Open-world games typically needn't expand physically to accommodate downloadable content, but with an air of cynicism still lingering over the very concept of premium add-ons, it's a nice thing to see all the same. Fallout 3, for example, has alternated between changes within the Capital Wasteland and sections that take away from it - and, in the upcoming Mothership Zeta, out of its orbit completely. Red Faction: Guerrilla's Demons of the Badlands DLC sticks to the surface of Mars, but despite the vast playgrounds of Dust, the Badlands and beyond, happily transports you to a new area - and a different period in the planet's history.
The setting is Mariner Valley, which should be comparable in size to the host game's biggest existing areas. Rather than pick up with Alec Mason, developer Volition has decided he's earned his rest, and puts you back in time, and into the boots of a different, albeit familiar face: Samanya, better known to most of us as Sam, whose history as a survivor of the original EDF revolution over Ultor has her scraping a living as a Marauder, albeit one with a snazzy ponytail and red skirt and mini-cape. Sam inhabits Mars prior to widespread colonisation, and it's a rougher place as a result, with sheer cliffs, space-hulks-turned-dwellings and ongoing skirmishes between EDF and the remnants of Ultor, your freshly minted Marauders. Unlike the main game, the EDF troops will attack you on sight, but on the plus side they, like you, are limited to particular strongholds scattered around the play area.
And hey, you're well equipped. Demons of the Badlands introduces three new vehicles, and they're hardly wallflowers. The default buggy has a pair of huge, Gizmo-from-Gremlins rear spoiler ears, but these barely conceal the massive spikes attached to it, nor its machinegun or double-barrel shotgun attack capability. Suspension is wobbly, but it has speed on its side. There's also the bigger, four-seater jumbo buggy, with much wider wheels, and a mounted machinegun emplacement on the roof for one of your NPC allies to man. Slower still is the Marauder walker, which creaks along with a hunched old man's gait, but proves no slouch when it comes to windmilling enemies and buildings with its massive robotic arms, equipped with spikes and a handy-looking giant mace.
On the ground, you've got eight new weapons to secure. Everyone's favourite remote-demolition charges are now spiked, and stick through walls as they attach, although this appears to be cosmetic, and you still detonate them the same way and expand your capacity for simultaneous deployment through upgrades. You do, though, have a handy melee blade to whip around freely with your other hand, or you can switch to the more familiar hammers, including a Marauder hammer (unlockable in the main game's multiplayer mode, for those who've spent time with that) and a pick-axe - the one from the game's cover, finally rendered in-game. Probably my favourite though is the Royal Sword, which resembles a broadsword on a pike.
There are guns too. The EDF Subverter is like an uzi with mean recoil, while the Spiker is a spike-firing machinegun. Sadly the projectiles don't pin people to the wall like F.E.A.R.'s nailgun (a limitation of the physics technology), but it certainly looks handy in a scrap. The Missile Pod, meanwhile, fires rockets that pack less punch than the main game's rocket launcher, but can be fired much more rapidly, and the Super Gauss Gun is like a meatier version of the Gauss Rifle. It seems a bit puny at first, but then it starts tearing down buildings with abandon, and you can also upgrade it until it has three beams, and the power to dispatch a tank in two shots.
Toys would be no good without things to use them on, of course, so there are three main story missions, the last of which alone THQ is confident will take 45 minutes to complete. One mission I get to play starts off with a brutal fight through EDF defences to rescue Vasha, Sam's sister with a robot head, who then reveals somewhat scornfully that she was bait, at which point the EDF storms in and you get to use Gauss turrets and new energy turrets to repel the ambush. The final mission is not only a multi-part assault, but it includes a prison break that re-introduces a few familiar members of the main game's cast at different stages in their lives.
Beyond these there are three house arrest/assault missions, two delivery missions and five demolition master levels, and Volition appears to have taken great pride in compiling the latter. Mariner Valley itself is host to more verticality than the main game, so that you can enjoy watching things crash down further and harder, and the DM levels bind the increased scale to greater delicacy and the need for lateral thinking - can you use one Gauss round to take down two buildings with just a few barrels, for instance, and how do you take out two steam stacks on opposite sides of a ravine when your Marauder Walker is unable to cross the divide?
You're still doing familiar things, like whittling down the EDF's influence to mount an effective resistance charge, but other things have changed. Upgrades are provided automatically at the conclusion of story missions, for instance, rather than having to be purchased, and there are also 75 collectable power cells and four hidden Marauder artefacts. Along with traditional targets like completing the missions, destroying EDF targets and vehicles, and pro times, these make up 250 gamerpoints' worth of Achievements on the Xbox 360 version we're playing.
All told, THQ reckons a competent player with a lot of RFG experience should be able to complete Demons of the Badlands in between four and five hours, assuming they don't go after all the collectables. Less experienced players, or those who want to mine Mars' newest playground for all its secrets, can hope to spend considerably longer in its company. The difficulty has also be adjusted subtly upwards, so while there are still four skill settings, each is proportionally more difficult than the main game. The idea is that if you finished RFG, you'll be up for the challenge, and if you didn't, you can still adjust for your needs. The story's separation in time neatly allows either group to understand it in or out of context.
At a fairly standard 800 Microsoft Points or the equivalent of USD 9.99 on PSN, it sounds and looks like a compelling slab of extra content. We've all been fooled by DLC promises before, of course, and would advise anyone to hang around for our review closer to the 13th August release date, but THQ appears to have learned the lessons of its Saints Row 2 DLC adventures and wants to make the most of Red Faction's continuing popularity with more of a best-of in a new setting than a simple bolt-on vignette. Downloadable content hasn't always done well by looking backwards - Operation: Anchorage, anyone? - but on this evidence Demons of the Badlands is a healthy slice of old and new.
Red Faction: Guerrilla - Demons of the Badlands is due out for PS3 and Xbox 360 on 13th August.