gbrading's Red Faction: Guerrilla (PC) review

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Excellent, but plotless fun for the destructively inclined.

Mars. The red planet has always been a fascinating setting for science fiction. H. G. Wells imagined green Martians who would invade and attempt to conquer the planet, whilst Philip K. Dick had humans eventually terraforming and colonising the surface. Red Faction is a series which has followed the latter approach, both in this game and one of the previous instalments. Guerrilla throws the bland, first-person shooter gameplay of its mediocre predecessors straight out of the window, reinventing itself as a third-person action shooter in the vein of something like modern iterations of Grand Theft Auto. But this is no GTA-clone, to be sure. Guerrilla lets you loose in the Tharsis region of Mars, armed with a variety of weapons and explosives and basically wants you to go postal by destroying various enemy buildings and installations. Although the story is extremely thin and never really serves as adequate motivation for the characters, the actual fun to be had from simply wreaking sweet havoc is extremely satisfying, and easily enough to make the game highly enjoyable.

Red Faction: Guerrilla takes place in the year 2120, approximately 50 years after the events of the original game. In that title, Mars was totally controlled by the huge mining conglomerate the Ultor Corporation (who also serve as villains in Volition's other game, Saints Row 2), who oppressed and underpaid the workers, leading the player character of Parker to rebel and overthrow them. At the end of that game, the Earth Defense Force (EDF) arrives to supervise the reconstruction of Mars. However, in the years that have elapsed since then (as well as successfully managing to ignore the abominably awful Red Faction II), the EDF have devolved into far worse oppressors than the Ultor Corporation ever was, essentially imposing martial law across the colony and engaging in many totalitarian activities. Earth's own resources have been bled dry, and so in order to secure their extraterrestrial interests, the various multinational corporations and governments have funded the EDF to force the Martian colonists into virtual slavery, supplying various expensive commodities for Earth whilst themselves living in poverty.

You play as Alec Mason; a fresh colonist arrived on Mars to join his brother and start a new life. However, it is not long before Alec witnesses the brutality of the EDF regime, as they murder his brother whilst out salvaging. Seeking revenge, Alec sides with the Red Faction. They exist as resistance organisation attempting to subvert the EDF with the eventual aim of driving them from Mars. Thus, most of the game comprises of leading the Red Faction in their fight of slowly taking back Mars from the EDF, one sector at a time. The storyline itself is extremely minimalistic and never fleshed out in any meaningful sense, essentially leading you to never feel attached to any of the characters introduced. All you know is that Alec is your tough-talking no-nonsense protagonist with extraordinary strength in the arms, Sam acts as your tactical assistant/love interest, and the EDF are evil, almost mechanical bad guys. When the finale arrives, there is very little pomp and circumstance, but in free-roaming style, the game does allow you to continue playing indefinitely to repeat actions you may have previously missed, or search for collectible radio tags.

There are a good variety of missions on which you embark whilst traversing the surface of Mars. Alongside the main story campaign, there are a variety of guerrilla actions to complete, which will either lower the EDF's control over the sector, or raise the local population's morale. These include such missions as House Arrest, where you must rescue several colonists from the EDF's clutches, and deliver them to a safehouse, or Convoy, where you might need to destroy several vehicles transporting valuable military equipment. There are also some actions which require you to destroy a building using a specific weapon with a set time limit, which can be exciting working out the best way to bring down the structure. Others might put you in the gunner seat, tasked with destroying a certain value of EDF property (very similar to those missions in Saints Row 2, another Volition game, where you must spray sewage over buildings). Overall, there is a great diversity of guerrilla actions spread throughout the course of the game, which only towards the latter half start to feel derivative. In essence, these missions almost need to be interpreted as storyline events in order to make sense.

Navigating around the Tharsis region is quite simple, partly because the map, although large, isn't incredibly complex, but also because of a very useful GPS feature which will lay out on the ground in front of your vehicle where you should travel and which roads to take. Again, in an open world style, you can commandeer a variety of vehicles, the only difference from GTA here being that the colonists all willingly part with their vehicles (probably because you're their hero of the revolution). There are some futuristic Martian electric cars to drive, alongside more industrial vehicles such as all-terrain trucks, pickups and vans. Handling can be rather light and airy at times, but there is a nice motion blur effect which looks impressive when travelling at speed. Geographically, the surface of Mars is rather barren. Despite terraforming efforts which have made the atmosphere breathable, there is minimal vegetation, but there is an impressive array of dramatic rock formations. A nice touch is to make the visual ambience of each sector significantly different. For example, Parker sector has deep red rock and a bright, hot atmosphere, whilst Dust sector features lighter coloured rock and a whiter colour palette, making the area feel colder.

Destruction has to be the game's finest asset. Absolutely any building or man-made structure, from propaganda billboards to apartment blocks, can be smashed, broken apart and destroyed in a multitude of ways, thanks to the GeoMod 2.0 technology. Mason's melee weapon, the sledgehammer, can be used to punch holes in buildings and walls like they are polystyrene, whilst remote charges can be placed around structures to bring something down in an almighty explosion. There is also a really cool nano-infused gun, which literally disintegrates buildings and enemies. There is nothing more satisfying than surreptitiously planting a few remote charges around the base of a large smokestack, before casually sauntering away and blowing the charges, enjoying the resulting mayhem. The explosions themselves are beautiful, as is the flying debris, although be warned that causing too much damage at the same time will dent the framerate. That said; the game can become rather difficult in places. The EDF will almost immediately respond to any damage inflicted on their properties, and at later stages will shoot Mason on sight whilst constantly receiving reinforcements. Certain missions will have you barrelling into an enemy stronghold to face off against dozens of soldiers with no back up at all. Often the best policy is to get in, blow up whatever necessary, and then get out and high tail it back to a safehouse as fast as possible.

In terms of sound, Guerrilla is perfectly serviceable. There is actually quite an enjoyable and appropriately tensioned orchestral soundtrack, with pounding drums that will resonate whenever you launch an attack. Sound effects, vehicle noises and ambient sounds pass off proficiently, and whilst voice acting is a little tedious, much like the storyline, there isn't particularly a lot of it to worry about. A nice atmospheric feature though is the EDF's Voice of Mars Broadcasting Service, which will relay back various propagandised news reports about your latest uncivil activities and other world events, helping to instil a certain sense of pride and depth to the environment. There are also some loudspeakers littered around the place which will start to broadcast inspiring messages as the Red Faction's influence expands. A short draw distance on the geography of the map is cleverly hidden through a creative use of mountains, but also the swirling Martian dust storms that constantly batter the planet. Overall though, for a game set on a dusty, rock-strewn planet, Guerrilla certainly looks beautiful.

Multiplayer also has a significant presence, featuring a variety of modes, unlocks and stat-progression techniques that wouldn't seem entirely out of place in something like Modern Warfare, and help to add another aspect of gameplay to spend time on. Included with the PC version also comes the DLC of Mariner Valley, which is set in a new location, prior to the events of the main game. Essentially it comprises more of the same, so it can be said that if you enjoyed the campaign, the DLC will also entertain you. Once again though, it suffers from the same plotless feeling. In rounding off, it really is the lack of a tangible or meaningful plot and storyline which rather lets down Red Faction: Guerrilla. However, this is easily the best of the trio of Red Faction games, where destruction and mayhem come hand in hand, and both can be enormous fun. If you look past the flimsy story, beneath you will find a huge amount of heady action just waiting to be blown up.

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