A game that tries its best to make you hate it
Red Faction: Guerrilla is one of the more egregious examples of an older franchise brought into the realm of open world gaming. For the most part it succeeds at this task, thanks to the newest version of Volition's GeoMod technology, which the previous games in the series largely failed to capitalise on. Unfortunately, while Guerrilla really benefits from its tech, it also suffers from a number of flaws that were made clear by titles as old as Grand Theft Auto III, and as a result, can be a hard game to like at times.
The story opens with Alec Mason's arrival on Mars, which is under the control of the Earth Defense Force, in the hopes of setting himself straight and reuniting with his brother. Like the previous megacorporation to control the planet, Ultor, the EDF is a largely oppressive and tyrannical entity who treats its people like slaves. Things quickly take a turn for the worse as Alec, after the murder of his brother, is thrust into a revolutionary war headed by the Red Faction. Although the game attempts a serious story, rife with commentary on the virtues of freedom, there's very little depth, intrigue or intelligence to any of it. The writing on display isn't downright bad, to be fair, but there are too many plot holes, one-dimensional characters, half-used ideas, and fridge logic moments to take it very seriously; it quickly becomes apparent that the story is a thin means of setting up the game's territorial control mechanic and, more importantly, getting you to blow stuff up.
As mentioned, it's that blowing stuff up that serves as Red Faction: Guerrilla's real saving grace. The game engine allows for just about any building to be demolished piece-by-piece, with a level of detail that remains impressive even a year after release. There's a few moments where a building might be left propped up by just one support, but for the most part it's very convincing and cinematic destruction that never becomes old or boring. While performance is something of a sore spot, and the visuals can be rather drab, it's rather forgivable due to the sheer spectacle of buildings collapsing and vehicles erupting in fireballs. The game is definitely at its best when it puts you in control of tanks and mechs, which allow you to cause some incredible chaos and carnage, but it's stingy about giving you such opportunities and tends to confine them to specific missions. A nicely-paced unlock system balances this a bit by allowing you to pick your tools of destruction, but it still feels limited compared to some of the more impressive story sequences.
The main quest does a pretty good job in pacing things. Rather than pushing you through a totally linear series of events, the game uses its open world structure to its advantage by allowing you to pick and choose where you want to fight the EDF. Some missions are more structured and scripted, but you can also progress the story just by destroying critical buildings; meanwhile, earning morale by completing tasks gives you more reinforcements for larger battles. Each chunk of the game is finished off with a capstone mission, usually a grand effort to retake a sector of the map once the local enemy forces have been weakened. These are varied, enjoyable and typically well-balanced, and make up some of the more memorable parts of the game. The downside of this is that a lot of the game consists of far more rudimentary tasks. These include rescuing civilians from EDF control, hijacking vehicles and racing them to a safehouse within a time limit, and so forth. It's not that these aren't enjoyable in limited quantity, but they happen far too often and quickly grow tiring; with a paper-thin story holding it up, Guerrilla can become a bit of a slog in its final third.
Some of the optional challenges available are more interesting, such as strategically blowing up buildings with limited weapons, which often require some creative thinking to complete. Unfortunately, for every one of these, there's two or three "race from point A to B" missions, some of which are so fiendishly difficult that they rely far more on luck than skill to complete, especially if you want to go for "Pro" time trials. It doesn't help that the vehicles are both touchy and extremely floaty, meaning you'll often be sent flying into the air by even the smallest of bumps; combine that with extremely aggressive and numerous enemies, and Red Faction: Guerrilla's side missions are often far more frustrating than fun.
That's really Red Faction: Guerrilla's biggest issue - it has some great technology on display that has a positive impact on the gameplay, but it doesn't truly give you the means to revel in it until later in the game, and even then those opportunities are fairly limited. It doesn't help that there are some decidedly last-generation problems on display as well. The autosave system in the game is over-aggressive, causing you to lose progress if you accidentally reload an old save before making a manual save. Many missions consist of extended driving sequences that just aren't very exciting, especially as you're often given a less than ideal vehicle. Checkpoint saves are few and in between, meaning that the more challenging and lengthy missions can quickly become annoying when you're asked to perform the same actions ten or even twenty times over before getting them right. A fast travel system only becomes available about halfway into the game, meaning you'll be spending a good deal of time traveling from place to place even when off-mission. And, at a few points in the game, you'll be forced to do some grinding for a mandatory upgrade. None of this is game-breaking, but these issues could have all been prevented, and they all chip away at Red Faction: Guerrilla's finish to leave a rather inconsistent and unpolished experience.
In the end, I can recommend Red Faction: Guerrilla for action gamers with a bottomless thirst for destruction. The PC version seems to be the way to go if you have a fairly capable gaming system to run it, especially as it comes with some additional DLC included in the box, and can be regularly found for as little as $10 when on sale, but any version of the game will bring you roughly the same experience. As much fun as it is to bring utter ruin to the EDF, though, one should be prepared for a healthy dose of frustration and cursing at the same old problems that other games have had solved for years now.