As I fired up the game and watched the excellent introductory cutscenes I was just itching to get behind the controls. This looked like what I was waiting for since the original Red Faction announcements! The game begins with a miniature tutorial segment showing you how to blow stuff up. Well how cool is that? Your first foray into the new GeoMod 2 system allows you to set remote charges anywhere you'd like, then stand back and blow them. You quickly learn that proper placement of charges makes a lot of difference. Blowing out the support beams is critical and some measure of physics attempts to determine where the stress points are in the structure and gravity's effect upon it. Very nice.
After another exemplary cutscene, though, things took a turn for the worse. You're quickly introduced to the system of play this open-world uses. One of the greatest pitfalls open-world games tend to fall into is feeling generic and unmotivated. If you've read my recent review of Sucker Punch's "inFamous", also an open world game, you may be aware of some of the trade-offs that must be made in open-ended play. While inFamous took the approach of reigning in the open nature a little and giving the game a highly patterned, board-game-esque game mechanic that served it well and made it highly addictive, Red Faction: Guerrilla takes the opposite approach, and to a large degree, serves to its detriment. The game is extremely open. There are a few story-driven game missions, and those missions are done extremely well, with about the right amount of difficulty balance. They are, however, few and far between.
The game is split into 6 major zones: Parker, named after the hero of the first game, Dust, Badlands, Oasis, the free fire zone, and Eos, another familiar name to Red Faction veterans. Each region has a designated amount of "control" representing the EDF's choke-hold on the area, and a morale percentage representing the rebellion's strength and resolve in the area. The morale starts at zero for each sector, while control ranges from strong to stronger. Between the smattering of story missions, one is given an open selection of tasks to perform, ranging from demolishing an EDF target, to defending a rebel camp from EDF attack. In order to proceed with story missions, the control factor must be reduced to zero at which point the EDF will pull out of the sector. This may sound complicated, but the net result is: "Do some story missions, then do a whole bunch of relatively uninteresting generic missions, then continue with the game."
The largest problem with a large number of open-ended games, and Red Faction: Guerrilla falls into this category all too easily, is repetitious repetition repeating repetitiously. The environment itself is virtually unchanging. From Parker's sparsely populated red-tinted dust bowl, to Dust's sparsely populated yellow-tinted dust bowl, and even to Badlands' sparsely populated green-tinted dust bowl, everything in the game looks virtually unchanging. This gives no real sense of exploration. On top of that there is very little to explore. Most of the game consists of "roads" in trenches between the canyons. No matter what you do in the game you drive a typically large Martian industrial truck (or stolen EDF truck) between the craggy destinations and get out, do the mission, hop back in, and return to the safehouse in the area. For a destruction mission you may follow this path many times as you attempt to recover from the enemy's onslaught.
On top of this, most of the generic missions are just that. Generic. Base defense missions are weak, at best, and destruction missions are, generally, suicidal. One of the major features touted in the game is the guerrilla gameplay. The game itself tells you that you can never take on an EDF force with a frontal assault. You must ascertain their weaknesses. It would appear that whoever wrote that part of the in-game guide didn't consult with the level designers. Given the nature of the game, the expectation would be to use some element of stealth. Find an unguarded back entrance to a base, sneak past guards, set some demolition charges, escape to a safe distance, and blow it. Target destroyed. As demolition targets are offered the highest amount of control in the game, that would set you on a good path to victory. Alas, the EDF bases all appear to be carved out of the bases of mountains which ring all but a narrow entrance at the front. The one with all the guards in front of it. "Okay, no problem, I'll buy the rocket launcher, perch above the base, and fire at the building and speed off. They'll never catch me!" No can do, rarely do any of these heavily defended bastions of frustration have any access behind the mountains. The only way in is through the front. The front you were told not to approach. The front you have no way of gunning through. Yep, that front. So you park your buggy, hop out, and start a fire fight.
If you're unlucky, morale is low, and nobody comes to your aid. You alone face dozens of guards. On the PS3 version, and presumably XBox as well, the controls are a hindrance at best. While the game is clearly third person and designed around console play, the controls seem to absolutely require the precision of a keyboard and mouse to aim at the rather tiny EDF guards as they dance around. Or, that would be the theory. Out of frustration I set up my XFPS Rateup, my Wolfking Warrior gamepad, and my Razer Copperhead mouse on my PS3 version of the game. This significantly helped aiming. But not enough to make it truly enjoyable. To the game's credit, it handled the Copperhead on the Rateup just as smooth as I'd expect a PC game to. But this is not how the game is meant to be played, as most PS3/XBox gamers aren't using a Copperhead. Nor does it appreciably improve what are otherwise fairly dull and unexciting battles against an endless horde of troops. The PC version was not available for review during the testing process for this review. That said, the design of the game indicates overwhelmingly that it was designed with consoles in mind, as does the legacy of the Red Faction franchise itself, the game was released on consoles nearly two full months before PC, and the switch to third person controls is almost invariably a console-centric move. The controls however, feel like they don't know which direction to go. The twitch targeting is at home with a mouse (as proven in my Rateup tests), while the third person camera is awkward behind a mouse, and does best on analog sticks. Rest assured, Red Faction: Guerrilla is a console game.
If you're lucky, the morale meter is pretty full, and volunteer rebels will seemingly drive up at random (often driving over you or blocking your way out), and throw themselves into the fight. While this serves as a distraction for you, it also causes many of them to be cut down in the process, causing the morale meter to drop. This pattern becomes problematic early on. Regardless of your luck however, these fortified bases will also acquire an endless stream of additional troops pulling up in transports fighting you all the while. Stealth and finesse are clearly not going to win the day here. Neither will a direct confrontation. Which brings us back to luck in many cases.
If you're looking for some variety, there are a few mission types that also repeat ad-nauseum that are included as "random" missions. Every once in a while, rebels will call for assistance in defending them. Typically they're far away from wherever you are, making it a bit of a pain. There are also convoys moving through the area (even to sectors you've already cleared out), which the Faction asks you to stop. The trouble is, with early-game weapons, how do you stop a heavily armed and armored convoy? Finally, sometimes a messenger will come through an area. These can be fun missions if you find them, beginning with a car chase, and ending in a shootout. But after you do enough of them, they become tired as well.
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