Feeling kind of…red

Red Faction Guerrilla
Red Faction Guerrilla

I cruise by the turn off for the Martian Council eyeing the EDF patrols that wander by while simultaneously keeping my eye on the cliffs surrounding the base.  Then I spot it up ahead; the perfect outcropping just high enough to allow me to get up and over the range of hills that surround the base; with the help of my handy jetpack anyway.  Smiling, I step on the gas and move down the road quickly stashing my pickup behind some boulders.  Never know; I might have to make a hasty exit.  With a deep breath I sprint towards the hills, leaping activating my jetpack’s thrusters at the apex of my jump.  With a series of assisted leaps, and one close call with some over-zealous EDF grunt, I manage to make it to the top of a large cliff.  I stare for a moment at the Martian Council building my lip curling in disgust at the clean lines and utilitarian design of the EDF built structure.  Unlimbering my home-brewed rocket launcher I take careful aim and let loose a missile.  Concrete, glass and rebar fly in all directions followed almost immediately by the first pot-shots from the EDF troops below.  I smile, staring into the smoke filled hole in the council building; definitely an improvement.

Minutes later and Alec Mason, along with several ambitious guerilla’s who arrived to help, stand amongst the smoking ruins of Mars’ main seat of government.  Meanwhile I sit, controller in hand, smiling at the destruction I’ve wrought but knowing that the EDF is far from finished.  I also sit secure in the knowledge that narrative woven by Red Faction: Guerrilla isn’t nearly as compelling as the narrative I’ve woven around my own actions in the game.  My Alec Mason isn’t out for revenge for his brother’s death; he is an ice-veined sociopath who cares little for the Red Faction so long as they throw him new toys and let him wreck shit up.  As the fall of EDF grew close I began to wonder precisely what Alec Mason would do when there are no longer any more bases to destroy, convoys to stop, vehicles to liberate  or couriers to stop.  He is a man whose sole existence is predicated on destruction and while the moral quandary of a soldier with no war might make a more interesting narrative it likely would make a much less compelling game.

For a game I enjoyed as much as I did (and there are very instances where a quick bump from ‘normal’ to ‘casual’ didn’t solve things ) Red Faction: Guerrilla is a game surprisingly devoid of character.  It is, surprisingly, a game that succeeds despite this fault.  The single-player campaign is, and this might sound a bit silly, a rather lonely experience.  It lacks of even the ghost of a computer controlled companion or likable companion and, given that the lion’s share of work in liberating Mars seems to fall on Mason’s shoulders, it occasionally breaks immersion.  I’m not really knowledgeable on guerrilla tactics but somehow I doubt that they involve only one man taking on just about everything and anyone; the only time I saw anybody else in the game was when they needed Alec’s help with something.  It is good thing that the core gameplay mechanic (destroy things) works so well.  The physics of destruction are phenomenal and nothing short of spectacular to watch.  The completely destructible architecture and the addition of a jetpack make for a huge array of options when approaching missions, or even when just destroying guerrilla targets.

There are a variety of mission types that crop up in the game: hostage rescues, vehicle boosting, convoy interception, courier stopping, area defense, and destruction on rails.  All of those mission-types do not include the actual story missions that advance the plot which themselves are typically varied including the dreaded escort (not as terrible as you’d think) missions to assassinations.  While the story missions are a little more unidirectional in how they are approached they still occasionally benefit from the game’s physics engine.  The other side missions vary in how you can complete them for hostage rescues, convoy interceptions, and stealing vehicles you are more or less given free reign to approach the mission as you see fit; so long as you complete the assigned task.  In demolition missions you are given a specific set of tools or constraints in order to destroy a specific structure.  The rails missions are exactly that, you man a turret while an NPC drives, and wrack up as much damage as possible.  Area defense is a timed mission where in you basically destroy as many EDF vehicles as possible in a set amount of time a task that, if you like seeing things explode, is typically quite gratifying.

As stated above the single-player campaign, while satisfying, is nothing to write home about.  There are glimmers of what could be greatness glimpsed along the path.  Early in the game you are sent into Marauder territory (tribal Martian settlers who raid both the EDF and Red Faction)  and I found exploring the abandoned area significantly unsettling; even if I could see the ending section of the mission coming from a mile away.  The completely optional addition of voice memos that unlock powerful one-use bombs also hint at a deeper history to the Martian colony that the main game doesn’t explore.  I have to imagine that there is a quantity of world-building and detail that got left by the wayside in favor of gameplay and deadlines.  Even having completed the game I am left uncertain as to who or what the the Red Faction is.  Red Faction utterly fails in crafting a narrative that creates any sort of emotional attachment to either the few characters you meet or even to your mission to liberate Mars and perhaps my vision of Alec Mason as an emotionless sociopath is a result of that (his laconic voice actor also contributed).  But, if you’re a gamer willing to bring your own imagination to the table, you’ll might find (like I did) that Red Faction’s blank slate allows for the crafting of your own narrative.

Multiplayer is also surprisingly fun, though I lament the inclusion of a split-screen mode, and the addition of a pass the controller party game (destroy stuff!) is surprisingly addictive.  I would have to say that so far Red Faction: Guerrilla is one of my favorite games of 2009; even if it is a game that succeeds despite its flaws.  I have yet to play the Demons of the Badlands DLC that is available for it; but I do hope that Volition ekes out some more support of the game.  Amazon still has the Xbox 360 version available for $39.99 and the PC version should be available via your method of choice (physical or digital) on September 15th at $39.99 (and of course it is also available on PS3 for $59.99).

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