

That is the definition of ‘guerrilla’ from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and it couldn’t be a more fitting subtitle to Volition’s third Red Faction game recently released for PS3 and Xbox 360 (and coming to PC later this summer).

Red Faction: Guerrilla (RFG) continues the Red Faction saga in the form of an open-world third-person shooter — as opposed to the FPS stylings of the first two iterations – and as the subtitle indicates, it is a game mainly about planning out tactical strikes and sabotaging enemy installations, and watching in awe as those installations explode, crumble and collapse into a cloud of dust and debris. Seriously, this game and its destruction engine looks (and sounds) absolutely amazing!

In the game, you take up the cause of the Red Faction resistance as heroic freedom fighter badass Alec Mason, using his trusty sledgehammer and an awesome arsenal of basic-to-exotic weaponry — machine guns, explosives and shotguns to electricity guns, razor disk shooter and mini-nukes — to bring the oppressive Earth Defense Force (EDF) to its knees and inspire the Martian colonists to rise up and take back their planet.

In my experiences, it’s been rare to see an open-world game nail the balance between focused, narrative-driven campaign play and freeform sandbox play. Most games nail one or the other, but rarely both, and GTA IV and Prototype are two recent examples from both sides. GTA IV shined when playing through the storyline, but as a sandbox world it didn’t have the same level of freeform fun that previous GTAs had. Prototype’s line of story quests, on the other hand, is mediocre at best, but the game can be a heck of a lot of fun if you ignore the campaign and treat the game world solely as a sandbox for brainless beat-‘em-up action.

Remarkably, RFG gets both right. What the storyline lacks in originality and surprising twists it makes up for by simply setting the stage for an exhilarating campaign of liberation and destruction. Mars is divided into six sectors, and as Alec Mason it is your duty to liberate each sector by completing important missions for the Red Faction and destroying high-value EDF structures until the colonist morale is high enough to push the EDF out for good. These campaign missions are quite spectacular, too. In one mission, for example, you have to sneak (or rush) into an enemy base, steal a walker (mech suit), pilot the walker back to a transport truck (smashing through buildings and EDF soldiers along the way), and then ride shotgun on a turret and defend the transport as EDF forces attempt to chase you down. And then another mission may have you defending a large perimeter from EDF trying to punch through and reclaim their turf, which entails setting up road blocks and devising smart ambushes.

RFG’s optional activities shine as well. The game offers plenty of hidden collectibles (radio tags, ore crystals, and EDF propaganda billboards and supply crates that need destroying) and a fantastic mix of side missions, including small-scale guerrilla raids, base defending, rescuing captured colonists, transporting vehicles to Red Faction safe houses, ambushing EDF convoys, and, my favorite, the Demolition Master missions which give you a certain weapon with limited ammo and challenge you to destroy a designated structure within a time limit. These really show off the genius of Volition’s Geomod 2.0 engine and how it applies real-world architectural engineering and demolition physics to the game’s fully-destructible environment. You can tear down a building brick by brick with a sledgehammer if you so choose, but if you pinpoint key targets of structural integrity you’ll bring down buildings quicker and with added spectacle, and that’s exactly what these challenges try to teach you.

The other beautiful thing about RFG is how it empowers you, the player, to tackle the game any way you choose. By playing on the easiest difficulty, you’re able to enjoy the game as more of a sandbox run-and-gun destruction simulator, rushing into missions without a lot of care, just blowing shit up for the fun of it. But if you crank up the difficulty to the normal and hard settings, the EDF forces become far more relentless, putting the onus on you to thoughtfully strategize not only a plan of attack, but also a plan of escape for once the job is done. In this game you generally can’t just blindly charge behind enemy lines, blow a bunch of shit up willy-nilly and expect to get away without stiff resistance from the EDF. They will go to great lengths to hunt you down, so you better have a means of escape planned ahead of time. And you’d also be wise to implore hit-and-run tactics, as it’s far more effective (and less frustrating) to take out a building or two at a time and lay low for the heat to die down before striking again than it is to attempt to take down an entire base in one shot.

A strategy I liked to use was covering a vehicle in remote-controlled explosives, driving towards a building, jumping out the door at the last minute while the vehicle charged forward and crashed into the building, and then detonating the charges from afar. That’s always fun to do, and is a quick, effective way to soften a target for future attacks.

I knew going in that the single-player game would be a blast – the demo certainly proved that to me well in advance – but I wasn’t quite sure how the multiplayer would come together. Well, I must say the multiplayer turned out far better than I ever imagined.

There are actually two separate parts of RFG’s multiplayer suite. Wrecking Crew is an offline-only mode in which 2-4 players take turns competing to see who can cause the most damage under different stipulations. It’s simple, but it’s a clever pass-the-controller mode built around the game’s destruction engine, and it works great as a party game experience for a more mature audience.

In addition to Wrecking Crew, RFG offers a standard assortment of online matches for upwards of 16 players, accompanied by a diverse set of 21 maps and a deeply rewarding experience and ranking system. But once again, the game’s destruction engine proves to be more than just a treat for the eyes. The usual deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag modes are in place, but two modes in particular – Siege and Demolition – give RFG’s online play a special touch no other game can match. Siege takes the familiar attack/defend concept to the next level, with one team working to destroy designated buildings around the map while the other team defends those buildings and uses special Reconstructor guns to repair sustained damage, while the Demolition mission sees teams working to cause as much damage as possible with one player on each team acting as a powerful Destroyer with the sole purpose of seeking out and destroying property for points while the other teammates play the role of bodyguard to protect their Destroyer from the enemy.

Another unique element to the multiplayer is the inclusion of different backpacks which imbue you with special power-ups and open up different strategies when combined with certain weapons. Using the stealth backpack enables you to go invisible for a short time, making it a perfect partner for sneaky sledgehammer kills. Then, of course, there is the vision backpack granting you X-Ray vision to see every enemy on the map. Other backpack abilities include health regeneration, increased weapon damage, speed boost, a concussive shockwave attack that knocks down nearby enemies and so on. Between the backpacks, the dynamic environmental destruction and all of the inventive weapons carried over from the single-player game, the RFG multiplayer experience is loaded with depth and strategy for those who choose to experiment with different weapon/backpack combos and learn to master the destruction as a means to create shortcuts, traps and choke points for ambush.

I really don’t have any major complaints about RFG, but there are a few little nits I have to pick at. A personal pet peeve of mine is limited inventories, so I was a bit miffed that the game only allowed me to carry a sledgehammer and three other weapons at a time. I go back to the Ratchet & Clank games. Insomniac goes to great lengths to create such inventive weapons and grant you access to the entire arsenal at all times. I wanted to be able to do the same thing in RFG, screw realism.

Also problematic is the colonist AI. When you’re walking around a safe house location, other colonists constantly clog up doorways and just plain get in your way, and while driving around colonists seem completely oblivious to everyone else on the road. I remember this one time I parked on a small bridge because I noticed some ore hidden underneath that needed mining. Next thing I knew three or four other cars were driving over the edge of the bridge (and nearly landing on top of me) as one tried to push my parked car out of the way and the others just kept piling up without stopping. And speaking of driving, the vehicle handling feels a little loose and slippery. When you’re trying to speed out of danger it’s too easy to lose control and crash.

A somewhat similar annoyance is how debris is fairly easy to get stuck on. I can recall numerous failed escape attempts caused by my character getting stuck running in place on a chunk of building. Deaths of this type are cheap and frustrating.

And one other small issue: in multiplayer, the sledgehammer seems a tad overpowered if you ask me. One strike with the sledgehammer is an instant-kill. It makes sense somewhat – if you whacked someone with a sledgehammer for real it would certainly incapacitate them – but when you’re pumping an enemy full of lead to no avail while they charge forward through the bullet spray and kill you with a single blow it just seems kind of unfair.

These quirks aside, Red Faction: Guerrilla is a truly superb game, far and away the best entry in the Red Faction series yet, one of the most balanced all around open-world action games to date, and the most polished and complete experience Volition has ever produced. You definitely get your money’s worth from this game.

BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Great balance between story and side missions
+ Caters to different play styles well
+ Awesome weapons and fun, strategic action
+ Geomod 2.0 engine pumps out spectacular graphics and destruction
+ Destruction sounds as spectacular as it looks
+ Rich, satisfying multiplayer experience

Cons:
– Limited to carrying three weapons
– Colonists get in your way a lot
– Too easy to get stuck on debris

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also on Xbox 360 and coming soon to PC
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Volition
Release Date: 6/2/09
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-16
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!