Monday, July 05, 2010

Red Faction: Guerrilla review

The Red Faction series has been around for quite some time now, having made its debut on the PS2 back in 2001. It is famed for its "GeoMod" system, which allowed for realistic destruction of buildings and environments. Now, this is the first time I've actually played an entry in the series, but from what I hear, the original GeoMod was by no means perfect as it only let you destroy preset parts of the environment. Things were improved slightly for the sequel, and now for Guerrilla we have GeoMod 2.0. Instead of letting you blow chunks out of the entire environment, you are limited to being able to destroy man made structures, but this isn't a huge problem as Volition have crafted a sprawling open ended playground for you to smash into pieces. Without further ado, let's get stuck into the main part of the review.

Format: Xbox 360, (also available for PS3 & PC)
Volition Inc.
Expect to pay:
£10 - £20

Graphics: 8 out of 10
Visually Red Faction: Guerrilla is extremely solid, with big chunky vehicles, large environments that flow into one another without any loading times, and a frame rate that for the most part remains stable (only showing signs of slowdown when there is extreme amounts of carnage going on). Thanks to the fact that the various districts of Mars are at differing stages of being terraformed, Volition are able to avoid everything simply looking red or brown. Granted, the first few environments you find yourself exploring look like something taken directly from Total Recall, but later on you find yourself in the the slightly greener environs of Oasis, and later still the dark and oppressive surroundings of
Eos, where the evil Earth Defence Force are based. The vehicles range from sturdy looking trucks, through buggies, recreational vehicles that look a bit like the Johnny Cab from the aforementioned Arnie film, huge tanks, and robotic walkers that are immensely satisfying to pilot and smash things to bits with.

Sound and Music: 9 out of 10
First of all, I absolutely love the music in this game. During downtime within your base or just travelling to your next district of devastation, the music is very serene and somewhat melancholy. Once you start ripping things apart though, the tempo increases to match and it really gets the blood pumping as you raze buildings to the ground. The various weapons sound suitably meaty, and the vehicular emanations reflect the typing of transport you're driving - so electronic whirring from some space age looking hatchback, and a deep rumbling from a behemoth tank. As for the voice acting, I would say it is solidly done but not in danger of winning any acting awards. The most recognisable voice is probably that of Michael
McConnohie, who plays the Commander. Fans of Crackdown will most definitely recognise him, and he's been in dozens of other games too. It was absolutely no surprise to see Nolan North and Yuri Lowenthal among the cast list too, as they seemingly sign up for any VO job they're offered - though I'd be hard pressed to identify them as specific characters this time around.

Vehicles are not only useful for getting to A to B - they are also a great source of protection from bullets, especially when the area is swarming with enemies.

Game Mechanics: 7 out of 10
The basic structure of the game goes like this: you are given a new area of Mars to explore. The EDF are in control of this area and you need to take over, by completing Guerrilla Actions (more on this in a minute), destroying EDF property of varying importance, and completing missions that comprise part of the main storyline. The the Guerrilla Actions include Transporter (driving a vehicle back to a safe house within a time limit), raids on EDF buildings, protecting an area from an EDF incursion, House Arrest (breaking fellow faction members out of imprisonment), Demolitions Expert (blowing stuff up against the clock and with limited resources), and my personal favourites - Heavy Metal (causing wanton destruction in a big stompy robot exoskeleton), and Collateral Damage, where you man a rocket launcher on the back of a bike driven by a nutcase, and have to destroy as much EDF property as you can. Successful completion of these actions lowers the influence of the EDF on that sector, and increases the morale of the Red Faction. Before you are able to liberate an area completely, the EDF influence must be reduced to zero. Then you can take part in the liberation mission (having completed the proceeding story based missions as well), and access to the next area is granted where the whole process starts again.

The reason I have only given the game a 7 in this area is because of the controls. These days, you would expect a shoot em up to follow the majority of other games in the genre and have the zoom/iron sight mode on the left trigger, but for some reason Red Faction: Guerrilla has this mapped to clicking in the right stick and the left trigger is melee attack. Even late in the game, I would go to zoom in on an enemy and instead flail at thin air. I did check out the options menu to see if I could remap the controls, but unfortunately not. On normal difficulty, the game can be quite tough, as enemies can swarm you and take down your health incredibly quickly. I was dying all over the place, and eventually switched to Casual, having a much more enjoyable time as a result.

Freeing an area of Mars locks you out from completing particular types of Guerrilla Action if you haven't done so already, but fear not, once you finish the last story mission they will all become available to you, thus allowing you to get the Achievement for completing all 104 of them should you choose to do so. I should also mention that completing missions and destroying buildings grants you salvage, which is the currency that you can use to buy new weapons, shields and other useful items throughout the campaign. In the early stages of the game I found the sticky mines incredibly useful, and later on the rocket launcher upgraded with its heat seeking ability was a godsend. You can also buy a jet pack at a quite advanced stage in the campaign, which is another extremely useful little gadget for getting in and out of trouble.

As well as the single player campaign there is also a multi player mode. However, I've yet to experience this and unfortunately I doubt I ever will as it seems that nobody plays the game on the Xbox Live servers any more. PC owners should still be able to find somebody to play with, and I hear it is actually a pretty good multi player mode. It's a shame that a good half of the Xbox Achievements are based around the multi player though as there's not much chance of unlocking them now.

Innovation and Cleverness: 7 out of 10
Taken separately, sandbox games and third person shooters are of course nothing new. But by combining them together will the Martian setting and unprecedented amounts of destruction and mayhem, you have something rather special on your hands.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
Some reviewers think that we shouldn't take the cost of a game into consideration when critiquing it, and fair enough - but this blog speaks for real people who can't afford to buy every major release as soon as it comes out, so I feel taking the current market value of a game into consideration at the time the review is written is a valid thing to do. In this case, you can now pick up Red Faction: Guerrilla on its own for about £13, or as part of a 2 for £20 deal in the major retailers. Might I suggest Batman: Arkham Asylum as a possible companion to this game if you don't own it already? Two of the finest action games of 2009 for £20 is a real bargain.

The single player campaign didn't really take very long for me to finish - I'd estimate about 20 hours maximum. I must stress however that so far I've only completed 50 of the Guerrilla Actions - it would take a decent chunk of time to go back and do the other 54. I definitely feel that I've got decent value for money out of the game.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Red Faction: Guerrilla is a fun, chaotic, cathartic, yet sometimes frustrating trip to the planet Mars, well worth seeking out for those who love to blow things to smithereens. A follow up, Armageddon, has already been announced, and it would appear that it is shifting things back to a more linear structure, and also adding aliens to the mix. I have concerns about this because it means the game is in danger of becoming just another marines vs aliens shoot em up, and we've already go plenty of those. I'll reserve judgment until the final game appears though.

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