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In 2001, the original Red Faction introduced gamers to a futuristic version of life on Mars. Eight years have passed since then, and technology has improved dramatically. Now, Volition is revisiting the franchise, abandoning the first-person perspective and standard gameplay for a third-person shooter set in a large, open world. Many fans of the series saw it as a betrayal, but with promises of an unprecedented level of destruction, it looked like Red Faction: Guerrilla had the potential to prove them wrong, and gave gamers a good excuse to set down on the red planet.
Set fifty years after the original, players control Alec Mason, a miner who makes his way to Mars to earn an honest living. After meeting up with his brother, Dan, Alec learns of the Red Faction, a resistance group to the planet's totalitarian regime, the Earth Defense Force. They take what they want, kill anyone who gets in their way, and do it all under the guise of protection. He's obviously surprised to find that "Free Mars" is nothing more than propaganda, but still plans to stay clear, refusing to join the Red Faction even after his brother's insistence.
The choice is soon made for him, however, as Dan is killed by the EDF, before they turn their attention towards Alec. Swooping in at the last moment, the Red Faction ambush the EDF troopers, saving Alec, and recruiting him to their cause. The story isn't too involved, and there's little in terms of character development or narrative. From time to time it might flirt with a bit of social commentary, but it never goes too deep, even when it should.
The Red Faction is, for all intents and purposes, a terrorist organization, attempting to drive the Earth Defense Force off of Mars by blowing up their buildings and killing them by ambush. This is made slightly more justifyable by the characterization of the EDF as heartless, moralless scum, but it's still an interesting theme, and one that's not usually explored in gaming. Driving a vehicle while an EDF office in the back is brutally tortured is a distubring scene, but it's presented as so meaningless that it's meant to almost be funny. It feels as though, if taken a bit more seriously, the game could have delved into concepts that are usually ignored entirely by popular culture, especially games, and moved the medium forward. Instead, in place of a story, we get explosions.
But that's not a bad thing. What Red Faction: Guerrilla lacks in storytelling it more than makes up for in gameplay, and while it doesn't move the medium forward as far as story goes, it definitely does so in terms of destruction. Guerrilla's focus on mayhem goes beyond simply saying that the game has destructible environments. In reality, it's much more accurate to say that Red Faction: Guerrilla features near true-to-life destruction. This isn't treated as a novelty, and is incorporated into every aspect of the game, creating limitless unique encounters. Different missions can be taken on in several different ways, depending on how the player wants to play at that specific moment. Throwing a few explosives onto a vehicle turns it into a mobile bomb, which can level a building after being slammed through a wall. On the other hand, it's possible to try to collapse a tower onto opponents, or blow out a bridge from underneath them.
These are all things that work in conjunction with the game's otherwise well-developed shooting engine, which functions as well as most other games in the genre. Every aspect of RF:G works together, blending into a large, well-developed experience. Destroyed buildings produce scrap, which can be spent to unlock better items, which can be used to attempt more difficult missions. Completing these missions raises morale, which will cause citizens to join Mason on future endeavors, attempting to assist in overthrowing the EDF. While the AI can falter in these situations, it goes to show how the synergies work to bring all of the individual elements of the game together.
While the game's plot might not be its driving force, the goal of Red Faction: Guerrilla is clear: kick the EDF off of Mars. To do so, Mason needs to destabilize their control over six sectors, pushing them out, one by one, by completing different missions and objectives. Opportunities to lead Red Faction takeovers of EDF bases, ride shotgun and fire on EDF compounds, ambush convoys, take down important buildings, and complete other Guerrila Actions cover the game's large map, and more are slowly unlocked as morale raises and the EDF's influence is lowered. After enough of these actions are taken, a story mission will be unlocked, which is a more scripted and polished encounter.
The lengthy campaign starts to drag in the second half, especially when the missions become more difficult and the checkpoints come less frequently, but should supply gamers with enough momentum to continue playing, even if most of the time is spent wandering around and blowing things up. Either way, smashing a mech through a two story building and watching enemies run for cover is breathtaking, and creates some of the most enjoyable moments of the generation.
Beyond the stunning destruction, Volition has done an admirable job at creating an open-world game on an alien planet. It's far from a utopia, and the dark, desolate look of the planet definitely fits the somewhat hopeless tone set by the story. The only weak point in the presentation is the character models, which don't seem to be nearly as polished as the other aspects of the game. Either way, Red Faction: Guerrilla is above and beyond most other games in the genre, with a stunning presentation that can be held up against nearly any of its contemporaries.
After the singleplayer campaign is finished there's still plenty to do. Despite entering an already competitive multiplayer market, Red Faction comes out of the gate swinging with an extremely deep multiplayer package. It has all of the features gamers have come to expect from the generation; such as a leveling system and multiple, unique game modes, but adds a bit more to the formula. Beyond the obvious enhancements that come at the hands, or rather hammers, of the game's destruction engine, backpacks also add a bit of uniqueness to the shooter. Players can pick up any of ten backpacks, each sporting unique abilities. The typical run and gun is spiced up a bit with a jetpack, concussion blast, speed boost, or rhino charge, adding even more chaos to the already hectic shooter.
It's incredibly fun, and has the potential to build a somewhat large online community. This would be even easier task for Guerilla if the game's other multiplayer mode, Wrecking Crew, was also online. Wrecking Crew tasks players with destroying buildings in a small enclosed area, attempting to rack up points to beat out their competition. It's turn based, which means passing around the controller, and plays out like a more adult version of EA's Boom Blox. It's incredibly addictive, but also incredibly restricted as an offline-only mode. Hopefully future DLC can add online functionality to Wrecking Crew, because the only thing more fun than blowing things up is doing so online.
The most remarkable thing is how well Red Faction: Guerrilla holds together. Even in the most hectic of battles, with buildings crumbling on all sides, dozens of characters engaged in combat, and massive explosions sending debris flying through the air, there's rarely a graphical hitch or frame-rate drop. It's an exemplary title, displaying the power of the current generation in ways no other game has yet. While it doesn't have the graphics of Killzone 2, it's simply amazing how well the destruction works, and how good it looks in the midst of the chaos. Smoke will billow out of crumbling buildings, which creak and shudder as supports buckle under stress. Even after exiting and reloading, most objects will stay destroyed, adding to the persistent feel of the game.
Its story might be a little lacking, but that shouldn't be enough to deter anyone from picking up Red Faction: Guerrilla. It flew under the radar for most gamers, but is an experience that shouldn't be missed. Releasing in a strange spot between inFamous and Prototype, it's going to be easy to forget about Guerrilla. Don't. It's likely as good as either title, and is probably just as worthy of a purchase. This is a game you won't want to miss.