Review / Red Faction: Guerrilla (Xbox 360)

Red Faction: Guerrilla is a remarkable game, but the extent of your enjoyment will largely depend on your appetite for destruction. If you’re looking for subtle nuance, deep characterization and an open world teeming with life, then turn away now. But if you want to blow up a 100ft smokestack so it crashes into a bridge, raining concrete and steel onto the heads of your enemies, then this is the game for you.

You are Dan Mason, the shaven-haired, gruff-voiced hard-man from just about every action game this generation. Shortly after arriving on Mars, our generic hero is thrust into a fight against the Earth Defense Force (EDF), the planet’s oppressive rulers. To aid the resistance in liberating Mars from their trite tyrannical clutches, Mason must complete a series of missions designed to reduce the EDF’s influence and push them out, region by region.

The missions themselves are nicely varied, even if the barren Mars landscape on which they play out in isn’t. You’ll find yourself protecting settlements from EDF brutality, joining the resistance to attack enemy strongholds, intercepting convoys and destroying EDF infrastructure. Completing missions weakens enemy control on the region, raises civilian moral, bolsters the resistance’s numbers and opens up more story missions that drive the narrative along. With the exception of the escort missions — that suffer from frustrating A.I. — everything moves along swiftly and enjoyably.

The reason for this is less to do with the mission design and more to do with Guerrilla’s unique brand of destruction. Most missions culminate in a massive explosion and a flattened building or two. This isn’t a criticism, but a ringing endorsement. Forget traditional combat strategy, rampant carnage is the name of the game here. Thanks to the sheer joyful exuberance of Guerrilla’s battles, you’ll just be happy that each mission moves you to the next scene of delirious destruction. With creative demolition on this scale; story, character and mission design are merely a side note.

Environmental damage has been flirted with before, and Red Faction has always been a pioneering franchise in this respect, but never to this extent. Mercenaries is perhaps the most obvious recent example, but even that game had limitations on its destructibility. The collateral damage on offer there was all on the developer’s terms. You could only destroy what they wanted you to.

Guerrilla, however, is the real deal. If it is on screen, then it can be blown-up, collapsed, crumbled, crumpled and exploded. Sometimes all at once. But it isn’t just the destruction of buildings that is so enjoyable, but the gratifying way in which they topple and collapse. Every building is constructed in such a way that the load bearing walls, columns and cantilevers are immediately recognizable. Some strategically-placed remote mines or a few swipes of your sledgehammer and Volition’s impressive engine brings everything crashing down in a startlingly realistic manner. There is no cloud of smoke obscuring the view, no preset collapse animation. What you see is entirely physics-based. It’s immensely satisfying.

That Guerrilla manages this at all is no small feat, but that it can do so almost flawlessly is astonishing. In the 25 or so hours we spent with the game, only once did we notice any dropped frames. At the time, two buildings, a few personnel carriers, numerous NPCs and a giant mech were all being decimated simultaneously. We think you’ll agree that’s forgivable.

As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock a plethora of weapons that offer ever-increasing carnage. Indeed, once you get your hands on the Thermobaric rocket launcher you can fill the entire screen with its gigantic blast. But you’ll save it for when you find yourself in the tightest of spots. The rest of the time you’ll be quite happy with your trusty remote-mines, frantically flipping them onto buildings, causing chain reactions of destruction – collapsing buildings into buildings into giant gas canisters, massive explosions ripping through vehicles and enemies, sending them hurtling through the air. It never gets boring.

Quite simply put, nothing else released this year is going to offer an experience as enjoyable as Guerrilla’s cathartic carnage.

The game only truly disappoints in its final throws, offering up a convoluted final mission and weak finale. A climactic showdown with a towering EDF headquarters, offering you the chance to display the culmination of your wrecking skills would have been far more pleasing. Unfortunately, it’s a damp squib climax to the explosive 15-20 hours that precede it.

Well-rounded multiplayer modes are on hand to help you get over the disappointment. Alongside the stat-tracking, experience levelling and utterly chaotic traditional online multiplayer modes, is a game called Wrecking Crew. Played locally, in this mode you stand off against a friend and take it in turns to wreak as much havoc in the area as possible within a specified time. You can swap the options around with different weapons and environments and powered-backpack combinations, but the aim is always the same, blow up more stuff than your friend. Just like the Horde mode in Gears of War 2, Wrecking Crew succeeds because it boils the game down to its very core. No faffing about, no driving, no escorting, just flat out demolition. It is a joy to play, providing hours of controller swapping fun.

So Guerrilla is a flawed gem. The story, the characters and the environment are inconsequential. But the odds are you won’t care. We didn’t. We were having too much fun laughing and joking and blowing everything to smithereens. The next time you play an action game, throw a grenade at a wooden door. If it only manages to leave a blackened mark, think back to what this game has to offer. Red Faction: Guerrilla may just be the leader of a revolution.

+ Hugely ambitious and largely successful destructible environments
+ Consistently executed visuals
+ Solid online modes capture the game’s exhilarating essence

– The storyline is merely functional
– Disappointing final mission frustrates rather than excites
– Environments are dull and featureless