Review: Red Faction: Guerrilla (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Name: Red Faction: Guerrilla
Developer: Volition
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Release Date: 06/02/2009

A while back, I had the opportunity do some demo thoughts on Red Faction: Guerrilla. I thought it was quite a fun little open world shooter that had the chance to really impress or badly underwhelm when it finally hit the shelves. Well, the game has been out for a bit now, and I’m happy to say that it is a blast to play. With Volition’s Geo-Mod technology being applied to just about every man-made object in the game, fans of mayhem are sure to have a smile on their face. There’s a couple of pitfalls, but read on and I’ll tell you whether or not they matter.

1. Story/Modes
There are three modes in RF:G for your perusal. The typical Campaign mode, Wrecking Crew, and Multiplayer via Xbox Live. Wrecking Crew has a very nice old-school feel to it. You can choose two or more players and pass the controller from round to round. Your goal is to wrack up as many points as possible by destroying barrels, buildings, or some combination thereof before time runs out. What makes this mode incredibly fun is the weapons you are armed with. The game starts you out with the thermobaric missle, which is probably the most destructive weapon in the game. I jumped into this mode after a few hours in the campaign mode to see what it was like. Instead of running around with an assault rifle or shotgun, I now had a weapon that destroyed buildings in one hit. The first few times I ran the game I ran out of time just watching the debris rain down.
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If you’d rather have a more adversarial game, the multiplayer is a solid addition as well. RF:G takes a page from the Call of Duty playbook in that you have to unlock modes before you can play them. I was ready to seriously rip into Volition for this choice, but it fortunately isn’t that big of a deal. You start with the typical Deathmatch mode, here called Anarchy. I played two rounds of that and had unlocked enough XP for three-fourths of the other modes. So it isn’t that big of a deal that the designers want you to know how to reload a weapon and take cover before you jump into a major battle. There’s a few fun quirks in the multiplayer mode, but I’ll talk about them below.

Most of your time in this game is going to be spent on the Campaign mode. RF:G tells the story of Alex Mason, a miner from Earth who is trained in demolitions and sledgehammer use. He has come to Mars to live with his brother and try to make a living for himself because life on Earth isn’t a bowl of cherries anymore. In short order-literally one cutscene, a brief training in the use of detonation packs, and another cutscene-Alex sees that the Earth Defense Force has started cracking down on any Martian citizen that even looks at them funny. Just after that, your brother gets hosed down with a minigun and the EDF tries to kill you for holding a sledgehammer. The game wastes no time in going from, “Hey, welcome here!” to, “Since you’re brother’s dead, do you want to join the rebellion?”

From the outset, you’re given freedom to roam all throughout the first sector of Mars, Parker, and complete guerrilla actions and destroy EDF targets in order to drive the EDF out of town. Red Faction: Guerrilla is very similar in scope to the first Mercenaries game. You roam around getting missions and orders from your map, avoiding the EDF when you can and killing them when you can’t. Once you’ve freed one sector of Mars, you will open up the next, and so on and so on. Each sector has its own story and role in the game, which is kind of cool. For instance, Dust is so named because of all of the wind turbines in the breezy area. The story isn’t spectacular or completely groundbreaking, and in spots it is kind of forced. Sometimes though, the thought of “what mission is going to come next?” is enough to keep you going.

Story/Modes: Great

2. Graphics

Every once in a while, a videogame shocks me with how good it looks in action. RF:G is the most recent of those titles. Screenshots don’t really do the graphics engine justice. On the surface, you have a well-detailed but slightly sparse landscape. Look around however, and you will see a lot more going on. Martian winds carry gritty red sand through the air, oppressed miners go about their business, and several ore-hauling heavy trucks run around the roads. In the distance, a convoy of military trucks starts to cross a bridge. Then you tap a button, and chaos breaks out in a series of explosions. One of the things that makes me happiest in RF:G is that your bombs go off in the order you set them. So if I set one at each end of that bridge first, then one in the middle, then one on each of the struts, that is the order they explode, separated by about half a second. Cars, bodies, and bits of bridge go flying before one of the trucks falls onto the last of the supports and shatters it, bringing the whole bridge down. No slowdown, no stutter, and every piece of that bridge is fully constructed and animated as it falls. In fact, that level of design is one of the coolest things about RF:G. The construction all seems very much rooted in real-world principles. Knock down enough supports, and gravity does the rest.
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The cutscenes are all nice to look at as well. In game, the characters move their mouths when they speak, and clothing and weapons all articulate like you would want them to. The damage you deal stays where it is for a while too. Knock down a tower and go back later, and there is a debris field where you just where. Another thing that wowed me is texture detail. If you watch the armor of a vehicle you’re in while you are taking fire, you will see those cool, silver-outlined bullet holes that are all the rage these days. There is a distinct lack of blood in the game, especially for a M rated title these days. You will sometimes see a splatter if you knock someone through a wall, but the limbs stay where they are and head shots don’t decapitate. In fact, when your brother dies at the start of the game, there isn’t a mark on him. That bit of unrealism took me out of the game for a moment. It isn’t much, but you do notice the lack of it after a while.

Graphics: Classic


3. Sound

The graphics are pretty amazing, but the sounds are merely adequate. Sure, the explosions all trigger their own sound effects, and all the weapons have their signature sound. The music is very bland though, and you’re better off listening to something else to accompany your trail of havoc. The voice acting is competently done as well, but you sometimes have a hilarious one-liner get shouted by one of your fellow Guerrillas. My biggest problem with the sound is that the guns just don’t have the punch that I wanted. I shouldn’t be deafened every time I pull the trigger, but I should get some satisfaction. Granted, this is a game where simple gunfire takes a back seat to earth-shattering kabooms. Those kabooms just overshadow everything else when they’re going off.

Sound: Good

4. Control/Gameplay
With everything going on, you might expect RF:G to be a little hard to control. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Aside from a few issues, the controls are easy to use and quick to master. If you’ve played Crackdown or Mercenaries, you’ve probably already go the basics down. You run around with the left stick, aim with the right, and the trigger shoots. Almost all of your weapons have a melee function to them, so if you’re missing someone with a pistol and they get close enough you can smack them with it. Your B button stays mapped to the detonation of your explosives even if you hop in a car, so you can do that really cool drive away and blow up the building thing you see in all the movies. Yes, there are vehicles, ranging from speedy little sand racers up to lumbering tanks and deadly walkers. Most of your time is going to be spent in a Martian Pick Up of one sort or another while you are getting from place to place. The vehicles control well, and each has a different feel based on what it is.
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Volition also saw fit to add a cover system to RF:G, but it feels terrible and tacked on. You don’t need to use it-and frankly with all of the explosives flying around, cover isn’t a lasting proposition. My main issues with the control is that sometimes you can get stuck on some of the debris and have a hard time jumping off. Since you need to go up and forward usually, and the physics engine doesn’t allow that without forward momentum, you are in a bit of a bind. Don’t let that discourage you though-the gameplay is ultimately smooth and responsive. There is still nothing quite as fun as racing up to someone with a sledgehammer and pounding them through a wall.

Control/Gameplay: Incredible

5. Replayability
In order to free sectors, you will need to reduce the EDF’s control in the area to zero and raise Guerrilla Morale high enough to enter open revolt and cast of the yoke of oppression. There are enough varied missions and interesting ways to blow things up that you won’t feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over again right away. But three or four hours in? I’ve blown up quite enough smokestacks, thank you. Some of the achievements unlock new things to do in the single player game though, and that’s pretty neat. Finding and mining all of the ore on the surface unlocks an achievement called “Working the Land.” It also means you’re sprint speed is fifty percent faster.

Most of the replayability of this game though is going to come from the online side of things. There are a lot of online modes to play with. And the online system introduces pieces of gear known as backpacks. Different packs do different things, and act as power ups that have a cooldown built in. You’ve probably heard of the Rhino pack, which lets you charge through walls. There is also a thrust pack, which does the same thing but vertically. Imagine a sniper in a tower, thinking he is safe. If you get beneath him, you can rocket up through two or three floors of building and knock him away. There are stealth packs, health packs, and even a backpack that makes your guns more damaging. One of the neater modes is called Damage Control. It works like most Domination-style games: you get points for holding territory. Only in RF:G, you have to repair the control point with a special tool that takes up a weapon slot. If someone comes along and finds you with that device out, you’re going to get killed. The explosion fest goes on here too-most games ended with little to no buildings left to hide in. It is an amazing thing to see all the buildings reduced to rubble after a match.

Replayability: Incredible


6. Balance

I never thought I’d say this, but RF:G actually teaches you a lot about being a guerrilla. Oh, you’re not playing a murder simulator or anything like that, and it isn’t going to teach you to make explosives. My point is that there were several times when I realized I had to change my tactics drastically if I wanted to survive. You are going to die a lot if you think that you are a one-man army. As you take action against the EDF, you’re alert level raises from green to yellow to the eventual red alert. When that happens, expect to face heavy EDF troopers intent on your death. Nowhere is that more painful than in the upgrade system.
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In order to upgrade your gear, you need to trade in salvage to a rebel mechanic. First off-I love the idea. I’m bringing her bits and pieces that she can rebuild and re-purpose, instead of paying for better gear to people I’m constantly risking my life for. So the fact that you are bringing salvage in is fine. However, you get the salvage by walking or driving over the shiny bits of metal after you’ve destroyed something. This tends towards a pain in the ass because the last thing I want to do in the middle of a firefight is bend over and put a chunk of metal in my knapsack. As the fights drag on, more and more EDF troops come in shoot at you. Trying to get enough salvage to get better gear is a pain. If you don’t have an exit strategy in mind you are going to be looking at a lot of, “You have died.” screens.

Balance: Good

7. Originality
Let me admit this right away-it’s hard to play this game without having flashbacks to that most awesome of sci-fi flicks, Total Recall. As I’ve referenced a couple of times, Red Faction: Guerrilla also feels like Crackdown or Mercenaries in places. However, it is also the most fun I’ve had playing an open world game in a long time. There are things that you can do here that you can’t do in other games. Want to knock down a barracks? Throw six explosive charges into the back of a truck, drive straight at the barracks, and then jump out and hit the button. The truck crashes into the wall and then takes out most of the base in a huge fireball. Secondary explosions will probably do the rest. Or what if you end up with five rebels who join up with you? Load them into the back of your truck and do the same thing, but instead of bombs, you’re dropping soldiers. Some of the multiplayer works the same way. In a mode called Siege-where you have to either defend or destroy three buildings in a set time limit-the defenders thought that they had us beat because they destroyed all the bridges leading to their side of the map. One of the attackers saw this and blew up a silo on our side, which fell and formed a natural bridge to the other side. You can’t get that type of thing in other games.

Originality: Very Good


8. Addictiveness

There’s a lot to like about RF:G, and it is a game that I keep going back to. While I wish that there was more of a stealth option, the ability to try various approaches to a problem is great. If the front door is too well guarded, maybe I can just ramp a dump truck into the roof. A lot of missions ultimately come down to “What’s it take to blow up that building,” though, and that can get a bit repetitive. There are also a lot of mini-games scattered about the world that you can take part in. Some of them task you to destroy a building using only certain weapons. Some of them give you rocket turrets and a time limit, or an ammo limit. Almost all of these will result in an unlockable for you to purchase back at your safe house. You could very easily spend hours just tooling around Mars looking for billboards to knock down or ore to collect.

Addictiveness: Very Good

9. Appeal
It is very easy to get hooked on this game, but I think it is going to fly under the radar of a lot of gamers. The Red Faction name doesn’t carry that much weight anymore. I think that’s a shame, because this might be the sleeper hit of the summer. The sheer amount of explosive power that this game packs in more than makes up for the lack of a great story. If you like seeing this blow up, and like the fact that they will blow up in a different manner almost every time, then this is a game for you.
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Appeal: Very Good

10. Miscellaneous

I remember a dozen or so years back, when the first Red Faction was released, thinking that the Geo-Mod technology was going to revolutionize gaming. I had played a lot of games at that point and was sick of plywood doors standing up to RPGs and BFGs alike. Well, the original had some neat tricks, but in the end it was just another FPS. However, the seed that it planted has finally grown up. We’ve seen lots of other games where you can level buildings and race around a populated world. Rarely though, has there been a game that fully embraced the cool factor of it. Volition took a lot of time making this game fun to play. Little things, like EDF goons screaming like girls if you manage to stick an explosive on them; and bigger things, like the ability to rig a building with bombs, drive away, and reverse the camera to make your own race away from the blast moment. And I still really, really like just planting that sledgehammer into an EDF trooper and sending them through a wall.

Miscellaneous: Classic

The Scores:
Story/Modes: Great
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Good
Control/Gameplay: Incredible
Replayability: Incredible
Balance: Good
Originality: Incredible
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Classic
Final Score: Great Game

Short Attention Span Summary
Red Faction: Guerrilla is a wonderfully explosive game that features some of the prettiest destruction I’ve seen in a long time. Volition took their Geo-Mod technology and applied it to every shack, lightpole, tank, and factory on the face of Mars to give you one of the biggest fields of devastation you can imagine. Blowing up everything in sight with bombs only pales in comparison to smashing everything you see with a hammer. Competitive multiplayer adds value to the package with all the usual modes and the ability to destroy anything your opponent is hiding behind will open your eyes to a new level of tension. Even the local, puzzle-style Wrecking Crew mode will keep you happy if you just want to see how much you can knock down. Red Faction: Guerrilla will keep you entertained this summer. My final thought? Get your ass to Mars.

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