Last week, we took a look at Red Faction: Guerrilla's multiplayer features (including the completely addicting Wrecking Crew mode), so today, we're going to dive right into the single-player aspect of the game. While multiplayer goodness is always a bonus, it is ultimately the story that draws you in and keeps you playing. Rare is the game that survives on multiplayer alone.
Set half a century after the prior two games, Red Faction: Guerrilla flips the tables of allegiance on the player. When we last visited the red planet, the EDF were seen as the liberators and welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately as time passed, the liberators became the oppressors as the EDF realized the wealth that Mars held and became determined to hold it for themselves. Ruling with the iron fist, the EDF have become as tyrannical as those they removed.
You play the game as Alec Mason, a drifter who has moved from job to job, never really fitting in. When your brother told you about the mining opportunities on Mars, it seemed like a good shot. Upon arrival, you discover that your brother has been working with the underground Red Faction in an attempt to destabilize and eventually overthrow the dictatorial EDF. Initially, you want nothing to do with the rebel cause, but when the EDF forces your hand, your ties to Red Faction are cemented.
Missions are doled out in a non-linear fashion, though there is some minor gating in the world. You can explore anywhere you choose, but you cannot take on missions in a new district until you have completely liberated the current town. Liberating a town can be done by completing all of the story missions and removing the EDF influence. Both mission types are marked on your world map, but how you go about completing the tasks varies greatly. For this preview, we played through the first two towns in the game: Parker and Dust.
The story missions are there specifically to advance the plot and have you interact with the other members of Red Faction while fighting the EDF. Based on our time with Red Faction: Guerrilla, the story missions seem to be the most heavily scripted of the bunch. We were often told where to go, what to do and sometimes even how to do it. Though they aren't quite as open as the rest of the game, the story missions do their job as well as providing subtle exposure to tactics that a new player may not think of right off the bat. For example, in the mission that caps off the liberation of Parker, one of the other Red Faction members suggests you rig a bridge with explosives and drop it on an incoming EDF convoy. Experienced Red Faction players would likely think of something like this right away, but those new to the series will appreciate the gentle prodding.
Removing the influence of the EDF is done by blowing up EDF property. There are random bits of EDF property strewn throughout the map, and wiping out any of it, even the small stuff, helps reduce their influence and raise the morale of the miners. Wiping out the big stuff gives you a big boost to morale and takes away a chunk of the EDF influence in the area. Identified on the world map with the EDF logo, how you attack these structures is completely up to you. The only rule is that they have to be leveled in order for the mission to be considered a success.
Since these missions of destruction are totally freeform, they are the perfect way to showcase the physics engine within Red Faction: Guerrilla as well as highlight the flexibility of the engine. There is no "right" way to bring down a building. You can drive an armored car through the center of it (a stolen EDF vehicle works really well for this). You can set remote charges on the key supports and blow them up from a distance. You can use a rocket launcher to bombard the side of a building. You can even target explosive barrels and let the secondary explosions do the work.
Unfortunately, with all this freedom, the one thing that you really can't do right now is a stealth approach. In the preview build, the EDF AI is more or less on steroids. They'll recognize you so long as you're within their cone of influence, whether or not you're in cover. It's almost as if you are walking around with a loudspeaker on your head, shouting, "Hi, I'm a rebel and I'm here to kill you!" OK, it's not quite that bad, but you get the point. We were really hoping to have a bit more flexibility in performing missions Solid Snake-style, rather than always taking an aggressive approach. If this is something Volition can tweak over the next three months, it'll certainly add to the quality of play.
Almost the exact opposite of the EDF AI is the Red Faction AI. It could almost be a question off of the SAT: EDF is to smart as Red Faction is to dumb. As you increase the morale of the miners, random miners will spontaneously join your cause as guerrilla fighters. They're not very good at fighting and end up serving more as cannon fodder. It's a bonus to have them around in a close firefight, as they will draw off some of the attacking EDF, but with no way to control them, they end up feeling a bit superfluous. This is most acutely shown when performing a hostage rescue mission and the hostages (who are captured Red Faction members) don't bother following you down the side of a hill. Instead, they run around the front of the building and into the line of fire before finally rounding the corner to follow you. Given that Volition included a respectable AI command system in Saints Row 2, it's a little surprising that the option is lacking here.
In addition to the two main mission types, we also ran across Guerrilla missions, which are optional but help raise morale; training missions, which challenge you to destroy things in creative ways; and spur-of-the-moment side missions, which pop up at random times. Some of the random missions we received included fighting off attacking EDF forces, stopping an EDF supply convoy and tailing a courier who had vital information. These randomly assigned missions are completely optional, but they can happen at any time (even while you're in the middle of another mission) so they add to the illusion of a living, breathing world. You don't have to complete any of the random missions, though there are benefits to doing so.
One of the most impressive things that we noticed about Red Faction: Guerrilla is the persistence of the damage. Unless it is absolutely key to a mission, any destruction you cause is more or less permanent. In one area of Dust, we leveled a bridge so that the pursuing EDF couldn't continue their chase. Later on in the game, we realized that because the bridge was out, we needed to take an alternate route. The bridge didn't magically fix itself.
There is also plenty of variety in the weapons selection. Most weapons can be bought and upgraded at one of the safe houses by using salvage that you collect from vehicles and buildings that you destroy. Salvage can even be collected by mining. After all, you are a miner and you have a sledgehammer. If you use that sledgehammer on raw ore deposits, you will collect extra salvage. Some weapons have pre-requisites (such as completing a certain number of Guerrilla missions) before they are unlocked for purchase, while others are available from the outset. There are also additional weapons that can be found in the world. Grab one of these from an enemy, and it is automatically added to your arsenal; no salvage is needed.
Although individual weapons may be powerful, your character is no superman. Mason's damage level is nowhere near the likes of Master Chief, which quickly becomes obvious in-game. The EDF troops are highly trained soldiers, equipped with full body armor. Most importantly, their shots are nearly always on target. Suffice it to say that these guys shoot a lot better than stormtroopers. Red Faction: Guerrilla uses a simple bar for health, but it isn't always obvious how quickly you're getting hurt. We're hoping that the developers at Volition can emphasize the damage level a bit more before the game ships. More than once, we ended up dying without even realizing we were close to death.
In order to combat enemies without getting yourself pumped full of lead, you really do need to take advantage of your environment. This means looking for ways to blow buildings so they provide cover as well as crushing the attacking EDF when they land, using sticky mines to turn a vehicle into a makeshift car bomb and making full use of any fuel tank that the EDF has left lying around. The more creative you can be in your destruction (proximity mines make great booby traps), the more likely you are to survive. Thankfully, death isn't permanent, but any time you do meet an untimely end, miner morale drops. Thus, there is an incentive to stay breathing.
Ultimately, there is a lot to love about Red Faction: Guerrilla, even if the early code we played isn't spit-polish perfect. The big draw here is the destruction engine and simply tooling around and blowing up stuff was tons of fun. The first time you get your hands on the game, you're likely to completely ignore the missions for an hour or so and just practice turning buildings into rubble. That's what we did. Once you start getting into the story, things start to flow nicely with solid pacing and what seems like a good variety of mission types. Assuming Volition can use the next three months to smooth out some of the rough edges, Red Faction: Guerrilla should come out of the gate as a lean, mean, explosive-toting destruction machine.
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