For all its claims about amazingly realistic physics, Red Faction: Guerrilla is not, it seems fair to observe, a beacon of verisimilitude. For a start, a decent running jump can send you wafting through the air like Carl Lewis on steroids (well, more steroids), and with so many tumbling buildings, you're also an impressively robust little revolutionary fighter, able to withstand crushing injuries that would rend most of us to dust, or at least break the odd finger and displace our stylish neck-scarf. Plus, of course, you have a magic sledgehammer that can knock down multi-storey buildings in the space of about two minutes.
While I am happy to be told I'm wrong, I'd imagine the idea of the sledgehammer, and certainly it's amazing potency, came after the destruction technology, which has caught the green eyes of the game's rivals. Claims that buildings respond completely realistically to the removal of vital beams and supporting walls have been slightly exaggerated, but the effect is sufficiently consistent, and buildings can be broken apart to a much greater degree than they can in other games. The problem for developer Volition must have been how to get the most out of it once the system - dubbed GeoMod 2.0 - was in place. Hence the sledgehammer, and the stompy robot walkers.
And, it also seems fair to say after a few hours playing the finished game, hence most of the missions. Because while RFG may be a game about fomenting revolution amongst the miners of Mars, it's really a game about blowing stuff up and knocking stuff down. The good thing, at least potentially, is that it makes no mistake about that, unlike Fracture, to use a recent example, and to give me another excuse to kick it in the face for all the hours I'll never get back.
For instance, RFG wastes no time setting itself up. You land on Mars. You meet your brother. He tells you how the in-game currency system works (smash stuff up, collect shiny leftovers). You talk about the "Red Faction" opposing the oppressive EDF government. You say you don't want anything to do with that, to be honest. Then he gets killed, so you join up anyway, and become the usual one-man-revolution. A few screens of explanation later, you know you've got to liberate the six Mars regions one by one by completing jobs marked on the map. Some of them are story missions, and others are side missions, and you can carjack buggies, pickups and other Marsy vehicles to move between them. So you get on with it.
Most of the action begins and ends in safehouses - little rebel enclaves hidden amongst the rocky terrain, each of which has an upgrade tent where you can spend your hard-earned rubble on new weapons and armour; a store cupboard for restocking ammo, and switching your weapon loadout; and a helpful respawning vehicle or two. Not only do the safehouses furnish you with revolutionary sustenance, but they also get the fuzz off your tail, eliminating RFG's equivalent of a GTA wanted level whenever you cross the threshold to their confines. (This also doubles as a good justification of EDF's status as The Enemy, because you suspect they could put down the revolution fairly easily if they invented a homing tracker, or GPS or something, rather than spamming you with suicidal APCs.)
Missions are almost exclusively about destruction, at worst tangentially. Your primary interest is not in the rather feeble EDF assault rifle you're packing, but in the sledgehammer and your chuckable remote-detonation mines. In EDF destruction side-missions, for example, the idea is to use the map to locate a vital piece of infrastructure, work your way up to it without making the guards so unhappy that you have to get in a firefight, and then surreptitiously mine it by hurling remote charges, which stick to its surface, before backing off and hitting the button that blows them all at once. You can then repeat, if necessary, and scram before EDF reinforcements arrive. Getting into an actual gunfight is just inconvenient.
An actual gunfight is also one of the weakest parts of the game, at least at this stage. There's a basic cover system, and with the left trigger reserved for melee attacks, your valuable iron-sights zoom is a right-stick click. With limited ammo on the beefy weapons (which themselves take a while to unlock thanks to the surprisingly sparse "salvage" currency pickups), you generally opt for the assault rifle, and it and the enemy AI are a touch weedy. Your adversaries are dangerously accurate in numbers, but tactically basic and sometimes a bit dim-witted, guilty of traditional sins like walking repeatedly up against walls. Halo with next-gen physics this is not. Vehicles aren't massively exciting over the first half a dozen hours either - most handle pretty agriculturally, and there's quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between safehouses and objectives, relying on the "quest arrows" that resemble GTA's overlaid GPS route.
Fortunately the mission variety sustains it, and RFG begins to overcome these concerns. The way the gradual weakening of EDF influence and control feeds back into your progress is also tangible, and not just thanks to the diminishing "control" and rising guerrilla "morale" bars on opposing sides of the map screen. Faced with a mission in Dust - the brighter and larger second territory after the initial Parker township - that asks you to take out an EDF commander and prevent him broadcasting misleading messages to your comrades, you're often overrun and killed in your attempts to get close enough to individual radio transmitters and mine them. But after gathering enough salvage to buy a rocket launcher, and encouraging more guerrilla support through morale boosts, it's much easier to complete.
Were you to bounce off it repeatedly, it would wear you down in much the same way some of the tougher, pivotal missions in GTA and other openworld games have done in the past. However, RFG never leaves you with just one thing to do, and the side missions are more developed than is traditional. One Dust mission, for instance, involves riding shotgun around a quarry in the back of a sort of Scrapheap Challenge Trans-Am carpeting designated EDF targets, the pursuing APCs and overhead dropships in rockets, with the goal of doing 35 million credits' worth of damage. Thanks to the severity of the weaponry and consequent extravagance of the convincingly modelled destruction, it's a blast, even if you have to attempt it two or three times on normal difficulty.
Other side missions include against-the-clock destruction tasks - positioning barrels by hand and detonating them with a pistol to undermine an old watchtower, for example, or breaking up a small building using nothing but the sledgehammer. These have a par time and a bonus time, and pay out with lots of salvage. As you grow to understand the subtleties of your demolition equipment and the structural weaknesses betrayed by RFG's coherent architectural style, it becomes easier to get the most out of them, and there's almost a high-scores buzz to repeat play, which the game is happy to cue up, reassembling your flattened target on the other side of a load-screen.
Elsewhere you encounter vehicles that need to be driven to safehouses against the clock, and the game throws in a lot of ad hoc missions, so even as you settle into the rhythm of picking out and journeying to specific tasks on the map, a pop-up and voice-over clues you into to something a bit more interesting, like a travelling EDF convoy that you're invited to ambush. With multiple, relatively hard-nosed trucks to take out and explosives limited by your available upgrades, these inspire a bit of creativity, and it's in some of these sections that Volition seems to best understand what it's got on its hands in GeoMod 2.0.
Even so, there's a shakiness to Red Faction: Guerrilla over its first six hours. Realistic physics have been at the heart of gaming's evolution for many years now - from the crude crate-knocking and ragdoll physics of games like Max Payne 2, through Half-Life 2's prodigious amplification of cause-and-effect. Red Faction: Guerrilla hopes to be the next mark on that timeline, and in the core of its technology it has that potential. But it's utilitarian, struggling in its opening sections to deliver storyline and core shooter and openworld mechanics that mark it out in those areas. The hope is that, as it grows in scale and ambition across its seemingly impressive length, it will either address these shortfalls or overcome them with the application of its miraculous technology.
Red Faction: Guerrilla is due out for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC on 5th June.