Red Faction: Guerrilla (2009)
Played on PC
Genre: Demolitions Tech Demo
(short and sloppy version)
The long version of this is (here)
“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.
This game’s chief problem is that it intentionally confuses blowing on a penis for a proper blowjob, and then accuses you of being a pervert for wanting the real deal. It’s a good game and it has some good ideas, but it has some serious issues with delivering on its basic promises.
Maybe part of this is because I decided to believe the marketing copy for once. What I’d envisioned was a third-person action version of Jagged Alliance 2, in which your goal was to liberate the planet by capturing and cutting supply lines, taking strongholds, training militia, directing resources and winning the people’s hearts. What I got was a third-persion action game where the sole dynamic element was the destruction physics. This isn’t necessarily a problem, since the destroying stuff in this game is awesome each and every time you do it, but the levels are still layed out like that large scale action-strategy game that was implied in the promo copy. What this means for the player is that the only truly interesting thing in the game is marred by level design that is unaware of what it’s supposed to be showcasing.
At its best, you will find yourself playing the craziest 80’s action movie ever. Vehicles driving through walls, explosions blowing up ceilings, cover rapidly disappearing as it gets shredded by enemy heavies, buildings collapsing while you’re still inside, punching holes through walls with a sledgehammer and then leaping out, falling three stories, and then running for cover as the whole thing blows apart in a series of explosions and physics.
The times that all of this game’s potentials come together to create things like this account for maybe 5% percent of total play, and that’s being generous. Most of it is spent driving around or being stuck in firefights that are not in or around buildings. This is a problem because 1) Mars is a large, barren and featureless planet and 2) shooting people is not actually fun. In a dubiously triumphant piece of games development history, Volition has managed to take the basic GTA driving-around-shooting-people-cops-meter mechanics and made them completely not fun.
The driving is not fun because 1) Mars is a large, barren and featureless planet. What in GTA had been an exercise in trying not to get into too much trouble becomes a long country drive to the general store. You’ll pass some people in ugly vehicles and you’ll drive by some EDF, but getting into trouble would involve intentionally running into a passing EDF cruiser and then not driving away.
If you actually did do this, you would then find yourself doing the other unfun thing in the game: shooting people. The thing with shooting people is that they do not die when it would make sense for them to. I’ve shot dudes ten times in the head with an assault rifle and they didn’t die. I’ve shot guys in the face with rockets, attached bombs to their heads, hit them with wads of matter-consuming nanobots from the nanorifle. I know this is videogameland, that these weapons have some leeway in how they affect reality, but this is outrageous! All I want to do in this game is blow up buildings and I’m forced to tangle with an endless stream of these walking meatwalls, which end up sucking away all of my ammo until all I’m left with is my sledgehammer and the sprint key.
What is bizarre is that these two major failures in fun would have been legitimate elements if the game had been what its marketers proposed it would be. It wouldn’t matter that I was driving around endlessly if in the background was a constantly shifting balance of power between two sides, and if it was possible for me to come across units that were on actual missions that would either help or hinder my cause. Even more awesome would be stacking this on top of concurrent missions which pulled me in different directions or got in the way of each other, thus forcing me to always be evaluating things in terms of my side’s long term goals, and how my immediate actions will affect them. It wouldn’t even matter that the EDF were explosion-blocking bastards, because at the very least their numbers would be limited to their force strength in a given area. They wouldn’t be getting in the way of anything except that which they’re supposed to get in the way of, which is your total ultimate victoly for Mars. And the explosions wouldn’t even matter anymore. If the game had been worth playing on its own merits, then the whole destruction physics would be downgraded to what they should be, which is an engine feature that is simply part of modeling a larger, more dynamic world.
And yet, hypothetically superior alternate reality gameplay aside, I still played this. I played the shit out of it. I played the thing when I realized that very little of what the ad copy implied was going to happen, and I kept playing even when I realized that it wasn’t a very good game. In truth, it is a lazy game. It knows that in 2009, even 2010, that real-time physics applied to destroying shit is so awesome that it doesn’t even need to deliver real gameplay. It doesn’t even have to touch real gameplay for it to be entertaining. Not yet, at least. Not until someone gives it a reason to.