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The Games Of Christmas: December 8th

This door of the glorious RPS Advent-o-Calendar is proving tricky to open. We’ve tried prying it with our fingers, sticking a kitchen knife in the gap and levering it, and telekinesis. But none of it’s working. It looks like the only option left is to smash it with a giant hammer. Use the guiding hand of the one true leader of the Autobots to aim your blow.

Red Faction: Guerrilla!

John: HIT IT WITH A HAMMER! This was the rallying cry of my student house back in 98. The things we fixed with a hammer in our wretched hovel in Shelton, Stoke-On-Trent would boggle your mind. Proudest moment: fitting a new Yale lock to the back door (the landlord refused to replace the current lock that was glued onto the door) with a bread knife, pair of scissors, and a hammer. The lesson to learn: hammers can fix all problems.

So it is with the fantastic Guerrilla. It’s the world’s greatest hitting-something-with-a-hammer simulator, and it will prove hard to beat. Forget the story – an absolute clusterfuck of gibberish. Forget the NPC characters you’re supposed to care about/work with – they’re disposable blobs. Forget the setting – you’re on Mars apparently, for all the interest that raises. What this fabulous game is about is breaking stuff.

The detail of the structural destruction is a ludicrous pleasure. Smash a three-storey building enough times at the right points at its base and you can bring it down in a glorious display of demolition. And not just because you’re bored and ignoring the mission you’re meant to be on. But because it is the mission you’re on. Guerilla brilliantly understood what it is, and didn’t trick itself into thinking it was something more. You can’t clear an area until you’ve demolished enough of the key enemy structures, whether that’s by rockets, bombs, hammer blows or magical material-melting deathrays.

Oh, the magical material-melting deathray. While it doesn’t possess the remarkably weighty satisfaction of the giant hammer, its lightness and ease disguises the potential of its danger. Aim at just the right points on a bridge and… that’s one bridge that’s gone forever. Hit a helicopter in the sky and watch it dissolve, bits tumbling to the ground. It’s horrendously powerful.

For someone like me with some perverse need to break and smash everything in a game (see Burnout Paradise) this is gaming heaven. It’s a vast playground of things to break, in a game that wants me to break them. Sure, there’s guns and people to shoot at, hostages to rescue, vehicles to steal. But they’re just necessary steps to be taken on my way to knocking down the next tower.

Jim: Yes, the break stuff is good. Brilliant, even. Ploughing a truck through a building that appears to be made from cold-chocolate is a distinct joy. But I think there’s a little more going on with Red Faction than people give it credit for. Most obviously: they finally made a game in which the destruction tech they’ve spent the past decade demonstrating actually makes sense. Rather than being a superficial layer of graphical splendor, it’s actually the heart of the game: destroying stuff weakens the enemy, because you are playing the insurgency game. While lots of games have you blow up a bit of infrastructure to attack your opponents, they’re generally tied into some linear experience. What’s exciting about Red Faction’s use of infrastructural destruction is that it’s all across the world – a huge map – and that allows you to feel like you’re actually making a difference, and genuinely fighting a war. In most game worlds the back and forth of enemy forces is entirely arbitrary, but in Guerrilla you’ve actually blown up with base and destroyed their depots: they have to fall back because they no longer have the systems to operate.

In fact, I feel like Guerrilla’s sandbox destruction offers wargames and GTA-clones a totally new angle. It’s a fun model for territorial control. GTA5 can now have gang warfare in which you blow up enemy businesses, culminating in toppling a skyscraper onto the mob boss’ villa. WW2 games can be open-ended sandboxes in which you’re blowing up German facilities until you can roll the frontline back. Volition’s achievement in this game is, I think, way bigger than creating the best super-hammer in the gaming universe: it’s a genuinely fascinating re-imagining of how open world games might work as zones of influence.

Also, I like that some dude brings you a truck when you’re out in the wilds on your own.

Kieron: I think that truck thing is just a great little detail. Between Saints Row 2 and this, Volition have been sort of carving the niche as the Rockstar who want to make videogames rather than model every tiny screw in that Bridge in New York and have really famous people come into a recording studio to gawk at.

What is there to say? I liked it a lot before it came out, I liked it a lot when it came out and I like it a lot now. Its core strength is deciding exactly what it wants to do, then giving you a mass of things along that line to get up to. Exactly how much of a game can you get from blowing shit up? Shitloads, it seems.

Much like Jim, I found my standard tactic for destroying buildings was to just drive a truck into it at speed – ideally by jumping off a ramp, so I end up entering at the second floor – then get out, and start whacking things with my hyperultrohammer thingie. Or throwing grenades. Or… actually, since we’ve mentioned the hammer and the trucks already, I’ll highlight three of my previously unmentioned faves.

Firstly, the Rhino suit. In multiplayer, it lets you run through the walls. I’M THE JUGGERNAUT, BITCH. This is a marvelous thing and it’s lucky for property values in North London that I don’t have one in real life.

Secondly, the nano-disassembler gun. One shot and enemies turn into pretty-shiny bits of glass, consumed at a molecular level by some incy-bitsy-fuck-you-up machines (Probably). It could only be made better if it took a little longer, and enemies struck by it had a chance to look with horror at their disintegrating limbs – perhaps desperately trying to shoot it off in time. And screaming, obv. This is a marvelous thing and it’s lucky for life expectancy in North London that I don’t have one in real life.

Thirdly, the Singularity grenade. You lob it and you have your very own baby-black hole. Sucking an awkward building across the event horizon is the official King of Demolition methods. This is a marvelous thing and it’s lucky for the stability of the laws of physics in North London that I etc, etc.

In short: BOOM.

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.

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