Version tested: Xbox 360
Volition appears to be getting the hang of this DLC lark. After enduring something of a critical backlash for its rather apologetic Saints Row 2 DLC, the first portion of downloadable Red Faction Guerrilla takes an altogether more appealing approach.
Set eight years before Red Faction Guerrilla in 2117, Demons of the Badlands focuses on an entirely different part of the war with the Earth Defence Force. Built around female lead character Samanya - you remember Sam - the game's action also takes place in an entirely new environment, known as Mariner Valley. As it's entirely unconnected to the parent game this is more akin to a mini-expansion, rather than an extension of what went before.
You're fighting alongside the ragtag band of resistance fighters called the Marauders. The gameplay otherwise treads familiar ground in terms of mission structure and the type of objectives you face. There are three excitingly explosive new story missions in a discrete mini-campaign and your first task is to help save your sister, Vasha, from a public execution at the hands of the ever-charming EDF.
Heading into a heavily fortified EDF base involves a short drive, followed by the kind of extreme destruction that made the parent game such an enjoyably chaotic experience. With soldiers manning plasma turrets in guard towers and monstrous stompy chrome robot death machines dishing out frazzled arcs, the task at hand is about as subtle as Simon Cowell's putdowns.
Fortunately, Demons of the Badlands offers something of a shortcut to the kind of extreme levels of destruction that took many patient hours of toil to earn in the parent game. Exceptionally useful bits of weaponry such as the rocket launcher are available from the start, so there's no need to worry about tediously harvesting salvage before you get hold of the beefier gear like the Super Gauss, Arc Welder, Spiker or Missile Pod.
Likewise, the number of remote charges you can carry has been ramped up dramatically. This allows you to dive into the missions and have an immense amount of destructive fun, rather than have to worry about going through the punishing rigmarole of upgrading all over again. Volition must have realised that most of us had quite enough of that in the main game, and reward basically every single bit of progress (side mission included) with something immensely useful - be it a new weapon or a significant upgrade.
This approach is a slightly risky one, mind you; by throwing the player most of the destructive toys from the start, along with enhanced armour, the sting is noticeably taken out of the game. By being able to raze entire buildings quickly and blitz otherwise-lethal emplacements from a safe distance any kind of vaguely patient, measured approach to play is going to kick the AI's arse into orbit.
And so it proves. The initial rescue mission isn't going to trouble anyone for more than about 15 minutes, with a bit of routine run-and-gun and emplacement-manning the order of the day. Even the second assassination-based mission isn't anywhere near as tough as it initially appears - a gaggle of underpowered EDF grunt troops prove to be no match for your enhanced pre-upgrade power armour, and mopping up stragglers is an efficient process if you're well-versed in the ways of stop-and-pop recharging health mechanics. It's only once the game rolls out the big guns that things get hairy, but, again, taking out anything ferocious from a distance proves to be a sure-fire route to success.
After that, the game defaults to the kind of progression mechanics which characterised the parent game. With the EDF control over the region barring further progress, the only option available to you is to steadily work through a series of Marauder missions. As before, these take the form of various brief side-quests, such as Heavy Metal, where you have to defend an area from attack, or Marauder Raid, where you take the fight to the EDF.
Elsewhere two time-based Transporter driving missions make the cut, alongside five Demolitions trials, and the hostage-rescuing House Arrest mission - happily, the route you take through these is firmly left up to you. Alongside those, you can also wrestle away EDF control by simply going around destroying their buildings - and this proves to be an effective shortcut to unlocking the final mission. Like a lot of openworld games, this cut-and-paste approach to padding out proceedings can feel a little tiresome - especially if you've recently spent untold hours playing these exact same side mission types over and over again recently. Did I mention that I'm bored of Red Faction's side missions? Good. Let's move on.
Once you've wrestled back control of the Mariner Valley region the third and final story mission becomes available, and it's a bit of a beast. Split into four distinct parts, it throws a bit of everything into the pot to exciting effect, including equipment sabotage, daring colonist rescue antics, rollocking tank-driving escapades, and even a bit of on-rails destruction for good measure. It's a fitting conclusion to a generally exciting portion of content which, in many respects, delivers its thrills in a tighter, less frustrating and more explosive environment.
While it's true that Demons of the Badlands doesn't offer a great deal that wasn't already offered up in spades by Red Faction Guerrilla, as a standalone episode it actually delivers on the game's potential better than the parent game ever did. By refining the elements which made it fun, granting you all the toys and stripping away almost all of the laborious tasks, Volition has served up something more in line with what we expected in the first place. If your appetite for destruction remains unsated, it's well worth diving in - just don't expect anything too revolutionary.
7 / 10