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
me. 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.