Reviewed: June 5, 2009
Released: June 2, 2009
It’s been eight years since Red Faction debuted on the PC, followed with sequels on the PS2, Xbox, and eventually coming full circle back to the PC with Red Faction II. To listen to the guys at Volition talk, they’ve been working on Red Faction: Guerrilla ever since they shipped the last Red Faction game back in 2003, and in many ways it shows. Guerrilla takes the core concepts of Red Faction and builds upon them with just about every inventive premise we’ve seen in countless other open-world, sandbox titles like Battlefield: Bad Company and Mercenaries. And even though Bad Company let you blow up pretty much anything you wanted, Guerrilla does it with a style and physics that will have kids heading to their high school guidance counselor’s office to inquire about a career in demolition.
As shallow as it might sound, most of the charm in this new Red Faction installment is based entirely on the premise of blowing stuff up. Yes, there are vehicles and they drive fantastic, and yes, there is an on-foot weapons-based combat system that blows the doors off GTA and even some more serious military shooters like Mercenaries, but all of these activities take second place to analyzing structures…no, really analyzing them, and checking from structural integrity points, support columns, load bearing walls, etc. then placing your remote-detonated charges on those key positions, or firing a thermite rocket or just whacking away at a concrete pillar until the structure weakens and topples to the ground. I’ve leveled hundreds of structures over the past week and it is no less exciting today than it was when I started. Every piece of debris that rains down, every slow-motion sway, tip, and tilt before a building or smokestack falls has me holding my breath in anticipation. What a rush!
But saying that the only reason to play Red Faction: Guerrilla is for the demolition is like saying the only reason to play Burnout is for the spectacular car crashes. There is an amazingly deep game lurking beneath the surface of Mars, even if the story that spans more than 20 hours of gameplay is a bit shallow. This latest Red Faction takes place several years after the events of the last game. You have two major opposing factions, the EDF (Earth Defense Force) and the resistance, still known as Red Faction, only now the EDF is much stronger and has driven the rebels to the outer frontier of Mars.
You play as Alec Mason, an engineer who has just arrived on Mars looking for work. You hook up with your brother for a brief training mission that goes sour forcing you to join the rebels and put your demolition skills to more sinister uses. You’ll need to liberate six rather expansive zones, essentially taking control over the entire surface of Mars to win the game. It’s a fairly straightforward territory acquisition exercise where you peck away at EDF structures to lower their control over an area, smash propaganda billboards to raise rebel morale and try not to kill rebels or yourself, which will in turn lower that same morale.
Each zone has a substantial laundry list of objectives, mini-games, and story-based missions. Once you have completed enough of these goals Red Faction will take control of the territory and you will gain access to a new zone. Often, new missions will revisit old zones, so by the end of the game you have a lot of real estate to cover.
As you target and destroy various EDF structures and vehicles you will be able to collect salvage – shiny bits of metal debris – that can be taken back to your based an converted into ammo, weapons, and upgrades. Even though you only start with your trusty sledgehammer, later in the game you will have access to heat seeking rockets and motion-sensing demolition charges. As you cause more trouble for the EDF they will seek revenge, attacking your bases and mining camps and even taken hostages who you will be asked to free. At any given time there are a dozen or more things you can do with easy-to-spot icons on the map and a great GPS tool that will guide you to that location.
As substantial as the story mode is, Guerrilla finds its true staying power in the robust multiplayer game that is only now beginning to take off, and with future DLC on the way, Red Faction should have legs to carry it to the end of the year and perhaps beyond. All of the classic multiplayer games modes are here; suitably renamed and some have even been reworked a bit. CTF is always one of my favorites and my strategy to let everyone else fight while I waltz into enemy territory, take the flag, and dash back to my home base proved just as effective.
But Demolition proved to be one of my new favorite modes. In this mode one person on each time is designated the “Destroyer” and they go around wrecking the level while everybody else on the team protects them. It’s very much like Killzone 2’s assassination mode. When the destroyer dies everyone else on the team is asked if they would like to be the destroyer and the game will pick a new destroyer based on willingness as well as some other internal calculations.
Another cool mode is Damage Control where two teams battle to destroy each other’s bases. It’s a unique twist on domination but rather than stand there and lock down flags or waypoints you are literally trashing their base while they try to repair it and simultaneously trash your base. This mode requires some superior teamwork and effective communication among teammates.
Red Faction: Guerrilla offers a slick interface for not only creating a totally custom character, but also for setting up and hosting custom matches that can be tweaked to everyone’s satisfaction. From choosing maps to limiting weapons or power-ups, or just randomizing it all, you have the power to play the game as you want. There is even a Spectator mode that allows you to watch other people play, and the game’s camera AI will determine where the most exciting action is taking place or which character you should be watching.
Controls are intuitive and responsive. Given that the first two games where FPS titles I was slightly concerned with the new third-person perspective, but it all worked out just fine. The chase camera gives you a much wider and much needed extended view of the battlefield for rapid spinning and firing. Targeting is accurate when firing from the hip or you can click the right stick for a more accurate but slower moving reticle that will also disable your character’s running ability.
You have four weapon slots that can be accessed with a pop-up quick-select menu or cycling with the R1. Red Faction II was the first game other than Halo to assign a dedicated button for grenades. Sadly, that is gone and you must now cycle and select like any other weapon. There is an impressive arsenal of 18 futuristic weapons as well as several power-up attachments like jump jets, invisibility cloak, healing, and a turbo rush. The game balances these perks by only allowing three of any item in play at any time. Only after a player who has a perk dies will that item be restored to the power-ups stands located around the levels.
And what amazing levels they are. Massive open-world topographies with all sorts of buildings and catwalks and hills, mountains, and bottomless cliffs await your exploration and ultimate destruction. The scenic details are amazing with textures that look like they were mapped from Hubble imagery. With more than 20 maps there is somebody for everything and the developers promise DLC and ongoing support after the initial launch. The levels scale nicely for game matches of any size, and integrated HUD elements will direct you back to the fight should you get separated.
For those without Internet or Xbox Live or those just looking for a fun pass-the-controller party game, Wrecking Crew comes in four flavors; Chaos, Escalation, Barrel Dash, and Rampage. These are incredibly addicting games for up to four players that allow you to experience some great competitive action without having to go online. Total Chaos gives each player 60 seconds to do as much damage as possible before the next player takes their turn. Escalation limits your ammo, but as the rounds increase, so does your amount of ammo. Barrel Dash has you blowing up as many red and blue barrels as you can within 60 seconds, and Rampage gives you three strategic minutes to plan your destruction very carefully because every time you use ammo or your jetpack, additional time comes off the clock.
All too often it seems multiplayer modes are thrown in or tacked on as an afterthought, but Red Faction II was a pioneer for multiplayer console gaming. It was one of the first games I remember actually using my PS2 multi-tap so four of us could play, and Volition has definitely taken the concept to the next level and beyond. With huge maps, exciting weapons, original game modes, and challenging destructive gameplay, Red Faction: Guerrilla is going to offer even more gameplay potential once the campaign is over.
From a presentation perspective, I’ve already commented on the expansive world map, both in solo and multiplayer. While suitable barren for Mars, the textures and variation in topography is stunning as are the subtle environmental changes among zones. It's also worth noting that this is one of the few PS3 games that actually supports 1080p graphics. Vehicles are awesome and exhibit exaggerated physics that can be explained away with less-than-Earth gravity. The physics really make this game work, and nothing is more exhilarating than jet packing over a building, blasting a hole in the roof with a rocket launcher, dropping through the hole and laying down a series of sticky charges and blowing the building up from the inside out.
The audio is also quite good although I do miss my Saints Row radio stations when I jump into a buggy, truck, or APC. You do a lot of driving in Red Faction and its all pretty quiet except for the drone of the engine. There is a bit of radio chatter when you are at your base – usually a new broadcast telling about your latest exploits and how much you are pissing off the EDF. You’ll also get the occasional radio request for urgent missions like intercepting a convoy or defending a settlement. It’s an immersive sound experience that focuses more on realism with fantastic explosions and demolition sound effects and futuristic weapons.
Expect a solid 20+ hour campaign followed by endless multiplayer potential both online and off. Volition assures me there is more content headed our way so don’t expect Guerrilla to merely fade away with all the other spring and summer releases. There are 50 Trophies that range from mission and zone completion to more specific objectives like destroying 250 supply crates or 100 hydrogen tanks. Many of these objectives are focused on exploring and leveling up in the various online game modes.
If Red Faction: Guerrilla was merely a war game, or if it was merely a demolition game, it probably wouldn’t be this great, but the seamless blending of both elements into the massive futuristic landscape of Mars with loads of vehicles and weapons, sinister enemy AI, territory acquisition, and morale balancing, makes this one of the most inventive, addictive, and guilt pleasures on my PlayStation 3 this year. For an explosive good time, join the Red Faction and help liberate Mars from the EDF…Guerrilla style.