Perhaps the most telling thing about Red Faction: Guerrilla is that it's signature weapon - the one you always have equipped, no matter what - isn't a gun. It's a miner's sledgehammer, a real working man's tool, that's powerful enough to smash down any building (with a bit of persistence and careful application), and also to smash your way out of any resulting prisons of rubble you might create for yourself.
When it comes to combat, ambush, sabotage and bombing are the name of the day. Sticky grenades will be another tool for creative destruction: plaster a truck with them, drive it towards a check point, jump out and pull the remote trigger; or use them to blow pieces out of an overhanging bridge onto guards' heads. Much of your arsenal will be made up of homemade weapons cobbled together out of mining equipment.
The resistance fighters you've joined will keep a safehouse with a healthy supply of vehicles for you to use, as well as friendly NPCs who'll research, replicate and repair technology for you, and dole out missions. The aim of the meta-game - as opposed to the main thread of the plot, which is still under wraps - is to undermine EDF control and raise civilian morale, which will affect the AI performance of your enemies and allies respectively. You'll also be able to take civilian vehicles if morale is high, but civilian deaths will lower morale.
Destroying propaganda billboards is a good way to go about this, as is taking on mini-game missions that tot up how much damage you do to EDF structures, or how much of a diversion you can create for your brothers in arms. We're shown a spectacular example of the latter, with the player taking the controls of a mining robot - inspired, it seems, by the cargo lifter from Aliens - and wreaking all kinds of havoc with its sweeping attacks and vehicle-throwing.
Volition tells us that a popular office pastime is seeing how far you can sprint this lumbering mech across a bridge before its weight starts punching holes in the concrete and the whole edifice gives way underneath you. It's a beautiful example of the unscripted, emergent chaos that is finally being coaxed out of Geo-Mod - something that was promised way back in 2001 with the first game, but never quite materialised.
That's Red Faction: Guerrilla at its best. At its worst, it looks like a run-of-the-mill exercise in duck-and-cover-and-shoot in a cheerless desert of brown earth and stressed concrete. To be fair, there should be a good deal more visual variety in the game than what's currently on display: we're told the plot will take you from antiseptic white complexes, to the eerie, barren deserts of the badlands, to areas with more vegetation where terraforming is taking hold, to spectacular tourist areas with high-rise buildings, and finally a dead volcano covered in snow and ice.
As for gameplay variety, Volition would say that that's up to you; it's handing over the tools and the raw materials, and leaving you to go about it with all the devious destruction you could wish for. We would counter that preaching freedom is one thing - but that designing missions and environments so that players have the incentive and opportunity to enjoy that freedom to its full is quite another. In fact, it's one of the hardest challenges in game design. Here's hoping the Illinois studio is up to it.