Remember the days when you could just install a game, and, provided you had at least the minimum system requirements, you'd be up and playing in no time? It's looking more and more like those days are permanently behind us, considering how much nonsense and tweaking I've had to do with PC games lately to achieve even a marginally satisfactory experience. It's a shame, really, because underneath the annoyances, Red Faction: Guerrilla is a pretty fun game.
The introduction in the game is brief. There's one cut scene and a basic demolitions tutorial, and then you, playing as Alec Mason, see your brother (who is the reason you came to Mars in the first place) gunned down by the Earth Defense Force, the militant occupying force on the planet. Bewildered by the experience, Alec tries to return home to his shanty, only to find EDF soldiers searching his place and reading him his truncated rights. Despite not having done anything wrong and simply because you're related to someone who's a part of the "Red Faction" underground, you're guilty by association. So much for innocent until proven guilty. Does the Constitution have interplanetary ramifications?
Actual Red Factioners show up to save you from execution at the hands of the occupying forces, and by involuntarily accepting their help, you've suddenly joined their ranks. Sledgehammer in one hand and demolition charges in the other, you join up. This all takes place in the span of about five minutes, and the many subsequent hours see you gallivanting across the Martian landscape, wrecking EDF personnel, structures, vehicles and, much later, Marauder scavengers — with (encouraged) reckless abandon.
That's not to say it's a mindless affair. You can generally blend in much of the time on your quest to liberate the red planet, but as soon as you raise your hammer with destructive intent, the alarm will be raised and soldiers will start spawning from everywhere. Combat is a fun affair, with a barebones and mildly touchy cover system and a curious arsenal of weapons and gizmos to bring the EDF to its knees. A personal favorite is the Arc Welder, which projects an electric field that not only fries groups of bad guys at a time, but also, if leveled at a vehicle, will cook anyone hiding inside. Occasionally at your disposal are hulking mechs reminiscent of Ripley's at the closing battle of "Aliens," and they're able to tear buildings and trucks to pieces in short order.
Different backpacks, in both single- and multiplayer, add to the battle and travel dynamics as well. This is a game where a basic jetpack is handy, but also just the beginning. Fleetfoot allows you to super-sprint, covering much ground in no time. Rhino and Thrust packs make walls like tissue paper as you charge right through them, surprising the guy who's just catching a breather on the other side. Concussion and Tremor packs send out a shockwave that either blasts opponents away or causes a minor earthquake, destabilizing nearby foes and buildings alike. Stealth and Vision allow near invisibility and X-ray vision, respectively. Finally, Firepower and Heal packs increase damage and ammo or create a restorative bubble around you and nearby friends. Some parts of the game are designed around these abilities, making different things largely inaccessible unless you have the right gear.
Multiplayer is managed through Games for Windows Live and works generally well, but the mechanics of it may take some getting used to. Play modes are varied, including things like Bagman and Team Bagman (hold the bag for points), Capture the Flag, Damage Control (capture and hold), Demolition (one VIP gets points for destroying things, everyone else covers him) and Siege, which is essentially attack and defend. While the modes may not be the most original, the environmental destructibility mixes things up and forces you to tackle them in new ways. You can play the online game with consistent parties to stick with your friends over LAN or Internet; online play features statistics and leaderboards for those who are driven to be the best.
Running around, blowing things up and tearing down buildings is a pretty good time, and though it can get somewhat repetitive at times, you're always free in single-player to pick your next mission or goal from the map, or wander off into forbidden territory at your own risk. Most of these do fall back on familiar "go here, kill him, destroy that" formulas, though.
The bigger issues you'll face in the game are with overall performance and save file issues. The minimum requirements for Red Faction: Guerrilla aren't unreasonable (Nvidia Geforce 7600/ATI Radeon x1300), and graphically, I'm sure the game will run tolerably on those cards. It's not the graphics that kill it, though. I was running around on a Geforce 7950GT 512MB card with a full screen display and frame rates in the 40s at medium to high detail.
Then I knocked over a building.
It became an instant slideshow, with frame rates dropping to one about every five to 10 seconds. The physics and rendering required when buildings crumble to their basest elements are something PCs seem ill-equipped to handle, as even users with Geforce 8000 and 9000 cards reported the same problems. This made the title virtually unplayable, and I worried about my ability to finish anything resembling an adequate review of the product — but there is hope.
As ridiculous as this sounds, running the game in a window — even at higher resolution and details — smoothes out the problem considerably. Then it only drops into the low 20s or teens in frames per second. I went from a full-screen filmstrip at 640x480 and all minimal details to reasonable performance in a window at 1280x960 with most details enabled and particles on medium. I can't explain it, but I thought you should know. Fortunately, you don't have to do any special voodoo to enable windowed mode. It's right in the Options menu under Display.
The other drawback I mentioned up there was with the save file system. The game requires GFWL for any kind of functionality, which is mildly annoying, but I can deal with it. Just create an offline profile to play single-player, or go online if bashing heads of others is your bag. However, bear in mind that these profiles aren't bright enough to copy over things like your key config, so make sure you remap before jumping into the fray between offline and online.
The bigger issue that this creates is that your save files are tied very specifically to system, login, profile, etc., meaning that if you have two computers and want to maintain progress between them, it's not going to happen without some extraneous and tedious duplicating of information. What's worse, even between offline and online profiles on the same system your save files do not transfer. If you go the safe route and create an online profile but your Internet connection is down or unavailable, your save files are, too. This system is completely contrary to the idea of progression. Should you have to rebuild your system or migrate to a new machine, it's very likely that your save files will be inoperable, or "corrupt," as GFWL likes to call it. Even better, the first time I tried to download my online GFWL profile for use in the game, it crashed the whole program. It happened on two different machines, and it'll probably happen to you, too.
What's most bothersome is that both of these — the biggest drawbacks to the title — are completely absent on the console versions. I've played RFG on PS3 and never had the game grind to a halt when toppling towers, and the PS3 iteration also never had a problem reading or backing up a save file. It's just a better experience elsewhere, which is unfortunate. The one thing the PC version does include for free is the downloadable expansion campaign, Demons of the Badlands, which serves as a prequel and has you playing as an NPC from Guerrilla.
This version similarly supports controllers, though the heart of PC gaming is in using the keyboard and mouse. There are some instances of mouse sensitivity inconsistencies (ahem, aiming turrets) that can't really be corrected (turning down sensitivity is global, not situation-specific), but you can "adjust" to it to some degree with spray and pray.
The crazy geometrical breakdown required by the GeoMod 2.0 engine (upgraded from the original that just let you bust holes in walls here and there) creates significant debris — some of which is used as salvage that you spend to buy new gear — and can be so plentiful that you get hung up on it. This isn't much of a problem except when you get stuck on something you should easily be able to step over, resulting in a building collapsing on your head. Even this isn't always fatal, though, which is a testament to the arcadey feel of the game. Health regenerates, you can lose your wanted level by simply hiding in a safe house even if soldiers are right on your tail, you can flip a car back onto its wheels with your bare hands, and I had better accuracy shooting from the hip than using precision aim. It's weird, but you get used to it.
As you move ahead and free more territories, support for the Faction grows, and more civilians will come to your aid in times of need. Their survival and success governs the overall morale of the area, which in turn determines how much help you get, how much salvage you get for completing story missions, and so on. However, they'll often do boneheaded things like park themselves in your line of fire or run in front of your truck as it barrels into — and through — enemy structures. If they get killed by EDF, it's a -1 morale penalty, and dying at your hands results in -3. Rather than make the AI smarter, it seems the design team focused on making it fairly easy to get that morale back by going on killing/wrecking sprees, causing as much mayhem as possible for points in a short period of time.
There's no getting around some of the technical and interface hiccups with Red Faction: Guerrilla, but if you can deal with the shortcomings, this really is a fun game. Sticking explosives to vehicles, buildings — even people — and then setting them off to see what exactly happens takes quite a while to get old. When you upgrade to rockets or bigger booms, it becomes even more fun. Say you're pinned down, cornered, and the bad guys are coming for you. What to do? Grab your hammer, bust a hole through the wall, line it with det charges, and wait for them to poke their heads out before bringing the entire structure down on their heads. Got a stubborn turret gunner you can't seem to get close to without taking a face full of lead? Grab a dump truck, get up to speed, and ram straight through the building, destroying the turret and killing the gunner all at once, and likely carving a nice hole through the entire bunker. These are the moments when the engine and gameplay really shine. If you can accept the underlying shortcomings, it's a great ride.Score: 7.9/10
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