Red Faction: Guerrilla Reader Review
The original Red Faction was something of a landmark game for me, it marked my first ever purchase of a games console, until that point I had been a die hard PC gamer. It was the preview footage and the premise of that game that tipped the scale and made me buy a PS2. I also bought the game for the PC at a later date, to give the online multiplayer a go. The destructible scenery that was that game’s key feature, was great fun to play with, but sadly limited by the hardware at the time. This time around, Volition have gone for a free roaming third person game and for once, I find myself agreeing that free roaming was the way to go.
I was initially disappointed to hear that RFG was going to be a free roaming game. There are very few that I personally feel offer a truly enjoyable gaming experience. I struggled with all of the GTA’s except III and IV, rapidly lost interest in Crackdown and the first Saints Row and found FarCry 2 to be a bitter disappointment, despite its great technical achievements. On the other hand, I loved Saints Row 2 and the aforementioned GTA3 (my personal favourite of the series) and I think it was because they offered the right balance between story and distraction. I was pleased to find that Red Faction also offers a good balance in this area.
The premise of the game is this: you play one of the key figures of the Red Faction - a trade union of sorts, only rather than picket mines, they destroy them. It is fifty years after the original Red Faction liberated the Mars colony from the tyranny and corruption of Ultor Corporation (curiously the same evil corporation that is your opponent in Saints Row, also produced by the same studio). The government of Mars brought in the Earth Defence Force to manage security, but they have slowly become just as bad as the ruthless corporation they helped to depose. It would appear that pressure for ever more resources for Earth’s struggling economy and the need to fight the roving bands of marauders that plague the planet, have pushed the government over the edge and they have begun cracking down hard on the workers of Mars. Early in the game, you are thrust into the uprising, following the murder of your brother by the EDF and thus your trail of destruction begins.
Destruction being the operative word. Every building and vehicle in the game can be destroyed, that in itself isn’t particularly interesting, what is, is the incredible physics and realistic building construction properties that they have managed to implement. Most of the buildings on Mars consist of a steel frame with a concrete, armour or glass to pad it out. Damage modelling is the most impressive I’ve ever seen, rendered in great detail, right down to the behaviour of small pieces of concrete and individual steel girders. If a building takes enough damage, or you remove enough of the key structure, it will topple, leaving it completely destroyed. Toppling isn’t the cheap form used in most games, where it blows up leaving nothing or simply slides into the ground, the building collapses in accordance to what structure is left, every collapse is unique. Vehicles also have a strong damage model, comparable to those on other free roamers, but it really is the buildings that stand out.
The free roaming model is used to good effect, with the planet separated into key zones. In order to win, the Red Faction must remove all EDF control from each area and complete a number of difficult missions to finish them off. The balance of power in a region can be seen through the EDF control meter and the Red Faction moral meter. Control can be reduced by destroying EDF buildings or completing activities. Moral is raised by completing tasks, destroying propaganda and killing large numbers of EDF soldiers (or Marauders in some areas). Moral isn’t needed to take control of a zone, but it helps. The higher the moral, the more random workers are likely to join you when you find yourself in a fight and you will also find more equipment left in weapon stashes.
Reduction of control in an area doesn’t have any specific effect, until you have completely liberated the zone. Each zone has a number of medium and high priority targets. The higher the priority, the more strongly guarded they are, but the bigger the impact of destroying that building. The highest priority buildings tend to be unique and often require an element of thought in how you will bring them down. I found these ad hoc forays into EDF facilities to be a great deal of fun, it was almost a shame to clear out a zone, as once they are gone, they are permanently gone. The removal of some high priority targets seemed to result in reduced levels of EDF response to your actions, such as destroying the vehicle garages made armoured patrols less prevalent in those zones.
The activities are fairly varied and can be tackled mostly at your leisure, the missions vary from driving a vehicle back to a base within a certain time frame, causing as much damage to the EDF as possible in a limited time frame, assaulting an EDF position, defending a Red Faction safe house, rescuing hostages and demolition missions, where you are given limited resources, a time limit and a building to bring down. There are also two types of randomly generated mission that have to be done as they occur (of course you can ignore them) - intercept and kill a courier/traitor and ambush and destroy/hijack an EDF convoy. The ambush missions are a particular high point, where you choose the location for your ambush, set up your trap (blocking the road with vehicles, setting mines or demo charges for example) and then lie in wait for the chaos to begin. There are huge number of these activities and once you have completed the story line, you are allowed to revisit them all, with an increased level of difficulty on offer.
The story line missions are relatively few, between three and seven per zone, however they are well thought out and offer a varied level of challenge. The plot is relatively thin, revolving around the acquisition of old Ultor technology - the EDF and the Marauders want it, you’ve got it and its key to winning control of the planet. It does the job and the game presents a believable atmosphere, with a slow and low key orchestral score and nice touches like the workers and broadcasting stations all reacting to recent events, even relatively small ones.
That’s the core of the game, so what does it offer to help you along your way? Firstly there’s a good selection of weapons and vehicles to play with. The weapons fall under three types:
Jury rigged weapons of the Red Faction like the Arc Welder (a lightning gun that is handy for killing the occupants of vehicles without damaging them), demolition charges, rocket launcher and the awesome Nano-Rifle (a sniper rifle whose shot dissolves whatever it hits)
The more traditional weapons of the EDF - rifles, shotguns, pistols and the more exotic varieties of energy weapons.
The more vicious weapons of the marauders - shotguns and nasty gun/spear combos.
Accompanying this is your trusty sledgehammer and later on you also get a jetpack. The sledgehammer is an all purpose beast, capable of destroying vehicles, pounding soldiers and wrecking buildings.
There is a currency system in game, based around salvage. Destroying certain buildings, completing missions, mining ore (but mining Red Faction style..with your sledgehammer, a rocket launcher, a demo charge or even by ramming it with a truck) or destroying vehicles, yields small amounts of salvage. This can be traded in at a safe house for access to new weapons, armour and upgrades. There is a lot of equipment to play with in the game, but you are limited to three weapons and your sledgehammer at any one time. You can collect weapons from dead opponents or you can rearrange your arsenal by locating weapons caches at any time.
A lot of the weapons are explosive or area effect in nature and these subsequently tear the crap out of buildings as you fight through them. Explosions look impressive, with wreckage, people and rubble being sprayed in all directions. It all adds to the fun factor of the game, I particularly liked it when I smacked someone with the sledgehammer and watched them fly into a wall and nearly right through it.
There are plenty of vehicles to play with and their physics and handling are also of the fun variety, sacrificing realism for amusement value. These vehicles range from rugged transports, to armoured jeeps, Marauder oddities, unwieldy lorries, busses, sporty luxury vehicles, a variety of tanks and three different types of walker. For me, the most fun in the game was to be had with the tanks and walkers, for this simple reason: heavy armour + explosive weapons + unlimited ammo + fully destructible buildings = awesome sauce.
So there is an awful lot on offer here and best of all, the game handles it all brilliantly. The graphics are crisp, the special effects impressive, the frame rates were generally stable and the loading times acceptable. They’ve done their best to vary the terrain, each sector has a distinct feel, its not all red soil, as rocky, ice laden, dusty and even green environments make up the zones. The sound effects are good; weapons sound appropriately loud and destructive, collapsing buildings and rubble feels authentic, the music is well matched to the setting and the voice acting is unremarkable (as opposed to being bad). The control scheme is responsive and simple, with a very short learning curve.
It isn’t all good news though, the game does have some failings. Mostly this lies within the AI. Your allies are great for providing additional targets for the EDF to shoot at, but they frequently get in the way. Half the time they are seeking cover, the other half they are trying to glue themselves to you. This is particularly annoying when you are in a vehicle, especially as the game punishes you with a minor loss of zone moral every time one of them dies. Some vehicles have turrets, but ad hoc allies that have joined you during the course of a fight simply will not get in and use it. You have some limited control of it yourself, but when you are on the run, it would be nice to have a turret shooting at people around you, rather than sitting empty because your friends are scared of vehicles, admittedly it would need to offer you some control over whether they got in or not, sometimes its nice to have a forward firing gun regardless.
The enemy AI is perfectly adequate for this type of game, they seek cover and shoot at you lots basically. They do manoeuvre around and use grenades also, but the problem with the enemy isn’t the AI, its their spawny nature. Often endless streams of reinforcements will spawn nearby and swamp you, making some missions particularly frustrating as you are repeatedly cut down by endless swarms of the little buggers.
These are minor niggles though, on the whole the game is a great deal of fun. Indeed, fun seems to have been a guiding word for the development team. There is virtually no down time, even travelling is passable because the vehicles are fun to drive. If you flip your vehicle, you can turn it over, if you find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere, a Red Faction member will appear and drop off a vehicle for you. This game is one chaotic piece of action after another, combined with strong atmosphere and good blend of random and scripted content. I wasn’t expecting the game to be all that much (due to its free form nature), so it was a great surprise to find that it was such an enjoyable and polished product. Even the online multiplayer is good fun, with a mixture of the standard deathmatch game types and a variation on assault, where the attackers have to destroy a number of buildings in sequence. I would recommend it to any gamer and will no doubt be a great purchase to help cover the upcoming Summer drought.
8 / 10