Blowing up the sandbox, Guerrilla style

Remember Mission to Mars and Red Planet, the two films Hollywood cranked out in 2000 that coincidentally starred imperiled astronauts on desperate trips to our closest galactic neighbor? If not, I can’t blame you — despite solid casts, both movies managed to be utterly blase. That’s what I was expecting when one of my friends showed up with Red Faction: Guerrilla last week. I’d hardly even been aware that the game existed. Maybe I’d skimmed over a demo on Xbox Live, but I quickly assumed Red Faction: Guerrilla was just another third-person shooter, an average action game with nothing but the setting of the rocky Martian surface separating it from its contemporaries.

Boy, was I wrong.

The open-world, third-person action game genre remains as flooded as ever; this year may be even more jammed than the last, with Infamous, Prototype, and Red Faction: Guerrilla all competing for sales in the month of June alone. Compared to the anticipation I’d seen on the web for Sucker Punch’s first Playstation 3 outing and the ultraviolent screenshots of Prototype, Red Faction hardly garned a bit of hype. But after a couple hours of playing Guerrilla — followed by a couple days of playing Guerrilla — I realized this sandbox action game is much more Total Recall than it is Mission to Mars. Totally ridiculous, but in such a good, good way.

[[image:090609_redfaction.jpg:Watching the buildings collapse simply doesn’t get old.:center:0]]

The game begins with our hero, Alec Mason, arriving on Mars, and quickly establishes that the EDF, or Earth Defense Force, rules the planet with an unnecessarily strict iron fist. Once the oppressive regime crosses Mason — which takes about five minutes — he joins the planet’s rebels in an attempt to liberate all of Mars. Mason’s character design sadly represents Red Faction’s biggest problem — as a bulky guy with a crew cut and a single scar as an identifying mark, he’s as close to generic space marine territory you can get without a suit of armor. Even worse, one cutscene a few hours in depicts two bald, uniformed EDF officers yelling at one another over a giant viewscreen, but it’s virtually impossible to tell them apart. The characters play boring roles in a generic rebellion story. Still, the plot simply needs to deliver an excuse to get to what Red Faction is all about: blowing up everything.

I knew fans appreciated the original Red Faction for being one of the
first games to feature terrain manipulation nearly a decade ago. Volition took that system
to an impressive new level in Guerrilla — while the landscape of Mars
is unalterable, every single structure in the game can be utterly
demolished. Bringing down building after building — essentially a
repetitive task — stays incredibly fun throughout the entire
experience thanks to the strength of Volition’s engine. The ground
shakes, massive chunks of concrete tear off support beams and crumble
as they strike the ground, and multistory buildings sway and fall into
neighboring structures, compounding the destruction.

Red Faction: Guerrilla starts you off with remote detonators and a
wicked sledgehammer, but pretty soon you’ll be tearing down everything
in sight with rocket launchers, material-disintegrating nano rifles,
black hole-spawning singularity bombs, and giant walkers. And if you
want to make a mess without traditional weaponry, just hop in a space
truck and drive it straight through a building. Watching a giant structure shake itself to pieces after you sledge its last supporting
wall is still tremendously satisfying the hundredth time you do it —
and there’s still that adrenaline rush of Oh God it’s going to fall on
Bail out!

Even with Geo-Mod 2.0 and Havok, the destruction obviously isn’t
perfectly true-to-life. Critically damaged buildings sometimes remain
standing when such a thing seems entirely impossible. But Guerrilla treads a
fine line between looking realistic enough to be awe-inspiring and
feeling arcadey enough to be tremendously fun. It’s going to be hard for me to
look at other sandbox action games the same way, with a city full of buildings you
can’t enter, much less destroy. Guerrilla may be the underdog action
game of the summer, but it deserves every bit of success it gets.

11 thoughts on “Blowing up the sandbox, Guerrilla style

  1. Yeah I wanted to pick it up, but with money still being tight I have a feeling I can grab it in a couple of months when the price is $20 lower.

  2. I played the demo, and besides it being unnervingly hard to fight so many bad guys constantly, the destruction part was amazing. Setting up remote mines strategically inside a building to make the whole thing collapse with the push of a button was fantastic. When I finally jumped into the walker/construction robot, I was laughing like a maniac the entire time, destroying everything in sight. I was particularly impressed that even though these buildings were exploding in huge, elaborate manners, and were collapsing with realistic physics into a thousand pieces, the game barely stuttered, keeping a smooth framerate. As soon as I can afford it, this game will be mine.

  3. @Kan that’s one thing I forgot to mention: the framerate stays totally solid. I think I remember one instance where it stuttered, but that was about 5 seconds in 15 hours of gameplay, most of which played host to constant explosions. The difficulty really only spikes a few times, when you’ve moved on to a new area but haven’t unlocked the next armor upgrade; when the EDF get better weapons but you’re still using the same stuff, it can be temporarily overwhelming.

    PS: There’s an even better walker for you to look forward to in the full game.

  4. but if the EDF doesn’t rule Mars with an iron fist, then the giant bugs’ll come back

  5. I played the original Red Faction not too long ago.

    So apparently, after you overthrow the original dictatorship there in the first game with the help of the EDF, they don’t bugger off back home afterwards but instead turn into an occupational force doing all sorts of horrible things?

    And you play as an insurgent? In beyond all that it’s in a desert type enviroment too?

    And this can get an american release?

    And the next game in this playground type of sandbox game, Prototype, is one where you play a terrorist (from everyone else’s point of view) on the loose in new york city murdering civillians and american troops?

    If america’s right wing wasn’t led by a bunch of men so old they’ve no clue about how the world works nowadays (hence the right wing thing) they’d go totally spare, wouldn’t they?

  6. I just played it last night and it is indeed pretty bad ass. The earthquake backpack and atomizing rifle are both wonderful to use. I’m not into open world stuff but the “break all the shit you can” multiplayer mode was a lot of fun.

  7. @Simon: All I remember about the original Red Faction was putting in a cheat-code to get unlimited ammo, and then spending the entire time I rented the game burrowing elaborate tunnels to the end-points of the levels. That was mildly amusing but was mostly me finding fun in breaking the game instead of actually playing it. This new Red Faction is fun in and of itself.

    And to answer your rhetorical question: yes, this can get an American release. Unlike say Germany or Australia, America doesn’t ban it’s games (or any media) because it has material deemed objectionable to the government.

  8. Haha! I just ordered Total Recall on Blu-Ray this morning w/ Ghostbusters Blu-Ray! Woot! Oh, for anyone that wants Ghostbusters Blu-Ray cheap… use coupon code SONYPIC5 at Amazon… I assume you can use it on any Sony release?

  9. Hmm, was there a demo of this on PSN as well (that I presumably passed over because it looked like yet another space marine shooter)? I may ave to check it out.

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