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Red Faction: Guerilla Review

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Story

Red Faction Guerrilla begins years after the events of the first game, but this time around, Mars is heavily controlled by the unpleasant iron fist of the Earth Defense Force (EDF). You are Alec Mason, arriving on the planet simply looking for work, but after meeting up with your Brother and an ensuing battle results in you being labelled a wanted man, you are on the run, taken in as Red Faction.

Game play

Besides a quick cinematic, you’re straight into the action of Red Faction: Guerrilla almost immediately. A brief tutorial shows you the ropes, and instructs you to level a structure using remote explosives (or your Sledgehammer) – and this is the beginning of an absolute highlight of the game.

Destruction

Without a doubt, the most impressive and amazing element of RF:G is its epic level of utter destruction. I can’t think of another game that has ever allowed you this level of ridiculously rewarding annihilation. Nothing is off limits, no building is indestructible, no wall can’t be levelled, not a single vehicle can’t be blown up.

And everything does destruction in an incredible visual fashion. Slamming your Sledgehammer into the side of a building will cave in the wall. Pieces of concrete fall through, some hang from the hole you’ve just made, held in place by the internal cable mesh. You swing again, completely knocking clear the hole. Big enough to walk through now.

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Collateral Damage side missions. If the regular every-day destruction isn’t enough for you, do one of these for mega demolition

You don’t have to stop there though, you can walk around the building and take your Sledgehammer or plant a remote detonation charge at the base of each and every structural frame or component, then stand back and watch it crumble.

Sometimes the charges weren’t enough. You can hear the internal stresses as floors collapse under the change of weights and pieces of floor cave in, sections of wall begin to crumble. It teeters on the edge. The couple of structural focuses still holding, writhe under the additional burden before buckling – and the whole building gives way to gravity.

They collapse in a plume of dust and debris, chunks of concrete go flying in all directions as three storeys of EDF property come crashing to the ground. All that remains as the dust settles is odd bits and pieces, a roof that’s remained partially in tact or a section of wall that survived the fall. Often times a doorway will comically remain standing, nothing but rubble at its entrance.

The physics at play are simply unbelievable. They just have to be seen.

Of course, this isn’t just for show, it is all serving a massive purpose. Its Red Faction: Guerrilla. “A member of an irregular, usually indigenous military or paramilitary unit operating in small bands in occupied territory to harass and undermine the enemy, as by surprise raids.” And this is exactly why this level of destruction is paramount.

You see, as soon as you run into a building to achieve an objective – an alert level raises and every EDF troop in the region and their buddies come to the action. So the doorway you just used is most often, not the best way to escape.

Throwing a charge on a back wall and detonating it, right near where you hid your escape vehicle creates a slick, speedy – and safe – method of retreat.

Sometimes the easiest way to eliminate an objective is to just entirely level the building it is contained in and do the runner.

Its a superb and quite unique game play tactic.

Missions, Liberation and Activity

The ultimate goal of RF:G is to liberate Mars from the EDF iron-fist. Mason must liberate all six zones on Mars and each sector has its own set of side and story missions.

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Missions structure is mostly TPS based, but there are some special unique approaches

Each sector has a control rating, by default the EDF hold complete control – your goal is to reduce this control until the EDF are so morally rocked that you can completely eradicate them from each sector.

You can approach this from a number of angles, the smallest is destroying random bits of EDF property. Taking out a wind turbine, or a garage for example reduces morale by a few points, not a big hit – but do it often enough and a substantial chunk of support in the area begins to waver.

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One of the ‘Demolitions Master’ side missions. Awarding you additional bonus Salvage for your efforts. Time based destruction using a small selection of pre-determined weapons. Great fun.

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Mission unlocks lead to some cool bonuses

In order to completely force the EDF into retreating from a zone however, you need to complete the set story missions for the area. Simply lowering the control to nil is not enough. As you chip away at the control of a sector you have the option of progressing on the story line as opposed to just undertaking side missions or blowing stuff up.

Everything is marked on your map and thankfully you can set yourself some waypoints – the bleak Mars surface makes catching your bearings very difficult.

There are a variety of ideas in the missions, ranging from simple building demolitions, to rescuing Red Faction hostages and some thoroughly enjoyable timed challenges and riding shotgun demolition events.

There’s plenty to do in RF:G and the option is varied in reaching your goals.

Morale

As you whittle the control presence of EDF in a sector, Red Faction morale rises. Morale is almost a ‘currency’ of RF:G and ebbs and flows depending on your actions within a sector. Take over a high-priority target and the Red Faction morale raises. Run over 10 friendly Guerrillas in the process? Morale suffers.

Boosting the morale in the sector has a number of advantages however. As it increases, more civilians rise to the movement and join the Red Faction – this leads to additional Guerrillas showing up and joining you on missions, offering extra help, guns and distraction. They are both beneficial and counter-productive sometimes though; If you’re outnumbered and some of them begin to die, morale drops. So you’re often stuck making sure the area is clear enough of EDF troops that they can stand on their own. Another problem with additional Guerrilla support is accidental death. Numerous times I’ve been going about my business, jump into an ATV or Mining Vehicle to escape – and a Guerrilla will run in front of me, getting themselves squished in the process. Morale drops.

Overall its not too annoying, but sometimes it would have been nice if the AI was just a little smarter not to walk in front of a 30t truck bearing down on them at 100kph.

Increased Morale also increases the amount of Salvage bonus acquired after a successful mission.

Salvage

Salvage is of utmost importance during game progression and you use it to purchase and upgrade weapons and items, including your trusty Sledgehammer all the way up to Explosive ammunition, Super Armours and Jetpacks.

You can use it to increase your ammo carrying ability as well as the number of demolition charges you can lay and network at the same time, making covert ops demolitions easier.

Collecting salvage is performed by demolishing buildings and EDF strategic points often leave behind a number of salvage deposits on the ground to collect. Salvage is also available in 300 ore deposits scattered around the playable surface of Mars. They act as one of two main types of ‘collectibles’ in the Red Faction: Guerrilla world.

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You will come across this nice little easter egg during the game too, thought it was a classic addition to the Mars world

All of this really comes together giving the entire game purpose. You really get the feeling you’re part of a much larger movement doing its absolute best as the underdog to gain control of Mars. Volition have not only given gamers a solid set of controls and options, but also the ability to do the missions almost any way you like. Its very easy to pick up and play, the actions are powerful, but there’s very little learning curve involved. There’s no set linear order, no boring grinding – and most important for a sandbox game of this type, there’s loads of weapons, tools and vehicles to keep the action rolling, constantly and with fresh ideas.

Graphics

Considering the surface of Mars is renowned for being quite plain and uninspiring, Volition have used a bit of creative licence in forging a game play world that is both interesting and visually pleasing to look at. There are still vast expanses of red dust, but the landscape is littered with towering rock formations and mountains.

red faction guerilla ps3 screenshot

red faction guerilla ps3 screenshot

Terraforming on the planet has made the atmosphere breathable, so you can walk about freely on the Martian surface and explore every little detail of the terrain. Its a very good extra-terrestrial world, mostly devoid of vegetation (except in heavily terraformed areas), but clearly becoming populated by Human forces.

You often happen across large building and mining complexes, gated compounds, power generation structures and other infrastructure, all rendered in sensational sci-fi-esque detail.

There is a night and day cycle, particularly effective on the Mars surface. Its bright, hot and dust swirls while the sun beams down. At night however, wisps of cloud – the first signs of the successful terraformation – highlight a bright starry sky.

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Most of the textures in the game are high res and impressive. The ground textures never really fade in the distance and Volition haven’t cheapened on much to get the solid frame rate throughout even the heaviest action sequences. Occasionally you might encounter a handful of low-res textures on a piece of vehicular junk out in the middle of the wastelands, but for the majority of the game and certainly all important scenery and buildings are represented in great detail.

There’s a fine use of shadows, especially during the day when areas will be lost in shadow and they are quite accurate in the face of the changeable environments during big moments of destruction.

Character models are done well, even with almost perfect lip sync in cinematics and cut-scenes. There are some sensational rendered cinematics that really get the Mars atmosphere across.

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Characters, cinematic appearances and voice acting. Amazing.

Considering its a massive open world (and I stress massive – some missions take you 3 or 4 minutes to drive to – and I wouldn’t even guess how long it would take to drive from one side of the map to another), the graphics are impressive.

Frame rates are silky smooth 99% of the time, only the very occasional dip when bringing down a multi-storey building amongst loads of vehicles and intense gunfights, but its absolutely nothing to complain about. Overall its a solid outing in the graphics department from Volition’s Red Faction: Guerrilla.

Sound

You can’t fault the sound of a collapsing building. You can actually hear the structural stress as you hammer away at its foundations, weakening bits and pieces of a tower, eventually leading to its collapse. Metal groans, concrete cracks, floor crumbles. Its all incredibly convincing. Especially so when you are destroying something slowly with as much precision as possible, really testing the game’s physics engine – you appreciate the sounds around you, warning you when you really need to get the hell out of the place.

Of course, just as convincing is the sound of a 50 tonne mining truck driving along at 60 kilometres an hour, ploughing straight into the side of an EDF manufacturing plant and driving straight through it under the momentum and force.

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The Earth Defense Force news outlets. Often make for hilarious, biased and skewed news reports twisting Red Faction activity in the area.. Keep your ears open!

It does tend to get a little quiet and underwhelming away from the action though. You often find yourself driving in the open to a waypoint, the graphics showing you all these eddies of wind and dust, but there’s a lack of aural effect to back this up. And the uninspiring drone of the vehicles as they’re hooking along at top speed is a little lacking too.

Music is well themed; There’s some nice sci-fi pieces in the background during key action and cinematic sequences, plus the peaceful music in the background at off times, giving it a polished audio feel. There’s a lot of attention to audio detail and vocal talent, especially in the game’s cutscenes.

Online

Red Faction: Guerrilla’s online component is well thought out and has plenty of option to keep you coming back.

The main online menu is divided into your typical Matchmaking (Ranked) and Custom Match (Unranked) modes. You can also enter a strictly ‘Spectator Mode’ which sorts you right into a game being played and gives you a variety of viewing and director tools to watch the battle unfolding – and it can be quite addictive.

‘Party’ modes for both ranked and unranked are VERY welcome additions – and unlike a lot of games in the online arena, it works well. Start a party, invite your Friends from your XMB control, then you can either join ranked or an unranked game. Additionally, joining team based games will put you and your Friends on the same team. Brilliant.

‘Anarchy’ is RF:G’s equivalent of the standard Deathmatch formula. So you have Anarchy and Team Anarchy, both straight-forward and enjoyable game modes. You have all of the destructible environment detail you would have in the offline campaign available to you online, so you can bring down buildings on players, take bridges out from under them, cut off camping areas – its an entirely unique online experience.

‘Capture the Flag’ is also available, same format as usual. ‘Siege’ is a variation of control game modes, but you defend key structures using your power-ups and in a strong team-based activity. ‘Damage Control’ is a sort of command-point oriented game mode, where you have to juggle which of three points to defend while going out and taking over other points. ‘Demolition’ is a unique game mode where each team has an elected Destroyer whose job is to head into enemy territory and completely annihilate everything in their path. Points are earned for successful destruction with bonus points awarded for bringing down enemy buildings and structures. The other team, while also fighting as normal Anarchy rules, are forced to take down the Destroyers in order to slow rival team points gain.

Additionally, you have what RF:G calls ‘Backpacks’. These are utterly fantastic. Dotted around the map are sort of clothes racks, with three of these Backpacks each, and there are a variety to choose from all over the maps, all imbuing you with a special attribute, ability or power. Rhino for example, when activated, gives you a kind of force field as you charge straight ahead through absolutely anything – walls, opponents and structures alike with a temporary invincibility field. Concussion sends out a pulse shockwave knocking over all enemies in the vicinity. Good for those sneaks who are using the invisibility backpack to get up close and personal with the sledgehammer attack.

These Backpacks turn the online experience, somewhat stale in a lot of games, into a very fun, unpredictable and enjoyable experience.

You earn ‘XP’ online. Everything from killing, to assisting, to returning a flag and destroying buildings accounts for XP gain at the end of a match. These XP points don’t really level you up like other games (though there is a graphical representation for experienced players) but rather you are awarded with a huge line of upgrades. Everything from new character models to use online to new weapon, sledgehammer and icon changes. There are also a set of secret ‘Challenges’ that you unlock as you progress online.

Maps are solid (and there are quite a few of them), really well designed for action – and everything is customisable in the game. Starting weapons, time of day, starting backpacks – even movement speed, regeneration time, spawns and ammunition options can be tweaked and modified for the ultimate in unique game play.

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Post game screen showing some accomplishments, XP setup and Unlocks format

Unfortunately the servers are not totally indestructible however, and I have experienced a few connection losses in the middle (and initial connection) of games, which also leads to loss of progress. There are a shortage of players in the online aspect at the moment as well – though hopefully this is improved as more people complete the campaign and move onto the online aspect. The server issues are a minor annoyance at this stage, but hopefully this is also improved as the game evolves.

Overall however, the online in Red Faction: Guerrilla is perhaps the most enjoyable online experience I’ve had in a while, especially in the face of recent FPS’ online that have left me quite under-whelmed and bored. Its a unique experience, with loads of rewards that keep you playing while also offering a huge variety of options and destruction.

Conclusion

Red Faction: Guerrilla is definitely a surprise. We’re in a time of some incredibly big-name releases and without a doubt, the open-world/sandbox third-person genre has gotten some special attention recently. RF:G stands tall among them though, it isn’t lost amidst the inFamous and the Prototype.

The bold move from FPS to TPS for the series was definitely a good choice, allowing you to enjoy the destruction and scale of the game world in a way you simply couldn’t with the old FPS format.

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Wanted man…

Obviously the real show piece of Red Faction is its destruction and the immense physics engine which keeps everything working. You always sorta expect errors or problems, like a roof floating in mid-air, or a wall stuck at some impossible angle – but it never happens. The worst case of incorrect collision I’ve seen was a steel beam stuck through the middle of my ATV after powering through the middle of a power substation. And who’s to say that wasn’t a possible outcome anyway?

Even if the demolition nature doesn’t keep you interested, the sheer size and option within RF:G should be enough to earn some enjoyment points. Progress through the game and you unlock some unbelievably powerful weapons of hand-held mass destruction and tools of unbelievably awesome demolition. There’s always plenty of laughs to be had when bringing down a communications tower with a Sledgehammer, only to have the mast collapse on your head, crushing and killing you instantly.

Online, despite some connection issues, appears to have had some serious time invested on the developer’s part. As a result, its remarkably enjoyable for a game I had always considered previously to be aimed at an offline feature with a ‘tacked on’ online element. I can actually see myself spending some serious time with the online, unlocking some of those wicked custom Sledgehammers and character models. The Backpacks idea is tops, really makes for innovative TPS online game play.

Red Faction: Guerrilla doesn’t take itself overly seriously, but it is a serious contender in the sandbox game genre.

Its solid, has a good lick of polish applied – and above all – its fun. With one of the best physics engines I can ever remember seeing in a game.

Fun and technically brilliant.

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