Red Faction: Guerrilla
With the jump to current generation systems, Volition decided to take the Red Faction series in another direction. My only prior experience with the series was some of the second game's multiplayer due to some of my friends loving it for some reason, and maybe just a bit of the single player. When I heard they were making a new game, except it was open world instead of a first person shooter, I was skeptical, although the demo proved to be quite a bit of fun and word of mouth was pretty good. I didn't get around to playing it though until it was offered for only the cost of shipping to people who bought Darksiders, making my delay seem like a good move. The game was a lot of fun, but like many of its type, hurt by niggling issues.
Volition also does the Saint's Row games, and for some reason their thing with this type of game seems to be actually making you do a certain percentage of the "optional" content in order to advance through the story. This makes the side missions seem more like busy work than additional things you can mess around with, but I didn't mind it that much in practice because it was mostly fun and otherwise the regular story missions might have seemed a bit bare. There's a decent variety of side missions, although you end up repeating the same types a bunch anyway, and unfortunately a few types are fundamentally flawed conceptually, which doesn't make them less fun necessarily, it just seems like lazy design. I'll give two examples. One is the Jenkins missions, which I never actually bothered to finish any of after failing the first one I tried a couple times. A dude named Jenkins drives up to you and asks you to man a weapon on the vehicle he's driving, and cause a certain amount of monetary damage to the enemy before he returns to base. A couple problems though: Jenkins is not very helpful, often whizzing past good targets before you get a chance to get a shot at them. Also, why does the mission end after a certain point? Why aren't we just staying out there until I finish the job? Did he run out of gas? Get some more and let's get back out there, dude! You should only fail if you hit too many friendly targets or get blown up. There's also what's basically the race missions, pretending to be something else. You find a vehicle somewhere equipped with some sort of transmitter, and have to bring it back to one of your bases. So many things wrong with this one.
1) Why do I have a limited time to bring the vehicle to its destination? No reason is given.
2) Why is the location I have to bring the vehicle to so arbitrary? It's not the closest base, it's whatever one they decided to make you race to. Why do I have to bring it there specifically when the person who wants it magically appears in whatever base I'm in? It's the worst when the vehicle is already sitting in a different base than the destination. Why do I even have to move this?
3) What do we actually want to do with these transmitters? No explanation is given. And as soon as you finish the race, you can jump right back in the vehicle and drive it out of there, rendering the whole thing pointless. I would have preferred if they didn't try to justify why I'm doing time trials in a bunch of different vehicles while there's an interplanetary war on.
Ignoring these questions though, the basic structure is you're a member of the resistance group Red Faction, and you have to drive the evil Earth Defense Force out of several different areas on Mars. When you get to an area you have access to a few missions and a bunch of optional stuff. You have to do enough optional stuff like rescuing hostages and blowing up important buildings to reduce the enemy's "control" of the area to zero, and doing that along with the available missions will unlock the final mission to liberate the sector. Besides control, two other numbers you have to worry about are salvage and morale. Salvage is basically the currency, and you use it to unlock new weapons and upgrades, some of them required to advance the plot. Morale is area-specific like control, and seems pretty unimportant. It increases the amount of ammo you can find in crates scattered around Mars, but I rarely ran out of stuff in between visits to bases which have it in infinite supply, and the other thing it contributes is resistance members who will show up and join you if you're doing something violent outside the story missions. This is a complete waste of time though. The only thing they seem to be good at is getting killed, and when they get killed it lowers the area's morale, defeating the work you did to raise it in the first place. The penalty is even worse if you accidentally kill them, like if they're getting in the way and are blown up by an explosion you're trying to set off. So really, control and salvage are the only numbers you should actually be concerned with.
Like apparently a lot of people who played the game, after a certain point I decided to put the game on casual difficulty instead of normal. Usually I try to stick with the default, but what I was enjoying about the game was destroying everything in sight, not the mediocre third-person shooting, and that stuff was just getting in the way of the fun part on normal. I still died sometimes on casual, but it definitely seemed like the way to play the game. It lets you just have fun with it; driving around in various trucks and mining equipment, shooting any bad guy you see, using the amazing hammer to tear down almost anything you see, throwing heavy explosives at stuff. The game is at its best when it just lets you carve a swath of destruction, and casual difficulty helps. And it distracts from the asinine plot as well. Seriously, is there a more generically and comically evil entity than the EDF? How exactly is abusing and killing the workers on Mars going to help business? They deserve to all die in a ball of fire. Also, the Marauders seemed like a wasted opportunity to add an interesting dynamic with a third faction. For most of the game they just attack you when they see you and ignore the EDF, with the game rarely bothering to make them even notice each other. Hello, I'm the one trying to liberate the planet you live on, not them! Ah well. Red Faction is not to be enjoyed for the intricacies of its writing and political dynamics, it's cool because basically everything you see can be destroyed, and seriously, that hammer is awesome.