When THQ recently held a multiplayer event for Red Faction: Guerrilla, everyone in attendance eagerly sat through the presentation while we waited for our chance to snag an open station. After all, there were around 30 media outlets in attendance and only 12 Xbox 360s set up, so if you didn't grab a station, there was bound to be a wait. But then, something funny happened. Over in the corner, on a lone PlayStation 3, one of the THQ PR guys was playing the Red Faction: Guerrilla party game mode, Wrecking Crew. Pretty soon, a crowd had gathered around Wrecking Crew, and that controller didn't get put down until we all got kicked out at the end of the night.
Wrecking Crew can best be described as a destruction-based party game. Designed to be played on a single screen, Wrecking Crew uses an old-school pass-the-controller method of play to support from two to four players. The goal is to see who can cause the most destruction with a limited amount of time and ammo.
To start a Wrecking Crew game, you choose your mode, map, characters and number of players. From there, the first player up gets to choose the backpack and weapon of choice before starting the round. All players have to use the same kit during the round, but the winner of a round gets to choose the tools everyone uses for the next round. The four primary modes in Wrecking Crew are Barrel Dash, Total Chaos, Rampage and Escalation. Barrel Dash gives you 60 seconds to destroy five red barrels, and anything else nets bonus points. Total Chaos gives you 60 seconds and unlimited ammo so you can go to town blowing things up. Rampage gives you 180 seconds, but every shot you take costs time rather than ammo. Escalation limits both time and ammo, with limits that increase after every round.
Gameplay here differs slightly depending on the specific mode you're playing, but in general, the goal is efficiency rather than simply lashing out at every piece of concrete you can find. All of the Wrecking Crew maps are designed to be compact and with varying elevations. Because Red Faction: Guerrilla uses a realistic physics engine to handle the destruction modeling, you have to be smart about how you take things down. Any damage scores you points, even secondary damage when one building falls on another. The game accounts for this with a short "break" programmed in after your turn ends so the physics engine can keep processing data as concrete falls. If you manage a key explosion just before your time is up, those few seconds can result in tens of thousands of extra points as building bits smash into other objects.
In one round that we played, a group of towers was set up in a circle around a series of bridges in the center. One of the guys playing was running low on time and hadn't racked up many points. Just as time ran out, he destroyed a tower on the edge of the cliff. As the tower started to fall, his turn ended, but during the timed break, that tower rolled down the hill, smashed through two bridge sections and set off a number of secondary explosions. It was enough extra damage to jump his score from last place to first. Had he set off an explosion on the other side of the tower, it would have come down, but likely fallen harmlessly to the side and not caused any extra damage.
Ultimately, this is where the real draw lies in Wrecking Crew. It may look like a simple bonus mode at first glance, but there is a hidden level of depth here that really pushes everyone to think strategically. Because every weapon in the arsenal performs differently, how you play a level also depends on your tool selection. If you have a rocket launcher, you're going to approach the puzzle in a different manner than if you're carrying only a sledgehammer.
About the only thing we didn't like about Wrecking Crew is that it only allows you to select between two and four players. Yes, it's a party game. Yes, it's awesome to sit around with a group of people blowing stuff up, but it would be just as awesome to play by yourself to practice and simply shoot for a personal best high score — doubly so if online leaderboards are also supported. So how about it, Volition? Any chance you can add a single-player option to Wrecking Crew and feature leaderboard support? We want to be able to brag to the world about our demolition skills.
After prying ourselves away from Wrecking Crew, we recruited a group of 12 players (the game supports up to 16) and sat down with the system-linked Xbox 360s for a more traditional multiplayer experience. In multiplayer, Red Faction: Guerrilla has the EDF fighting the Red Faction forces in a series of more or less standard modes. Anarchy is your deathmatch equivalent, while Team Anarchy offers team deathmatch. Capture the Flag is pretty self-explanatory, as is Spectator mode.
The three multiplayer modes that play to Red Faction: Guerrilla's strengths, specifically the destruction engine, are Damage Control, Siege and Demolition. Damage Control is similar to king-of-the-hill style gameplay, where both teams are fighting for control of three targets on the map. You want to destroy enemy-owned targets and then rebuild them under your control to score points. Siege has the two teams taking turns as attacker and defender, with a focus on destruction. Whichever team causes the most damage wins. Finally, there is Demolition. This mode is a take on "protect the leader" style play, as each team has a Destroyer who focuses on wiping things out while the rest of the team has to keep the Destroyer from getting killed.
Because all of the competitive multiplayer modes are variants on standard concepts, they're all very easy to jump into and start playing, but they also don't make nearly as big an impression as Wrecking Crew does, since there isn't anything truly groundbreaking in the design. The standard multiplayer modes shine in the map design; with multi-level maps that consist of a good mix of regular terrain and destructible buildings, multiplayer encourages you to think outside the box and not just focus on the standard kills. Why use a bullet to take out an opponent, when you can set a few charges on the bridge and send a group falling to its doom or collapse a building on an enemy who's running for a weapon pickup? The environmental interactivity is only as much fun as the complexity of the buildings on the maps, and from the levels we sampled, Volition is attempting to be as creative as possible.
Also adding to the mix is the backpack system. Available in both Wrecking Crew and standard multiplayer, the backpacks grant a specific ability to the player. This can range from something basic, like the jetpack, which allows you to fly for a short period, to the sneaky, such as stealth or vision, which make you invisible and give you X-ray vision, respectively.
Some of the backpacks sound useless at first blush, like fleetfoot, which simply allows you to run faster, but when you pair the correct weapon and backpack, the combined effect can grant a big advantage. For example, a player using fleetfoot and armed with the sledgehammer can bludgeon his opponents before most of them know what hit them. Another good combination is mixing the jetpack with remote charges, which is like dropping smart bombs on the enemy.
Other backpack types include concussion (knocks down nearby opponents), firepower (supercharges your weapon), heal (heals you and teammates), rhino (smashes through structures), thrust (quickly move up or down) and tremor (creates a localized earthquake).
For those who prefer to play nice with others, you are sadly out of luck. There doesn't seem to be any sort of co-op play in Red Faction: Guerrilla; story mode is a strictly single-player affair. Vehicles are also limited to single-player, so while you can run down the EDF soldiers during your quest, every kill in multiplayer has to be done the old-fashioned way.
In the end, the biggest surprise about Red Faction: Guerrilla was how quickly Wrecking Crew sucked everyone in. Yes, the standard multiplayer modes were a blast, but it was Wrecking Crew that managed to grab everyone's attention and hold it throughout the night. We're really looking forward to getting our hands on our very own copy of the game just to spend some more time with Wrecking Crew. As for the story mode, be sure to check back on Monday, when we share our thoughts on Red Faction: Guerrilla's single-player adventure.
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