Underloved and awesome
Man I was looking forwards to Lovefilm sending this. It's all I heard about on podcasts and message boards at the time, while I was utterly skint. I eventually ended up playing Prototype instead, which was, well... not this. Turns out that was a BAD thing.
For those not in the know, Red Faction: Guerrilla is the third game in the franchise, the previous two being PS2 FPS games. Made by the same people who have since made Saints Row, this chapter switches to sandbox, leading originally to some rather lame "GTA in space" previews. These soon died down, though, as the press got hold of two very important things in the game: the sledgehammer and the GeoMod 2.0 software that makes it special. The game pits the titular Red Faction (Mars freedom fighters, seeking independence from formerly the corporations and now Earth) against the Earth Defense Force (no, not the ones from the game of the same name), who for all intents and purposes are Evil Space Fascists intent on the works of the Mars inhabitants bailing out the Earth.
Enough preamble, let's break this down.
Okay, let's get it out of the way: Mars is red (well, except the snowy mountains). Very red (okay, and the more traditional sand shaded areas of Dust, and the lighter still Badlands). And a lifeless desert too (okay, except Oasis). As you can imagine, this isn't exactly going to look like the GTA4 remake of New York, but instead very, um, featureless. But, in a very Total Recall way, it does look amazing. What scenery and cityscape there is looks crisp, futuristic and (we'll be coming back to this later) delicate. The vehicles, too, don't look overly bizarre, instead looking like a mix of the industrial and Blade Runner-era retrofuturism.
The effects look great too, with little dust clouds blowing across the sands, strange technology shimmering in an orange aura, the singularity bomb (basically a mini black hole generator) producing some amazing warping effects, and the weapons leaving satisfying trails through the air of blues and purples. The Nano Rifle is particularly impressive, the cloud of nanites melting what they hit slowly (including, which is oddly satisfying, enemies and tanks) and exposing the structures beneath during the process before they disappear. The HUD is simple yet useful, though the menus are a bit PS2 (ie THE TEXT IS HUGE). Most importantly, though, GeoMod 2.0 means breaking stuff looks pretty.
Ah. Well, there is audio! Yes. Lots of voice work that's not annoying, the gun noise is good, atmospheric music works well. There's really not a lot I can say about it. It's all really well done and well used, but it doesn't do anything any other game hasn't as well really. Can't score it down for it, but it's not unique, so...
INSTANT FULL MARKS. Seriously, this is where the game stands up, unzips its fly and lets loose in all other sandbox games (bar Crackdown)'s face. And the secret is GeoMod 2.0. ANY building in the game can be taken apart, painstakingly and piece by piece, with the sledgehammer (in my case, especially the sledgehammer), explosives and even a good few of the guns. In fact, for large parts of the gameplay such behaviour is actively encouraged, so long as it belongs to the enemy.
Indeed, there are multiple mission types based on it; some are marked as targets of strategic importance, whose destruction decreases EDF control of the area; others are targeted by guerrilla actions to hone your skills in demolition (your trade), and others still are merely marked on the minimap as belonging to the enemy and increase Red Faction support by being destroyed. All are amazingly satisfying. And, to top it all off, the game's currency, salvage, is made pretty much in its entirety from said destruction!
But there are other things to do! There's lots of killing, for instance, and again the sledgehammer is the satisfying way to do it. There's something to be said for approaching an enemy in cover, walloping it to both destroy it and kill the enemy. As a tip, left trigger is an overhead swing, leading to much more satisfying whump.
That's not to say the other weapons disappoint; the auto-shotgun Peacekeeper is an early favourite, but the weapons that unlock late on leave everything else in the pale, with railguns (complete, Eraser-style, with thermal scopes), gauss rifles (rapid fire death), the heat-seeking Enforcer (leaving lovely blue trails in the air as the rapid fire projectiles rip into enemies) and the awesome Nano Rifle (a nanite-firing gun capable of deconstructing on a molecular level whatever it hits, be it building, vehicle or indeed person) being easy highlights. Well, I say highlights; that's nearly the total list of guns, bar the basic assault rifle, pistol, sniper rifle and shotgun.
But the explosives are the non-sledgehammer highlight, with rocket launchers, proximity mines, remote charges, thermobaric rockets (they go boom in a BIG way) and the previously mentioned singularity bombs. Oh, and the vehicle-mounted MOAB, a tool of always-fatal destruction. In the early game, remote charges are the way to speed up any demolition, and indeed through upgrades you can throw tons of them before having to detonate to throw more. Singularity bombs are rare (very rare, as they are never unlocked in your weapon stash), but the destruction wrought is immense (as you'd expect from a black hole opening up in the middle of a building). The upgrade system comes in very useful here, making proximity mines detect friend-or-foe, upping ammo amount and other such useful things.
The upgrade system is worthy of praise anyway, its always handy upgrades leading to many a destructive spree to earn the salvage required to buy such great things as warp to safehouse, jetpack (yes, really), new weapons, higher ammo counts and new abilities for old weapons (multi-fire, heat-seeking, no damage to friendlies, and more). New equipment is slowly teased out through progression, both through the plot and the 104 guerrilla missions (the latter of which unlock new, better sledgehammers).
And then there's my little obsession: Walkers. These industrial mechs can cause amazing damage, coming in three distinct varieties. The heavy walker is slow, well armoured and highly destructive, the light walker faster and equipped with a jetpack, and the military walker armed with infinite ammo rocket pods. You simply climb in and cause utter devastation, til the vehicle health bar hits red and you have to jump before you die.
Saying that, death is hardly a penalty; indeed, outside of missions, it's very handy for replenishing alert level, ammo and returning you to a safehouse. Even in missions, it merely sends you back to a checkpoint, which in the majority of missions isn't really a problem. And thanks to this you get right back to the good stuff quicker.
I could keep going on, talking about the nice variety of guerrilla actions (8, IIRC, ranging from rescuing dissidents from house arrests to driving about on a gun turret wreaking havok), the enemy AI (many a time it outflanked and killed me, even on easy), the vehicle selection (fast dune buggies, futuristic sports cars, municipal and industrial vehicles, EDF tanks and transports), the missions (plentiful and slowly unlocked, with generous checkpoints) and the multiplayer. But it's enough already.
I'll keep this brief: these are well thought out, many unlocked through good progress rather than slog, and they also encourage exploring the rather excellent multiplayer (which is far more than a tacked-on afterthought). There's even one encouraging you to finish the game AND seek out others who have online.
Overall, RF:G is a very solid game, excelling in the gameplay through sheer glee with its new toy: the destructive power of GeoMod 2.0. I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who asked about it, especially if they felt the need to break stuff up.