Red Faction: Guerrilla (long)

Red Faction: Guerrilla (2009)
Played on PC
Genre: Demolitions Tech Demo
(long and sloppy version)

The short version of this is (here)

Hi, I’m Greg Petrovic and I’m here to complain about videogames that I have played. Up on the chopping block today is Red Faction: Guerrilla, 2009’s multi-million-dollar-grossing summer blockbuster that is about a man who goes so insane with rage and the only thing he can do about it is destroy things with a sledgehammer.

Let me qualify that: he also uses explosives. The game is marketed as an open-world shoot-and-drive where you, the player, are in charge of leading a revolution against a junta that is oppressing the proletariat of Mars. There are military targets to be taken out, invasions to be repelled, and assaults to be led, and– aw hell, I’ll just copy the blurb from Steam:

Set 50 years after the climactic events of the original Red Faction, Red Faction: Guerrilla allows players to take the role of an insurgent fighter with the newly re-established Red Faction movement as they battle for liberation from the oppressive Earth Defense Force. Red Faction: Guerrilla re-defines the limits of destruction-based game-play with a huge open-world, fast-paced guerrilla-style combat, and true physics-based destruction.

  • Open World Guerrilla Warfare — You decide who, when, where and how to battle. Utilize guerrilla tactics, improvised weaponry, and modified vehicles to lead insurgent attacks on EDF targets. Launch attacks based on your own gameplay style, take on missions in any order you choose, or engage in destructive activities to weaken the EDF’s grip on Mars.

  • Strategic Destruction — Use destruction to your tactical advantage, setting ambushes or chain reaction explosions to attack enemy strongholds and permanently modify the game environment. Leverage fully-dynamic physics-based destruction to improvise on the fly: blow holes in a wall or floor to set an ambush or escape, take out a staircase to
    stop your pursuers, or drive vehicles through blown out walls.

  • Evolving & Emergent Gameplay — Carve your path through an ever changing landscape as you improvise your combat tactics – mixing gameplay styles, vehicles, weapons and explosives to defeat the EDF.

  • Epic Sci-Fi Setting — Explore the huge, unforgiving Martian landscape, from the desolate
    mining outpost of Parker to the gleaming EDF capital city of Eos; then tear through the fully destructible open-world environments swarming with EDF forces, Red Faction resistance fighters, and the downtrodden settlers caught in the cross-fire.”

Are your tinglers tingling? Fingers phalanging? Ladies: how erect are your penises right now? Fellas: the same goes double.

The first thing you should know is that what you probably just imagined about playing this game is completely untrue. This is nothing like a sandbox action/adventure that will theoretically let you blow up the planet. There’s no reason to think of different ways to assault bases, or different gameplay “styles” (did they mean brute force vs stealth?), as once the enemy notices you, it and its respawning cohorts will always beeline to your exact location. There is no true non-linear way of attempting missions, since the game does not have a truly dynamic enemy force that is bound by things like supply lines, intel or a limited number of troops. What they probably meant was “choose which mission you want to do first, since none of them will ever have an effect another.” The only progress this game involves is the prospect of watching more cutscenes and purchasing bigger guns – which only do what your current guns do, just more of it — and there is no freedom. There is no freedom in this game, player, and that’s because there isn’t any on Mars. This is a world where your freedoms are in danger, player. This is Mars, and it’s run by the meanest military sumbitches you ever did see. Nicaragua? Ecuador? You haven’t seen a junta until you’ve see some EDF guys shoot Mars settlers, execution-style. You wanna hear about some powerful, evil bad-shit? You ever dip your ballsack in a jar of vinegar? You ever look a rotting corpse in its rotting eye sockets and whisper in its curled ear, “fuck you, boay”? Gather that skirt, sonny. Let me tell you a little story.

The game starts with a cutscene where Frank gets off of a space rocket and meets his brother, who already lives on Mars and has agreed to give Frank a lift to the tutorial.

Along the way, Mr. Brothers explains what’s going on:
Mr. Brothers missed their mom’s birthday on Earth;
Frank says he doesn’t blame him, it’s a pretty long trip home from Mars;
Frank asks who these bozos in Fallout 1 power armor are;
his brother says they’re the EDF, they’re real bad dudes;
Frank’s like, oh, how bad are they?;
his brother is like, well check this shit out, and then drives by a bunch of people on their knees and some EDF guy yelling at them to get on their knees, and then that man shoots someone;
Frank is like woahhh maybe I shouldn’t have come here to practice my skilled trade, which is the subtle art of blowing things up;
his brother then says, yeah things are getting pretty crazy, oh hey here we are at the tutorial.

After the tutorial (which teaches you that cogs and sprockets count as money on Mars, and that the only way to make some scratch on that barren planet is to destroy stuff until cogs and sprockets pop out) is another cutscene where Frank’s brother gets shot by those EDF bastards, which causes Frank to go insane with rage, declare he has no reason to live besides killing all those EDF bastards, and then the cutscene ends… and then continues when you/Frank are then contacted by the Red Faction, some sort of Martian jack-of-all-trades union that feels like it needs to shroud itself in Marxist/social realist trappings to make the point that guys in power armor shooting the proletariat is NOT COOL MAN—- so, they contact the two of you (you/Frank) to tell you about a couple boggles and toggles you need to raise and lower to get the EDF out of your sector, and the little sub-missions you can complete to affect these boggles/toggles.

These two things are the EDF Influence bar and the Popularity Meter, and they are the only gauges of success in Frank’s new life as a Martian revolutionary, as they dictate when you are ready to finally get the EDF out of your sector and how much everyone else loves you for doing so. The general rule of thumb is if you destroy specific EDF buildings or complete story missions, the EDF Influence bar decreases. When it reaches the bottom, you are finally ready my boy, ready to do the sector’s final mission, the penultimate EDF ejector to end all ejections, ready to put on your red shoes and strap yourself in for the ride of a lifetime wherein you, Frank Mason… get the EDF out of your sector.

The Popularity Meter is a yellow bar that reminds you of how popular Frank is. On Mars, you become a popular guy by completing side missions, killing a bunch of EDF in rapid succession, or doing a lot of property damage in rapid succession. Conversely, you become less popular when you die (-4 points, because real men never die), or are within a certain distance of an NPC getting killed (-1 point per death). You don’t even have to kill the guy, he could’ve just be standing next to you before getting donked by a truck and knocked off a cliff. I suppose the assumption is that real men don’t let the little guy get donked.

Aside from just filling up a yellow bar, your popularity is reflected in how the NPC’s react to you. If you aren’t very popular, they’ll say things like, “WHY are you CARJACKING me?” and “Red Faction is JUST A BUNCH OF THUGS.” If you are very popular, they’ll say, “Frank, take my car!” and “I’ll cover you!” When you are very popular, you don’t even have to carjack people anymore. If they see you running down the road, they’ll automatically stop their car and get out. They’ll even pull out a gun and start shooting if you’re in any trouble.

So all in all, the meter functions as a pretty good game-mechanic solution to the insane NPC genocide that happens in most of these GTA-esques. It’s about time we got some sort of quasi-moral compass going on here, is what I say. Enough is enough. Stop the polygon on polygon violence. ‘We’re all brothers,’ is what I imagine Frank saying to the denizens of Mars, ‘in more that just this struggle. Have you ever wondered why you never need to eat or drink?’ he continues. ‘Why it always seems like you just woke up, and you can’t remember how you got in the car, or even where you’re going? Did you ever want to know why you can hold a gun or a steering wheel, but can never take off a ring?’ Then he pulls back the skin on this hand to reveal a wireframe mesh that roughly looks like a G.I. Joe hand stuck in the gun-grip posture, fused fingers and all. ‘There are secrets governing this world, my friend. Secrets beyond any which you may have imagined.’

To which the obvious rejoinder is, “Frank! Take my car!”

A game about the futility of being a person in a game would be pretty good, is what I am trying to say.

Unfortunately if Red Faction: Guerrilla is about that, it’s only accidentally so. The Popularity Meter’s fostering of a nascent morality and kinship inevitably falls apart the more you play the game, where you will run into situations in which civilians who have come to your aid are duking it out with an endless and overwhelming stream of EDF and you are forced to make a decision: do I do what’s right and fight for these people’s lives until the bitter end, committing myself to a guaranteed -4 popularity when I eventually die, or do I hop in the nearest vehicle and drive the fuck away and hope I can beyond the game’s AI draw distance before anyone dies and I get dinged for -1 per casualty?

In terms of what it gets you, the choice to get in the nearest car and run is so simple, so obvious, that it calls into question whose opinion is governing the popularity meter. It certainly isn’t the people, because they’d notice their favorite savior always cutting out when things got a bit too hairy. It isn’t God/the game designers, because what kind of sadistic monster would repeatedly force people into situations where the only thing that made sense was to abandon those who loved you? And while I’m sure that Volition is guilty of something in this game, I know that it isn’t of hating the player.

The only reasonable conclusion is that it’s Frank’s own interpretation of himself and how much of a totally strong and emotionally tough dude he is being about everything. In what other world would it be worse to get shot to death while saving your people than to just drive away until you couldn’t hear their screams anymore? In this indirect way, Volition has taken The Next Step in Videogame Art by making the player character a deeply flawed protagonist whose rationalization works to undermine the game’s own mechanics. Frank is, quite simply, breaking the fourth wall of gameplay and taking on a life of his own.

But woah there, young man! Don’t you go trotting off to the game store just yet! I haven’t even told you what you do in this game. Sure, you know you need to kill and/or not kill other people, and also destroy property, but have you ever paused to think about how you are going to be doing these things? Did you? My friend? I’ll take a break and let you take a moment to collect your thoughts. Please enjoy the screenshots.

I couldn’t actually find the screenshot key in either the game’s key configuration or online.

Which is why these are all pictures that were provided by THQ’s marketing department, which reputable videogame sites then stamped their own watermark on.

A lot of recent cross-platform console/PC releases seem to be missing the screenshot key.

Maybe it’s because they know that most pictures of the game just won’t stack up to these painstakingly framed action shots. (Note: I had no idea there was a cover system in the game until I saw this picture. I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse.)

An enormous part of Red Faction is spent driving around a featureless landscape in silly looking vehicles.

One looks like it is made out of K’nex.

Another is a monster truck with machine guns attached to the front.

Still another is a Chinese delivery truck that has a rocket launcher attached to the roof. (not pictured)

About 5% of the game actually manages to be like this.

Although I must say, it’s pretty cool when it does. Even if it never looks this post-processed.

Alright, are you ready? Did you figure it out? How to create social change on Mars?
That’s right, with guns. You got it. You are so smart.

Or maybe it’s more like Volition’s solution to its own problem of ”how are we going to get people to play a game the showcases our new terrain-deformation technology?” was to create a Saints’ Row clone in which the only thing that isn’t deformable is the terrain, and the game’s basic job is to get in the way of you actually destroying stuff. Start swinging your sledgehammer at a building and eventually an EDF is going to drive by and get angry. If you take it to the EDF, then more EDF come. If your popularity meter is up, civilians will start showing up and then you need to start worrying about how much longer you can go before they get slaughtered and your popularity drops.

It’s a clusterfuck that’s only compounded by how fucking unfun it is to even shoot at your enemies. They’re wearing power armor, for God’s sake! It takes 10 headshots with the assault rifle to take one down. Guys who get hit in the face with rockets do not die. I’ve attached a bomb to a guy’s head and detonated it, and he still didn’t die. The nano-rifle, which according to the game shoots blobs of nanobots that disassemble things atomically, takes two shots to kill a guy. Atomically! Two! Do the EDF have too many atoms? Are their atomic bonds stronger than other peoples’? Why is it that the sledgehammer takes one hit, but the nano-rifle takes two? Is Frank stronger than nano-technology? Is Frank’s raw power more explosive than an actual explosion?

Actually, Volition did just about everything right with the enemies besides making them intensely/illogically hard to kill. They have decent AI, they work in teams and they can sprint just as fast as Frank can, which makes them just like Frank, which makes them good opponents. They are pretty challenging little dudes that become an insanely aggravating problem when you mix in their incredibly huge number of hit points with the fact that they spawn infinitely, and ultimately only exist to get in the way of the one fun thing about this game: destroying things.

In numerical order, this is what is fun about the game:

  1. (Tie) Swinging my sledgehammer at people/things & Seeing the destruction physics happen.
  2. Making up reasons for why the broken mechanics make sense.
  3. Pretending the designers actually thought about how everything in this game
    fits together, both as a game and a reflection of the human experience.
  4. The Stockholm Syndrome that set in after I decided that even though the
    game would probably never get any better, it at least seemed
    like there’d be 30 hours of buildings to destroy.
  5. Wondering if the game was ever going to get any better.
  6. My surprise when I realized that it was not actually 30 hours long
    and that I’d just beaten it by completing the only hard mission in the entire game.
  7. (Tie) Driving around barren Mars in Playmobil cars that have Saints Row’s
    landboat physics & Trying to kill guys in power armor who do not die
    after I attach explosives to their head.

But seriously, action gamer of 2010, does any of this really matter? What are you in the market for? A good game or one that lets you create insane amounts of mayhem? Because there are plenty of the former, but only a few of the latter are able to match the visceral scale of Red Faction Guerilla. There was a side-mission where a building I was assaulting had taken so much damage that it started collapsing while I was in it. I had to jump out of a hole in the second floor just as it came apart, with the structure crushing everyone else who was inside and debris flying everywhere, and enormous explosions going off as the surrounding gas tanks got hit and combusted. It was some serious 80’s action movie shit and will stand out in the highlight reel of awesome videogame things I’ve witnessed for a long time. But was it worth the 15-20 hours I spent playing the game?

Well, I’ll put it this way: the most epic videogame thing I’ve ever witnessed was when my brother power-played that little boat interstitial segment on the first level of Crysis. It’s all very simple: he was playing on super difficult and had just taken out the initial guard post, the one at the bottom of the hill. After the end of the fight he was close to dead and busy scavenging ammo when the first of the bay’s two patrol boats pulled up along the coast and opened fire. Without thinking, he switched on the suit’s super speed, sprinted across the dock and super jumped from the dock onto a patrol boat, shooting the driver in mid-air and then the gunner when he landed. He then drove the out across the bay until he encountered the second boat. While still moving, he super jumped onto the other boat, switched over to the super strength and punched both dudes in the face, to death.

Now that is some ballsy-ass gaming, and it could never, ever happen in Red Faction. First you would have to kill all the jerks that were at the building, then you’d have to plant the charges, then you’d have to kill the back-up jerks that arrived, then you’d have to detonate the charges (which are never powerful enough to take a building down in on ego, no matter how carefully you analyze the building’s structural integrity), then more jerks show up along with allied jerks and, while you are now slightly freed up to get on with the rest of the demolitions, you still need to deal with the EDF before Shit Gets Real for both you and your popularity. On and on and on, and you know what? All you wanted to do was see and do some cool shit, not micromanage a bunch of bullshit while dealing with the action equivalent of the game’s own fudgy driving.

Crysis will turn you into a man if you play it right. God Hand, Devil May Cry 3 and Battle Kid will make you feel like the baddest motherfucker on the planet if you play them right. I don’t think there is a right way to play Red Faction, let alone one that will make you feel like you’ve really accomplished something. Beating Red Faction: Guerrilla was like being told I was the best employee in the office and told I could take anything I wanted from the supplies closet. Within reason. Not the sharpies. Or a box of pens. Maybe a few labels.