All the while EDF vehicles are ramming and surging into you: one moment you're head-on for a collision with an array, the next an armoured car has smashed into the side of you, spinning you off course as others swoop up behind to pile on damage. At one point I'm speeding towards an array with EDF vehicles on either side, violently ramming me this way and that. Just as they seem certain to sandwich me to oblivion I hit a rise in the ground, soar into the air as they smash into each other beneath me, and I take out the array before barely landing the right way up, catching my breath, and carrying on.

I'm gulping, reeling and laughing out loud in my seat. And with one final array left, my vehicle cruelly expires 20 yards away and I'm forced to leap out and charge on foot, with the EDF closing in, and savagely tear the tower down with my hammer. The overriding impression is one of deliciously creative fun.

Tactically, Volition is keen to stress the 'Guerrilla' aspect of the game, stating that full frontal assaults will rarely be your best option. But while painstakingly circling a compound, picking off enemies one by one will have its moments, sometimes you'll just want to stick a load of mines onto a tank, drive it through a wall and into the heart of a base, leap out and detonate while legging it for cover. To a pleasingly large extent, that will be up to you.

Multiplayer introduces the concept of 'Backpacks' - each one conferring on the player a power that can be activated for a short period before requiring an automatic recharge. These packs can be swapped mid-game at terminals you'll find scattered around. These include speed boosts, a jetpack, a shockwave that concusses nearby opponents and the brilliant Rhino, which enables you to charge through virtually any object. In short, even if you're in cover, you're never safe, which requires a rethink of regular multiplayer strategies. It's annoying that there there's no obvious on-screen indicator telling you which pack you have on.

In addition to variants on Capture The Flag, Team Deathmatch and so on, Damage Control neatly takes advantage of the game's USP. Here you must seek out and destroy enemy-controlled emplacements by whatever means, then use the Reconstructor weapon you're armed with to rebuild it for your team. A simple twist, but fun nonetheless.

It's also pleasing to report that, no matter how absurd the on-screen pyrotechnics, the performance of the game remains impressively solid. Given the sheer number-crunching involved in the real-time destruction (and watch out for next week's Eurogamer TV Show for an in-depth look under the hood of the game), compromises are inevitable. Character models, for instance, are somewhat lacking up close. And there are occasions - infrequent - when the AI is completely bamboozled by the free-form action. There are moments when I have EDF soldiers standing a few feet from me, blissfully unaware and shooting in a different direction. But these are not game-busting quibbles when set against the riotous fun I have during my playtest.

6
Close-cropped hair, stubble, scars, and thousand-yard stare? Yep, Alec Masson's a videogame action hero all right.

What won't become clear until review time is whether the story will continue to engage across the entire experience, or end up being shoe-horned in between lengthy, free-flowing action sequences (and while the cut-scenes are stylish and well-directed, there's some dodgy voice-acting). But as an open-world, destruction-based sandbox experience, Guerrilla, on this evidence, is tremendously satisfying and fun. If the full game can sustain and entertain as much as the first few hours, then those long, silent and uncertain years in development limbo will have been worth it.

Red Faction: Guerrilla is coming to PS3, Xbox 360 and PC this June.

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Johnny Minkley

Johnny Minkley

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Johnny Minkley is a veteran games writer and broadcaster, former editor of Eurogamer TV, VP of gaming charity SpecialEffect, and hopeless social media addict.