By Kieron Gillen on April 3rd, 2009 at 5:11 pm.
Sitting down to play an early version of Red Faction on an almost-sunny London day, I do get a moment’s cognitive dissonance when I think of myself here, at a corporate event, playing a multi-million dollar product of capitalism designed to simulate the thrill of armed insurrection, when I could just head across town and get involved in the real thing. Except if I did that, I’d probably get in more trouble when I hit someone with a sledgehammer. And I wouldn’t get to play with nanite-disolverers. Or, at least, I don’t think I would. Man!
So – Red Faction then.
Voilition’s shooters had an odd history, especially involving the PC. Its Geo-Mod technology in 2001 was – ahem – revolutionary, to the point where a tech-demo lead to the magazine I was working to giving it a cover feature with a hyperbolic coverline along the lines of “Half-life move over”. And then when it came out, it was thoroughly average with its ability for you to mine into any surface not used to any real effect, so the reviewer gave it an averagey-sixty-percent or so mark. It was a hit over on the PS2 – which you can mainly put down to FPS-shortage on that particular format – leading to a sequel which I ignored so much I had to check whether it came out on the PC or not on Wikipedia just now. It did.
Which means what would normally be the bad news is in fact good news. Red Faction: Guerrilla isn’t anything at all like its prequels. Yeah, it’s got a load of nods in the game to its history. Yes, it’s still set on Mars and about a rebellion of miners. And yes, destruction still plays a key part of the game. It’s moved from a first-person shooter to a third-person open-world action game, and is easy to see as a more serious sci-fi sister game to Volition’s hilarious and playful Saints Row 2. And while destruction is key, it’s no longer about the the “you can dig a big hole!”, instead concentrating on actually taking apart buildings. It’s a total betrayal! A total betrayal which was probably a good thing. Red Faction is much more interesting as a Mercenaries-inspired blow-everything-up game, with revolutionary flourishes.
I mean that in tone rather than mechanics or structure. In terms of the latter, you’ll be immediately familiar with having major missions to complete, interspersed with more random other activities you can get up to. The you-are-a-revolution element is added in those side-missions. Activities can decrease the security level in the area – so unlocking the main missions leading to your cheery victory – or raise the morale of the people, making it more likely that a passer-by will pick up arm and fight the fascist bastards. So you’ll soon find yourself rescuing kidnapped victims, joining in defence of areas, taking down parts of the enemy infrastructure, having demolition challenges and… oh, that kind of stuff. I found it immediately easy to buy into the fiction of the place. Obviously the high-lights are the enormous set-piece missions where… well, stuff goes bang. Lots of it.
It’s a game about banging. The vast majority of your weapons – the iconic ones being repurposed mining equipment – is designed to bring down buildings. While it’s amusing to work your way into a base by just banging holes in everything you see in the way, the moment it clicked – and I found myself openly laughing – was bringing down a smoke-stack. I’d accidentally set the charges in a way which the whole thing collapsed on a nearby other building, taking that out too. Both of my targets taken out in one pyrotechnic flourish. This could grow on a guy.
The explosions continue into the multiplayer, which embraces the destroy-stuff ethos. As well as capture the flag and general deathmatch-esque stuff, there’s ones based around destroying – or reconstructing with a makes-brickies-nervous-about-jobs magical building healing gun – structures and similar. Even the standard missions are enlivened by this destructive tendency. Take the CTF map where the direct route is an enormous bridge. While the superstructure resists, you soon see hammer-weilders determinedly heading from one side to the other bashing to improvise a trench. The on-fly class-based system is another striking part of the game – spread around the level there’s specialist backpacks, which supplies you with a new power. Want to rush for the flag, grab the one which allows you to speed boost or the splendid jetpack. Want to fight close up? Try the firepower boost. Support the team? Try the heal. Want to run through walls cackling? Choose the Rhino one.
I chose the Rhino one a lot.
The few hours play actually leave me liking Red Faction a lot. I suspect it isn’t going to end up as a genre-redefining classic – it’s too happy with the post GTA-open-world conventions for that – but it does look like it’s going to manage what no Red Faction game has so far. That is, be a lot of fun.
Seriously, the Rhino backpack. It’s hilarious. Try that thing out.