Red Faction: Guerilla has been off my radar for quite some time, which actually surprises me, as it is a game developed by Volition, the people behind Saints Row, and I absolutely loved the second and fourth games in that series. It is also a game about destroying buildings, which has a primal and cathartic appeal to me. However, the brown aesthetic of this game always put me off, and it wasn’t until I caught a few glimpses of people gushing about this game before I chose to check it out and see what made their knickers so tight and cozy. Yeah, I still have no idea what they found so appealing about this game.
Red Faction: Guerilla Review
Platforms: PC(reviewed), Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Developer: Volition, Inc., Reactor Zero, and Nordic Games
Publisher: Nordic Games (formerly THQ)
I want to begin this review by describing what Red Faction: Guerilla is, but I struggle to do so, if only because what it actually is happens to be vastly unremarkable aside from the whole destruction angle. It’s a third person small-scale sandbox with the usual shooting, driving, side missioning, collectible hunting, and gradual upgrading that seems all too common in the AAA video game space. One whose core appeal is that you destroy a lot of buildings by getting inside of them and bashing away at the flimsy walls that hold them up, but that, along with almost everything that makes up this game, is greatly hindered, and leads to an experience that, at its best of times, manages to be decently invigorating, and an utter bore at its worst.
I’ll begin with the largest point of contention for me, which is the story. I’m not going to bother bringing up any of the developer’s previous work here, as regardless of who made this game, this manages to be one of the most confusing, simple, and generally disinteresting stories I have ever seen. It is a pretty bog standard affair about a resistance trying to fight off an evil organization, one who has been colonizing Mars. You spend most of the game destroying the organization’s stuff, and in the end need to see the Native Americans– I mean Martians– in order to stop the big evil organization and save this dirtball of a planet.
My limited understanding of the details of the story could be due to how I chose to not view mission briefings, but there genuinely was nothing about this game’s plot that interested me in the slightest. The main character is a bald space fireman who is voiced by a vocally restricted Troy Baker, he has a love interest whose proper name I cannot even recall, and you see the supposed leader of this evil organization twice in the entire game, and he’s just some bald guy in a spaceship. It is a droll, largely humorless experience that I would have completely ignored if I weren’t doing a review of this game.
This lack of, well, care about the the world the developers are creating also carries over to the design of the chunk of Mars the game takes place in. It is divided up into a handful of sections, each either their own color, from red, to grey, to brown, to green, to blue, to more brown. It is a dull mountainous dirtball with very few distinguishing features in the entire planet, as color differences aside, pretty much every area looks the same, and incorporates pretty much the same buildings and building types.
It’s also not very fun to traverse it, and it wouldn’t be even if the appearance wasn’t so dull. Quite simply, the world of Red Faction: Guerilla is big, bigger than it needs to be, and the world is made up of a series of winding roads and mountain ranges that keep you locked into said winding roads. This means you have very limited ways of getting around, and while the driving is solid, I would not say that I ever had much fun while driving in this game, which you do all the time. It just feels unnecessary, and very little is ever done to make driving feel more like a means of transporting from point A to point B while following the directions given to you by a GPS system.
Once you get where you need to be, you’re most often engaging in combat through either a main or side mission, both of which more often involve this game’s combat, which has some pretty major problem. Four in fact. One is that the weapon count at any given time is maxed out at four, with the trusty sledgehammer always taking up one slot. You can change your weapons regularly, but this still means your arsenal is needlessly restricted, and you will potentially forget about some weapons, or just never use them.
Two, the weapons have very low ammunition. You can only refill most ammo by accessing designated ammo crates scattered throughout the map, which are often placed out of the way, disrupt the flow of combat, and are very easy to flat out ignore throughout much of the game. This led to me viewing my explosive ammo as too precious to use in 80% of situations, and instead I utilized the instant-kill sledgehammer and basic assault rifle on most enemies, as the only regular ammo drops are for boring regular old space guns. Which still have a terrible ammo capacity.
Three, most of these weapons are ineffective. It could take about a sixth of my total assault rifle shots to kill one regular grunt. Explosive charges are only lethal if placed within five feet of the regular variety of space grunt, otherwise it takes two or three of them. The electricity gun only has ten lethal charges in it, after upgrading the ammo of course. Using a rocket launcher doesn’t always kill the inhabitants of a vehicle. The most reliable weapon in this game is your sledgehammer, which takes no ammo, kills everybody in a single hit, and has a pretty good range for a melee weapon. It’s also easily the best tool for demolition as, well, you can use it without worrying about your stupid limited ammo.
Four, the protagonist is just as flimsy and weak as the buildings he so effortlessly breaks away as if they were made of stale breadsticks. Death became such an obnoxious inevitability in my playthrough that I had to switch the difficulty to easy just so I could make progress at a reasonable pace. Well, I say the problem is the protagonist’s health limit, but it’s more that he lacks the health to compensate for when six enemies are firing at them at once, and the player is in an environment where they literally cannot avoid the enemy fire long enough for their health to regenerate. Sometimes you can hid behind a building or rock, other times you need to dodge gunfire while in a makeshift hallway. If the latter occurs, be prepared to lose some morale.
Ah yes, morale. By doing certain side actions in the game, or killing multiple enemies in succession, you raise the moral of the Martian colonists, and they will both fight with you, and earn you bonus salvage, which you use to upgrade your weapons, upon completing main missions. However, you can also lose it if you accidentally murder a colonist, die, or if a colonist dies in a skirmish. Also, you have zero control over how the colonists operate. It is simply obnoxious, especially for people with as asinine as myself, where they need to perpetually maintain the highest morale possible, even if they openly know it’s stupid.
Jeepers, three pages in and I‘ve barely said anything positive. Well, I suppose it is rather fun to break buildings apart, and even if when only using the sledgehammer, it can still be a very cathartic experience to demolish a building while you are still inside it. The missions that have you use a limited arsenal of weapons are an interesting showcase of the mechanics of the game, and require the player to think about how to best use the tools at their disposal, at least in theory. You can also pilot a collection of three mechs, and, they are pretty fun to use. It is a new way to enact destruction, and feel good to use, but the amount of times you are given them is rather limited outside of side missions that are build around destroying a bunch of enemies and survive.
So when focusing on the pleasing act of destruction, I’d say that Red Faction: Guerrilla can be pretty fun, albeit in a rather simple way. However, that is not the fixation most of the time, most often, you are engaging in a predictable assortment of third person sandbox action shooter tasks and challenges, with very little soul to all of it. It is droll and was not worth the 20+ hours I ultimately put into. It is a shockingly boring game that is fixated on destroying things, and when compared to the developer’s other titles, mainly the Saints Row games, is devoid of just about any endearing qualities aside from the fact that you can destroy buildings. Oh, and the jetpack sucks too.