Red Faction was one of the countless shooter franchises that sprang to life during the last generation of games. Along with titles like Timesplitters and Darkwatch, it helped PS2 gamers, who were eager for their own Halo, to find a bit of satisfaction. Unfortunately, Red Faction and its sequel were both firmly mediocre. At their best, they were competent FPSes but never really stood out. Their gimmick, the ability to destroy walls with a rocket launcher, was deeply limited and rarely offered the freedom promised. When Red Faction: Guerrilla was announced, I have to admit that I wasn't chomping at the bit to get my hands on it. This is one case where I'll have to eat crow because Red Faction: Guerrilla ended up being one of the bigger surprises of E3 for me, and it's turning out to be one heck of an impressive-looking game.
Red Faction: Guerrilla is set in the future after the events of Red Faction 2. The Earth Defense Force, formerly a fairly heroic organization, has been corrupted from the inside out. They have turned Mars into their personal work camp, kidnapping people, oppressing the population and generally making the world a worse place. Your character is a simple farmer who awakens one day to find that his farm has been taken by the EDF and he has been kicked out. Naturally, he isn't going to stand for that, so he takes his trusty sledgehammer and proceeds to get a bit of frontier justice. However, his actions have the side effect of branding him an enemy to the EDF, and before he knows it, he's caught up in the war between Red Faction (the Mars liberation forces) and the EDF for the fate of the red planet.
Red Faction: Guerrilla takes a step away from the FPS genre, bringing you into the third person and switching out the level-by-level progression for a large sandbox environment. Think of it as Grand Theft Mars, in a way. Mars itself is quite explorable, and while the E3 demo did not give a full scope of where you'll be able to travel, even the small area we were able to explore was huge and packed to the brim with various things to tinker with. The developers promised a huge area where you could explore to your heart's content, and unless something drastically changes from the demo, they're going to succeed at this with flying colors.
You're not alone on Mars, and interacting with other people is the key to success. There are three separate factions: Earth Defense Force, Red Faction Rebellion, and civilians. As a member of Red Faction, it's your duty to take down the EDF while raising the morale of the civilians so that they begin to believe in the cause of Mars liberation. Reducing the morale of the EDF isn't too difficult at first. You can destroy propaganda signs, run raids against EDF outposts, defeat EDF soldiers, and so on. Killing EDF soldiers lowers their morale, and destroying signs of EDF oppression or eliminating EDF high officials raises civilian morale. However, as the morale balance alters, the EDF may take steps to prevent you from turning the civilians against them. They may step up their troop presence or send in propaganda vans to bolster their control. If you have too much success, they may even try to eliminate a certain group of overly rebellious civilians. You can continue to work things in your favor by assassinating enemy soldiers, blowing up their propaganda vans, and successfully staging a counterattack against an EDF cleanup operation. Luckily, while the EDF has super-advanced weaponry, you've got the entire infrastructure of Mars on your side.
While the previous Red Faction games promised destructible environments, their actual implementation was sadly lackluster and never quite lived up to the idea. Red Faction Guerrilla, however, truly does allow you to destroy anything and everything on the map. Take, for example, a house. By taking out your sledgehammer, you can bust into a house by going through the walls, smash everything inside, break through the room, and so on. It isn't like games like Robot Alchemic Drive or The Hulk, where destroying buildings only changes the texture. Each blow you make upon a building has a realistic effect on the structure, and it reacts as such. Each object in the game has a stress meter that reacts to outside forces put upon it. Damage a house too much, and it may collapse upon you; smash up a bridge, and you can actually send the heavy pieces falling down onto enemies. Even the weight of objects matters. Park a super-heavy machine on a badly damaged bridge, and it may collapse. Not all weapons can damage buildings, though. In the demo, the weapons we saw capable of environmental damage were explosives and the trusty sledgehammer, but since the sledgehammer has infinite ammo and never leaves your possession, you'll never be without the necessary tools to bust through whatever is in your way. If someone built it, you can bring it tumbling down.
Environmental destruction is not only incredibly cool, but a major tactical solution as well. Whatever you destroy or damage in Red Faction: Guerrilla remains that way unless that particular object is required for the plot to advance, in which case it respawns. This opens up a wide variety of possible things for you to do. One sequence in the demo had us damaging a bridge to prepare it for an ambush. Once the enemy went underneath it, a carefully timed explosive took out the enemy convoy in a shower of collapsing rubble. Another sequence required us to get across a rather heavily guarded stretch of mining area. One of our choices would be to fight our way through, using up precious ammunition, risking our lives, and taking a long time. The other, and more explosive, choice was to knock down a giant hollow containing tube near the entrance, which fell down and stretched in broken pieces across much of the area. A few careful jumps later, and we were able to run through the tube while enemy firepower plinked helplessly off the sides. The amount of things you could do seems endless, and while it's entirely possible to shoot your way through some enemy encampments, it is nowhere near as satisfying and fun as dropping a building on them.
Beyond dropping buildings on your enemies, you have a few other weapons as well. The aforementioned sledgehammer functions as the game's melee weapon, allowing for close-range beatdowns that can be absolutely devastating but require running up to a trained soldier with a machine gun. (It's not always the wisest choice.) Thankfully, you have two unique sets of weapons that can be used to save your life. Classic shooter weapons — machine guns, rifles, and other various weapons used by the EDF — can be procured for your purposes. However, miners on Mars aren't allowed to have weapons, and having a sub-machine gun out will cause the EDF to crack down on you right away. This is where mining tools come in. By definition, the grinder saw, the thumper digging explosive and arc welder are the primary tools of Mar's working class, but in your hands, they become deadly makeshift weapons. The grinder can shoot a spinning blade of death that decapitates enemies, the arc welder can electrocute unfortunate EDF foes, and I don't think I need to explain the thumper explosive device. While these weapons take a bit of practice to use, they come with the advantage that the EDF won't bother you while you have one out. After all, it's not wise to ban their workers from using tools.
Mars is a large place, and traveling around on foot would make it nearly impossible to get anywhere. Like any good sandbox game, Red Faction: Guerrilla offers ways to speed up your travel. You'll be able to carjack a number of different vehicles to serve as transportation and weapons. There were three distinct kinds of vehicles in the demo. Regular vans and jeeps serve a fairly simple travel purpose, and although they lack any kind of firepower, they're the easiest way to get from point A to point B without bringing down the entire EDF on your head. Raid bikes, which belong to members of the Red Faction, sound like something out of "Mad Max." They're equipped with heavy weapons and appear to be made of spare parts, with space for two drivers. In the demo, we took control of the machine gun while our NPC partner drove the bike around, asking us to destroy as much property as possible. The final machine in the demo was the coolest of them all: a giant bipedal mechanical walker. Directly inspired by the Power Loader from "Aliens," the walker was an absolute monster. A mining machine co-opted for war, it could walk through buildings, crush enemies and basically gave you a chance to feel like Godzilla. It was also exceedingly heavy, so it caused mass destruction wherever it went. There is even an Achievement for getting it across a specific area before its own weight causes a catastrophic collapse.
Destruction isn't just for fun, though. Every single object in the title has a certain value, and destroying objects allows you to salvage them for cash. There are two separate things you'll be able to upgrade: yourself and the Red Faction guerrilla movement. Upgrading yourself has obvious benefits, as you become more powerful and gain access to new things. The specifics of your character's upgrades have been kept mum, but I think it is safe to assume they'll involve more destruction. Upgrading the Red Faction, on the other hand, is a bit more of an indirect upgrade. You won't benefit directly from Red Faction upgrades, but having a group of allies armed with top-quality weapons instead of pistols and rifles is an obvious advantage. If you prefer to go it alone, you could keep all the cash for yourself and let the Red Faction deal with it on its own, but that seems a bit cruel.
Red Faction: Guerrilla is clearly a game that's heavily focused on its single-player experience, but that doesn't mean it won't have a fun multiplayer game as well. Online multiplayer will be available for those who are seeking to have a bit of building-destroying fun with friends or random folks on the Internet. The first option is a 16-player deathmatch, either single-player or team-based, where folks take any of the weapons in the game and try to blow the crap out of each other. The second option is going to focus on the structure-damaging part of the game. According to the developers, a group of players will be given a gigantic building to destroy. Each one will take turns using his sledgehammer to do as much damage to the building as possible in a time limit, and whoever does the most damage wins. It has a vaguely reverse Jenga-like sound to it, as the building's damage is persistent, and so it is entirely possible to weaken a structure to the breaking point, only to have the next player come in and reap the rewards of your hard work. While this mode wasn't playable in the E3 demo, if team building destruction is even a fraction as fun as it sounds, I can see it becoming quite the party game.
Red Faction: Guerrilla is an example of a sequel that looks to be getting everything right. The developers clearly heard the complaints about the previous Red Faction titles and seem eager to make the concept live up to what it should have been on the last-generation consoles. Combining superb destruction with a wide sandbox environment works wonders, and being able to go into a location and decide how to do something is a feature that most sandbox games are tragically missing. Even better, according to the developers, they're almost finished with the game, and it has reached the point where it is in beta testing. You'll notice that it isn't due out until Q1 of 2009, leaving them a full six months or more to polish the title to a mirror shine. If Red Faction: Guerrilla shapes up to be even half as good as it looks to be, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be the cult hit of 2009.
More articles about Red Faction: Guerrilla