T’was 2009 that Red Faction Guerrilla first appeared, an astoundingly ballsy and destructive Martian open world game before everything was open world games. And goodness gracious, it was fantastic. You played as a freedom fighter for the Red Faction, rebelling against the terrible authoritarian energy company EDF, who control the populations of Mars. And your tasks primarily involve knocking things over.
The original version was reviewed by someone called “Kieron Gillen”, and as he semi-comprehensibly pointed out at the time, it was the first time Volition’s Red Faction series had realised its own ambitions. “This is a game which understands that the key point of Red Faction was blowing things the fuck up and just spends as much time trying to turn blowing stuff the fuck up into actual game.” It’s hard to argue against it.
So what is the fist-chewingly horribly named “Re-Mars-tered”, then? It’s an update, a refresh on the original, designed to run slickly and widely on your modern PC. And good, because it turns out it’s just what we needed.
I often feel sorry for those who make updates to older games, what with our habit of upgrading our memories over time. So, yup, Red Faction Guerrilla ReMarstered (FRGR) looks like it does when I remember it! Which is to say, a dated-looking-but-nice-enough presentation, running in 3440×1440 at 120FPS, still featuring unsurpassed destruction and explosions.
In 2009 RFG felt incredibly political. Western forces were still occupying an ever more tumultuous and unstable Iraq, six years after Bush’s disastrous “mission accomplished” statement, a situation busily birthing what would five years later become ISIS. And here was a game in which you played the terrorist, charged with overthrowing the occupying forces, beginning with the most primitive equipment against their elaborate forces. You, Alec Mason, accidentally find yourself spearheading the Red Faction’s pushback, after the death of your brother at the hands of the EDF, and you start off holding just a hammer.
But what a hammer. With it Mason smashes down many a building, reducing enemy camps to rubble, and gathering the scrap that results for his chums at home base to recycle into new weapons and tools. Quickly the arsenal grows, including trad guns nabbed from enemies, flingable mines to detonate en mass for maximum destruction, and eventually nano-based weapons that rapidly reduce structures, vehicles and bodies to a golden mulch.
And after a couple of tightly scripted missions, you’re set free into the huge playground of Mars, a map scattered with dozens of icons representing destruction challenges, hostage rescues, rocket firing rampages, and scripted events that progress the story. Which is to say, a game that feels an awful lot like everything Ubisoft makes these days, before it was everything Ubisoft made.
It was still of its time, of course – Far Cry 2 came out the year before, and it was clearly a direction in which things were heading. But Volition understood the format to an exquisite degree, influenced by their own experience with 2008’s Saints Row 2, and made the whole shtick feel as un-obnoxious as it’s ever been.
Of course, it wasn’t a perfect game. The three big issues were the ridiculously slippy vehicle controls, the imbalanced difficulty, and the dullness of the third-person shooting that interferes far too often. And, well, it’s still that game.
The upgrade work on RFGR is focused on graphics, and they’ve done a splendid job there. While it certainly looks dated, it doesn’t look nearly a decade old, and with the ludicrous fun on offer I almost immediately stopped noticing the brown-brown-brown fidelity and just started enjoying the destruction. And the pretty sunlight. They’ve clearly done lots with the lighting, and it really pays off, shining prettily on its angular landscapes.
But those cars are still so, so bouncy. (Yes, it’s Mars, but still.) And the gun battles are still so mediocre. And the difficulty still ramps up in ludicrous spikes. The latter is filed under what we Gaming Scientists call Just Cause Syndrome, where it escalates the enemy response far, far too high in response to your carrying out requested tasks. Even on what the game calls “Casual” difficulty, you’ll still on occasion find yourself being shot at by dozens of soldiers, heavily armoured tanks, and flying monstrosities raining down blue blasts.
And yet all of it is forgiven because of that extraordinary destruction. Smashing buildings with a hammer still feels impossibly detailed, as piece by piece you fracture walls and load-bearing pillars, until eventually the whole thing comes crashing down in spectacular fashion. Then add in all the various ways to blow shit up using its excellent array of non-gun weapons, and there’s all the fun to be had here. And the game knows it. It sets you these hilariously unjustifiable tasks to take down buildings using specifically limited supplies, and doesn’t even pretend at a narrative reason – it just knows it’s fun, so it sets you up all these chances to do it.
The result is that, yes, Red Faction Guerrilla is still a brilliant fun time, and still has all the same flaws as before, but now runs all pretty on your big screen. Which is enough! I’m delighted! Times have changed enough that the political charge is gone out of it, but it’s likely it was never really meant to be there in the first place.
I’ve had such a blast playing it all over again, and desperately wish Volition would announce a new entry in the series that – unlike the follow-up Armageddon – is also set outside in a big open world.