Red Faction: Guerilla’s destructible scenery makes it still worth playing today

Two hostages. One building. Five government guards with reinforcements waiting in the wings. In most games, I’d try to sneak in with a silenced rifle, methodically popping enemies in the head one-by-one. But in Red Faction: Guerrilla, I don’t even have a gun in my inventory, let alone a silenced one. What I have instead are explosives. Lots of explosives.

I rig five charges at random points on the outside of the building, retreat to a safe distance, and squeeze the detonator. Glass shatters and debris flies off at all angles, a steel girder whizzing past my left ear as concrete and metal crumble down on top of the EDF soldiers, crushing them alive. But, predictably, the hostages are caught in the chaos. One is buried in the rubble, the other limping out with her health in the red.

The game tries to make me feel bad, alerting me that ‘morale’ in the local area has fallen to account for the dead guerrilla fighter. But I really don’t care. Because blowing up buildings is fun – and Red Faction: Guerrilla makes it more fun than any other game out there.

Its destruction physics remain the best in gaming, and virtually every building on the surface of the Martian setting can be torn apart in responsive ways. If you fire a rocket at a particular corner of a tall tower, that area will crumble and the building will topple over its weak point, destroying other structures in its path.

Blowing stuff up in this game never, ever gets old, and I’ve spent countless hours driving around ignoring missions in favour of trying to create the loudest, most spectacular chain reactions possible. It’s damned addictive.

If it were just mindless destruction, I’d be fine with it. But the game gives the player freedom to use its physics in interesting ways. There are guns, but I used them sparingly, instead opting for remote charges and rocket launchers as my primary tools. Why shoot a soldier standing on a bridge when you can blow up the gas pipes below him and send him tumbling to his death?

There’s scope for more tactical uses, too. You can surprise enemies by punching through walls at the back of compounds, essentially creating new access routes for mission areas. You can destroy bridges as enemy tanks drive across, stopping their pursuit short. Tasked with taking out enemies, you can place charges strategically to blow out the front of the building they’re hiding within, exposing them to your gunfire.

Combat is tough – too tough in my opinion, and the sheer number of enemies often means you’ll have to actually resort to firing your gun and ducking behind cover. It’s worth dialling it down to easy, and even then you’re sometimes overwhelmed. Luckily, blowing up buildings or particular parts of enemy compounds is a handy way of creating escape routes when it all gets too much.

If you tire of your arsenal of explosives, there are other ways to bring down a building. Vehicles become deadly battering rams that can weaken structures and take out propaganda posters for the EDF in a pinch. And, occasionally, you’ll get access to Walkers: giant mechs that can rip through buildings in seconds. They show the environments at their destructible best.

Then there’s the star of the show: your trusty sledgehammer. It’s impossibly strong, never falling apart as you swing away at steel and brick, hacking down entire buildings like a lumberjack felling a great oak tree. Whacking walls is a visceral experience and the audio cues do a good job of creating a sense of impact. But the sledgehammer is perhaps best when used against enemies, as seen below.

Released in 2009, the game has aged badly in some ways. Most missions are simply ‘go over there and blow that building up’, which is fine, but there are too many filler tasks that involve tracking couriers or delivering vehicles to safe houses.

But the physics still hold up. In fact, it stands head and shoulders above more recent games that have dipped their toe into destructible environments, such as the Battlefield series.

It all begs the question: with a mechanic this fun, why haven’t more games implemented it? I can’t help but be excited at the prospect of seeing whole skyscrapers tumble in series like Saints Row or Grand Theft Auto.

Well, there’s probably a good reason why those games didn’t try. RF: G has to compensate in a lot of ways to make the mechanic work. Its environments are sparse: buildings are separated in compounds so that the destruction can be contained. If one building collapses, there are only so many other buildings it can fall onto before the chain reaction sputters out. The graphics, too, take a hit, with the development team focusing on building architecture over realistic textures.

It also required a huge investment of time and money from the development team. Developers Volition spent six months making the engine, called GeoMod 2.0, to allow it to support the destruction. The structures are made up of what the team called “shards”, essentially small fragments that break off along specified joints when the building is destroyed. Those individually-crafted pieces have to be small enough so that they can respond differently to forces from different directions, meaning that to the player, the destruction looks as realistic as possible.

What that all means is that, even now, producing similar destruction mechanics is no easier, and would still require developers to compromise on graphics to the extent that mainstream audiences would turn away. Riot Games product manager Jim Boone, previously senior producer at Volition, worked on Red Faction: Guerilla, its follow up Red Faction: Armageddon, and Saint’s Row IV, and an interview he did with VG247 in 2013 is telling.

“The technology behind that is so amazing and also so restrictive at the same time, that the problem is that the density of buildings you can do with that engine literally couldn’t come close to being done to represent the kind of cities we do in Saints Row,” he said.

“My suspicion is that if you looked at another game coming out that didn’t have that technology, that their buildings would look so superior to ours, the gamers would still look at it and say, ‘Wow, what’s wrong with Saints Row, why does it look so horrible? The city just looks awful compared to what I’m seeing in these other games because of the destruction.’ With the kind of competition that’s out there I think, I suspect it would almost be impossible to do it and still remain competitive visually.”

I reckon Boone is wrong and that gamers, especially on PC, would tolerate muddy textures if they could get their hands on dense, destructible environments. But that’s not the way developers see it and, sadly, for that reason we’re unlikely to see another game that does destruction as well as Red Faction: Guerrila, at least for the foreseeable future. Which makes it, in some ways, a piece of gaming history – and an important reminder of how fun it is to blow shit up.

46 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    RFG was super fun. The destructible buildings and everything just added a flair of absurdity to everything.

    However if you focused on that, late game half of all the suburban looking areas are just flattened pads, as buildings don’t always come back.

    Still, fun times.

  2. minogusti says:

    God, the multiplayer was so effin fun

  3. nimbulan says:

    I always found the destruction in this game, and just the game in general extremely underwhelming. It never let me carry enough ammo to make the explosive weapons very useful even with all the upgrades and the buildings had a nasty habit of not collapsing even with just a single support beam in one wall left standing. Red Faction Armageddon both fixed these problems and eliminated non-destructible objects by including a rebuilding mechanic. Apparently Mars also has about 10x as many cops as the entire Earth within alert distance of you.

  4. Premium User Badge

    N'Al says:

    Crackdown 3 may be able to build on RFG’s destructible environments – pun intended – although I think it’s for the multiplayer portion of the game only.

    link to youtu.be

  5. Gargamel330 says:

    SPAAAACE ASSHOOOOOOOLE!

    • poliovaccine says:

      Because of course someone wrote a song about this game from the perspective of one of the colonists. Because of course.

      *goes home muttering*

    • April March says:

      What “space”? He’s on a planet. He’s on space as much as I am right now!

      *goes home grumbling*

      • Premium User Badge

        DuncUK says:

        If anything he a “Marsehole”

        Come to think of it, that should be the subtitle of the next Red Faction game.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Dorga says:

    Crackdown 3?

  7. poliovaccine says:

    Every time a game comes out that allows this much dynamic influence over the environment, I always think it’s going to become the new norm, and it never does. It happened with this, it happened with Populous, and I have to agree, I’d gladly see graphics looking a few years older than bleeding-edge in exchange for more destructible or otherwise manipulable environments like these. Imagine if Skyrim’s dragons could actually raze towns? If you just had these same explosive building physics in any of the recent Fallouts? Rainbow Six Siege is a decent example of how cool that could be. And yeah, this type of stuff would have indeed been a natural fit for Saints Row IV – too bad to see the predictable way it didn’t make the cut, from the horse’s mouth no less.

    I can imagine very few games which wouldn’t be, if not massively improved, at least massively more interesting with the inclusion of this stuff. Not just FPSes, but strategy games too, stuff like XCOM. Too bad graphics are basically the primary resource in competition, especially since some aspects of graphics are already so far beyond other elements of gameplay in general, at this point. Physics could stand to do some catching up.

    • Premium User Badge

      Mungrul says:

      If you fancy an XCOM-alike but with destructible scenery (and arguably even more convincing than RFG’s), you could do worse than Silent Storm and its sequel, Sentinels.
      Admittedly, the games have problems, but the turn based combat is incredibly solid, and the scenery is destroyable in incredibly satisfying ways, such as hearing footsteps on the floor above, firing through said ceiling with a prolonged burst from a machine gun, and having a hapless, bullet-riddled Nazi corpse fall through the resulting ragged hole.

      And grenadier as a character class has never been more satisfying.

      • poliovaccine says:

        I totally do fancy that, yes, but I’d never heard of that game. Thanks for the recommendation! As much as this article prompts me to pine for this feature in FPS type games, I see it having the best potential in the top-down-strategies. Good looks!

      • Premium User Badge

        teije says:

        How I loved Silent Storm, still do. Well worth a play through still.

  8. tslog says:

    I’ve Played guerrilla about six times and look forward to playing many more. Destruction aspect is the best in existence.

    It’s alright to say that the traditional shooty weapon combat is bad, really bad. Having the electrical gun that stun locks enemies to death makes the player feel powerful but not much else.

    And normal difficulty is still way too hard with the amount of bullets coming your way.

    In the way that the building structure had a resistance to being rammed with lighter vehicles felt really authentic.

    More ammo would have made the game more enjoyable. Running out quickly out of ammo and having to go to crates to only get a limited top up of ammo was annoying.

  9. TerminatorJones says:

    Man did I enjoy this game. In the single player campaign, I think it has some of the best improvisational gameplay out there. Equipped with a ghost of a plan, I would ram a truck armed with a carbomb into an enemy base. The next five or ten minutes would be rollicking chaos, and then I would jack a car and make my escape. Of course, to do all of that, you had to play on easy, but honestly I’ve been playing games on easy for some time now. If I want a challenge, I’ll play against other humans.

    I do take a little umbrage at the idea that the Battlefield series never did destructable environments well. Lately they’ve stunk at it, but the original Battlefield: Bad Company did a very good job at making the destructable environments germane to the gameplay. Although come to think of it, maybe that one never came out on PC? Bad Company 2 did a pretty good job with the destructable walls too, though.

  10. Viral Frog says:

    I don’t recall the combat being too difficult on Normal. But it’s been a few years since I last played. I definitely agree on the destructible environments. They are absolutely fantastic and I wish more games would embrace them as a core mechanic.

    • star5CR34M says:

      It’s not so much that it’s difficult, more that the volume of baddies you have to deal with gets pretty overwhelming.

    • Muzman says:

      The difficulty usually comes from the enemies being numerous and a little bullet spongy. So you often run out of ammo in a serious raid and have to break off, especially early on. It’s probably nothing more than a tweak in one direction or another but it makes a big difference.

      The game can support some astonishing pitched battles, but has a little trouble deciding if it’s a bonkers action film or a more realist battle game at times.

      The mod potential for either is astounding.

  11. FunkyBadgerReturns says:

    I always enjoyed that you were basically playing as the Taliban.

    • Great Cthulhu says:

      Well, not as medieval as the Taliban, but you were definitely a terrorist. The game even encourages suicide attacks.

      Interesting stuff. Hey Ash has a good episode about it.

  12. Koozer says:

    There is no multiplayer experience more entertaining than hiding from your brother and cousin in a warehouse, listening and watching as they ayatematically demolish the place to flush you out, then frantically scrambling for an exit as the floor beneath you starts to give way.

  13. Quixotica says:

    I remember the destruction in RFG being massively disappointing as someone who had played and loved both of the original Red Faction games. While it was indeed both fun and rather impressive how well they simulated buildings collapsing, with the destruction of seemingly simple stress points you could bring down entire structures. That said this paled compared to what young me had expected, given the full terrain destruction present in the first game. That game had been hamstrung by the technology of the time, but RFG on PC could have really explored the idea. Instead it completely eliminated free form destruction in favor of only having certain things destructible. Not as bad as RF2, but nonetheless.

    • star5CR34M says:

      The building destruction was amazing, but it was a little disappointing you couldn’t affect the actual terrain like you could in RF1.

      • poliovaccine says:

        I had no idea that was a thing til this article’s comments section, but it’s definitely piqued my interest in RF1.

        • DinoSteak says:

          RF1 is super simple in its terrain destruction, I wouldn’t bother trying it now you’ll probably see right through the old-school jankiness. Basically the levels are these destructible sphere’s, but things like walls or ramps don’t react at all and there’s nothing particularly worthwhile about using the terrain to overcome objectives (except a few scripted instances). It had some fun sci-fi elements and the Geomod thing was a novelty, but 20 mins in the novelty wears off.

  14. April March says:

    The destruction is great, but there’s little game on top of it, and the combat (which is indeed too hard) sours it. If RFG had been the mega-easy power fantasy and Saints’ Row had been the mega-hard hyper-tactical urban combat game I’d be a happier panda.

  15. star5CR34M says:

    I absolutely loved RFG. Charges, the wire rockets, and the sledgehammer are all I wanted to ever use. I loved the missions when you had to prepare for incoming enemies or a convoy, and you could set up elaborate death traps with charges and falling geometry. Now that games look almost as good as they’re ever going to, I’m hoping the next revolution in game design is physics and destructability. It’s such a crutch to lazy game design when I have a rocket launcher in my inventory and can’t get through a locked door. I long for the day when I can create dynamic cover – blow a trench with an explosive, etc.

  16. Behrditz says:

    If you wanted to pick this up/go back to it, there are three things to know. One, there is a mod you can get that gives you the repair gun in singleplayer. Trying to rebuild a building in a way that it doesnt fall down during can be fun.
    Two, there is (or was, back when i was playing) a mod/launcher that allows you to tweak the physics. This includes the damage caused by building stress, which i always thought was way too weak in vanilla. What does that mean functionally? It means you can set it so that if you blow out a big support of a building, the weight of everything will actually start causing damage over time, and the building might collapse an entire minute later just from weakening. If you ever thought “that really shouldnt be able to stand on its own right now” then thats the mod for you.

    Three, modding parameters of weapons is super easy, its just text editing, and there are tutorials on it. What can this be used for? Well here is what I did and it made the game AMAZINGLY better. Background: In vanilla, regular guns do absolutely no damage to structures or cover. Via simple text editing, you can make it so that all bullet guns actually fire, at the same speed and visibility of a bullet, what is technically a tiny rocket with no explosive force. The guns will do the same damage, but because the game now considers the projectiles as explosive-class damage, impacts will actually make tiny chips in cover and structures. The effect this has on gameplay is amazing and feels very natural.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      It could be the perfect game for me if you could suggest a mod to disable the calls for help (“we need you to drop what you’re doing and stop this courier right now!” the voice demands) or stop rebel forces from coming to your “aid”, i.e. getting easily killed and thus dropping morality, which leads to less ammo found in crates (a way to get infinite ammo would also solve that).

  17. Stinkfinger75 says:

    I remember the multiplayer having a mode where you had a gun which would sort of paint buildings back into existence. Still one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a video game.

    • Behrditz says:

      Yeah the repair gun. Theres a mod that lets you use that in singleplayer too

  18. Muzman says:

    Gaming nirvana is still probably the time I had to blow up the Mars Council building.

    To do it was just a matter of trekking all the way back to Parker (the mining district) and stealing a dump truck. Then as I crawled back I slowly filled it with every hydrogen canister I could along the way. Then in a quiet spot I placed all the explosive charges I could around the inside of the bucket and continued rattling my way towards the city.

    My revolutionary comrades jump in the back and in we go. The plaza is well defended and if enough stray rounds hits the explosives I’m in trouble. So I’ve got to wait until the initial assault causes enough of a diversion and before the reinforcements and air support arrive.
    The truck is slow and the load is not well secured. The stairs are steep and, well, not a great driving surface. But I make it to the top and put the hammer down. Bodies are crushed, gun emplacements smashed. Thanks be to Newton the bouncing load stays in.
    Mason/me dives out. The truck rolls through the doors. A guard gives me a rifle butt to the head. Before he can turn his aim around though, my thumb finds the detonator.

    My poor processor (at the time) can barely cope and reality becomes still frames of mostly white. When continuity returned, debris rained for seemingly minutes afterward.

    Though many died in the fighting, their lives were not ill spent. We sent a message that day my friends. A message the EDF won’t soon forget.

  19. keefybabe says:

    Looks like reinstall o’clock. I loved this but never finished it and I can’t think why.

    • Jekhar says:

      Because it get’s truly boring pretty soon? It has a bad case of early open world game syndrome, similar to the first Assassin’s Creed. You just follow your map to the next objective marker, doing the thing you already did numerous times before. And nothing you do truly has a lasting impact on the world. Buildings are toppled, yes, but they get rebuilt eventually, and your enemies still materialize out of thin air, no matter what.

  20. defunct says:

    Games like Astroneer with fully destructible planets are around. And people seem to like them. Guerilla was awesome. I replayed it a couple times. I had to skip some of the quest types even back then, so it’s not that it aged badly, but they were bad then, too. But overall, blowing stuff up was way too much fun to be slowed down by silly quests. It needs to be redone.

  21. Darth Gangrel says:

    Played it not so long ago for the first time and it was a smashing good time, but if I play it again I won’t do so without a mod that disables the annoying calls for help.

    No, I REALLY DON’T want to intercept an enemy courier/traitor with sensitive info or stop a caravan from destroying a settlement. I always did destroy the caravans each time, because of my bad conscience, which is another thing I hated about that game. Also, driving really isn’t fun in that game, so I quickly ignored all courier stuff. These intrusions completely ruin the fun of walking around an open world and is one of my biggest complaints with Borderlands 1 as well (which had a lot better driving).

    In that game, I felt forced to pick up every single quest without even considering whether I wanted to complete it or not, just so that the damned Claptrap wouldn’t call me and say that new quests were available. Yes, I bloody know that, but I don’t care, leave me alone! Will also never replay that game without a mod to disable those calls.

  22. Mollusc Infestation says:

    One of my favourite aspects of this game was that the bad guys had the same name as my awful utilities supplier (EDF). I liked to pretend that I was endeavouring to overthrow their regime as retribution for a billing error.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      Right, if I ever make a game I’m calling the baddies nPower.
      (Last year they managed to over-bill us by £1000)

  23. Emperor Norton I says:

    I was a huge, HUGE fan of the original Red Orchestra. It remains, in my mind, a shining example of multiplayer FPS perfection, with one minor bug. In Red Orchestra, you got to drive tanks … but of course, the tanks got hung up on stupid crap all too easily. Like wooden fences.
    So, I hear that Red Orchestra 2 is coming soon, and I start to dream. Really, all they needed to do was to re-make the exact same game, but allow tanks to crush fences and stuff. That’s all. Nothing more was necessary.
    Could tanks crush fences in RO2? No. Of course not. Why would you ask for that? Silly player.

  24. Robert The Rebuilder says:

    I get my fill of blowing up stuff from Just Cause 3.

  25. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Great concept. I love the concept of smashing everything in games, unbreakable tables like in Skyrim stops my immersion though they have clutter physics at least. Last thing I loved: breakable trees in Breath of the Wild, yeah.
    RFG is the only game I remember where you could break the bearing walls or girders and the structure would semi-realistically crumble according to the laws of physics.

  26. Spakkenkhrist says:

    I remember rescuing hostages that were on the 2nd floor of a building by driving a car off a neighbouring ledge straight through the side of the building and jumping out once inside to release them. Getting out of the building after that wasn’t as easy.

  27. mr_zen256 says:

    Such an incredibly underrated game. I’d rate RF:G within my top 5 favourite games of all time. It’s actually the only game that really inspired me to create a series of gameplay videos. The game was so cinematic in how the destruction could dynamically unfold. I have a ton of videos on the channel in the link.

  28. EvilMonkeyPL says:

    I really liked that game.
    A solid fucking 7/10.

    I miss 7/10 games…