If you like smashing stuff up, Red Faction: Guerrilla is the game for you. It sounds like an obvious statement – and it is – but this is a game that truly relishes in you causing more complete and utter destruction upon Mars than Handy Andy ravaged upon the song If I Had A Hammer back in 1999. Previous entries into the Red Faction franchise have been first person shooters, but wisely Volition have taken the move of making the latest game into an open world game in a similar vein to their previous game, Saints Row 2. The move makes a lot of sense, after all why impose a linear path on a concept based on making your own?
So the game itself then – playing as a new recruit to the Red Faction on Mars, your mission is to basically break as much stuff as possible, with something resembling a plot around avenging the death of your brother and bringing down ‘The Man’ – in this case the Earth Defence Force – by smashing his stuff up. Completing missions and other tasks gains you favour with the local population, making them more inclined to drop what they’re doing and take up arms to join the Faction. These missions consist of, primarily – blowing stuff up, destroying buildings and generally making a mess – as expected. It’s not an overly fantastic plot, as is the case with most of these open world games. It doesn’t really need to be mind, but the game doesn’t really try and make a big deal of trying to cover it up. But by the same token, you never really feel connected to the characters at all during the game nor really finding yourself caring whether or not the Red Faction prevails. In a game like this it’s not a big criticism, but it’s worth noting what might be fairly obvious – people looking for a game rich in story would do better to look elsewhere.
Visually the game makes it very obvious that you’re supposed to be on Mars – it’s very dusty and very, very red. Some criticism could be levelled though at the fact that unlike Saints Row 2 a lot of the areas feel a bit bare and barren. Of course, you can argue it’s Mars and it’s supposed to be like that, but it does mean that going between destinations can be a little uninspired. However, in the areas that are populated, massive props (is there a pun there? If so, let’s pretend it was intended) goto the Geomod engine which really does a good job at making the destruction look and feel suitably solid and satisfying when you do start smashing stuff up. Some people have reported it’s fiddly to get the settings right, but personally I found settings that worked on my rig (a 2.1 Ghz Quad with a GeForce 8800 and 2GB of RAM) fairly quickly, with only some slight slowdown during acts of mass destruction.
The main problems with the game are in the controls. Credit where it is due, technically it is a pretty good port working fairly well with both keyboard and mouse as well as gamepad. However the driving model doesn’t quite feel right – most vehicles don’t seem to have a great turning circle and I found myself using the mouse and keys for on foot action, with the gamepad for driving. This proved most irritating on missions where I had to escape from many angry men shooting at me because I’d broken their clubhouse or something. Also combat can be infuriating at times, simply due to the lack of any sort of lock on button. There may be aim assist and I agree I’m certainly not the world’s best shooter by far, but on Normal I died far too many times simply due to the lack of being able to aim at people accurately, even when in cover. And woe betide you if your cover gets smashed, I found trying to recover my aim like trying to wrestle in treacle. It’s a game that is badly missing some form of lock on feature for playing on any difficulty higher than the easiest setting. The friendly AI can also have moments of absolute stupidity at times which can prove disastrous on escort missions or even just for getting in your way while trying to take a shot.
Looking at the positives, the destruction is great and manages to remain fun for the entire game, and there’s something about being able to make your own door into any building. The weapons get ever more explosive and satisfying to use and the faction idea itself (do missions well and people support your cause, even taking up arms to join you) is brilliant. But Red Faction’s main trump card is something that took me by surprise – it’s the multiplayer. Once you get over the fact it’s the infamous Games for Windows Live system, modes like Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch are there as almost standard multiplayer fare (more on the almost later) along with Bagman (hold onto a bag for as long as you can) and of course, destruction based gamemodes. The dash of genius comes in the Backpacks found in the multiplayer game. Each one gives a certain buff, whether that’s super speed, invisibility, a jetpack or just the ability to bash down walls with the Rhino pack. The caveat to these awesome powers is that you can only have one at a time. It’s a system that helps to develop a kind of class system into the game, with a well structured team being able to support each other well and even the single player modes as the player can find the best backpack to match their particular playstyle. I dare say I’ll be getting a lot of play out of the multiplayer for some time to come.
A bit of a mixed bag then overall, I would definitely say this is a game worth hazarding a purchase on while waiting for the heavy hitters later this year – the single player has a few flaws but they are of the sort that will depend on the player to how frustrating it gets – I would recommend playing it on the easiest setting and enjoying the ride of smashing something up. But the multiplayer has the fun coming out of it in spades and is truly the hidden gem of this game. It’s a good game, but there is a certain something stopping it from greatness. Obviously depending how much you love smashing stuff up will have a massive factor on your enjoyment of this title. And unless you’re dead inside, that’s probably a lot of you.