This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Red Faction Guerrilla.
Once upon a time, a fresh-faced youngster saved up all his pennies and brought his first PS2. And with it, he bought a game called Red Faction 1. And after rushing home to play he discovered that Red Faction 1 was not a very good game. Actually, it was total shite on a crusty roll. And on that day something changed in that optimistic youth. He realized that for all the pomp and excitement of a new console generation, there will always be shite. And no amount of emotion engines can un-shite the shite. Thus began his downfall into the black, emotionless, flinty-hearted creature you see before you.
Recently, Red Faction: Guerrilla came out. And you know when Conan the Barbarian watched his village being destroyed as a kid and twenty years later gets the opportunity to avenge himself on the guy who did it? That's kind of where I'm at right now. So here it is: a game about a bunch of twats doing shit no one cares about!
Okay, okay. In the future, Earth's economy is totally effed in the A (not to rip from today's headlines or anything) and everything hinges on the resources that can be bled from the recently terraformed Mars. But the residents of Mars don't like the idea of being bled very much, so conflict has broken out between the Earth military forces and the selfish, resource-hogging colonists. And since it's probably hard to tell from that description, you're supposed to be rooting for the colonists. Neither can really claim the moral high ground, but the occupying Earth forces are all cartoonishly huge jerks who oppress and murder all over the place like they're taking orders from the Daleks or something. Then they make the mistake of killing your brother. And you are apparently a Norse god taking human form, who can smash buildings to pieces using his mighty hammer. Either that or the economy is so bad that off-world colonies have to be built out of polystyrene and biscuits.
Red Faction's recurring gimmick is 'destructo-scenery'. The first game made a big thing of its Geo-Mod technology that let you destroy enough terrain to fill theoretically unlimited pairs of Steve McQueen's trousers. . .for about five minutes. Then it locked you in a bunch of immovable metal corridors for the rest of the game to chew in vain upon the rivets. Now, Red Faction Guerrilla takes the opposite route. The terrain stays right where it is and all the buildings are put together with Pritt-Stick and string.
They start you off in a big tutorial adventure playground with some explosives, the hammer of Mjollnir, and a simple two word objective: Go nuts. And I did go nuts, and it was good. There's something almost primordially fun about knocking a tower's supports out and watching it collapse into expensive bits. It's like it directly stimulates that part of the brain that made you jump on your brother's sand castle. The physics are a bit wonky, though, and a two-storey building can often be holding itself up on nothing but two breadsticks and a sponge pudding and still won't collapse until the very moment you walk your stupid arse underneath it. But hey, it's the future, right?
After that load of boring plot happened, I was led into the real game. And still brimming with Viking rage, my first instinct was to see what effect Mjollnir would have on the nearest human being. For the first blow, they just told me to stop arsing around. And on the second, their spine snapped neatly in half. Ha! Teach him to tell me what to do. But then a little message came up saying that my morale had gone down. No, it fucking hadn't, Red Faction Guerrilla! Now get outta the way, so I can break all your stuff!
My feeling is that the game kicks on putting you in the wrong mindset, letting you off the leash only to quickly yank back on the choke chain. "Here is our world," it seems to say. "It has a lot of things that are fun to destroy. Here are some fun toys to destroy them with. But don't have too much fun because, if you do, we will stomp on your face!" And there is plenty to destroy; there're even reasons to destroy most of it. But things keep getting under your feet. It seems you only have to break a window to make a thousand troops with tanks burst out from every rock and they let you carry enough ammo to worry maybe half a scout troop. It seemed like after doing absolutely anything, I had to keep running back to base to restock ammo and shake off the cops.
Other rebels can join you, but you can't control when that happens. At one point while driving somewhere, I accidentally broke a lamppost, and a bunch of rebels assumed I had started the insurgency and began gunning down the filth. I was terribly embarrassed. And, of course, they die very easily and you lose morale when they do. I can see why I was able to become the iconic hero of the revolution two hours after joining it, because clearly before me all the revolution did was stand around with their thumbs up their butts.
I found the best way to survive was to stay in a vehicle for as long as possible, plowing right into your objective. But the terrain becomes so stridden with debris, it's very easy to get stuck. It's like driving through post-nuclear Hiroshima right after the pubs close.
But here comes the Count of Monte Cristo-esque twist in my planned revenge against Red Faction, because it's by the same developers as Saint's Row 2, to which I got recently engaged. And sometimes Guerrilla feels like a Saint's Row 2 palette swap with a washed out filter and cardboard scenery. It's even got that side mission where you ride shotgun, spraying poo on buildings, only now the poo explodes. But if it is a palette swap of Saint's Row 2, they also swapped out the colour, the variety, the uniqueness, and everything else I wrote about in that over-long wedding proposal disguised as a review.
Guerrilla could've worked if it had actually been about sneaky, subtle guerrilla warfare rather than driving a monster truck into someone's front room and shooting them in the face. Which is less guerrilla and more chimpanzee.
Spent decades working on that last pun: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I wouldn't mind visiting Mars if it weren't for all those spiders I keep hearing about
This is what happens when you name a planet after the Roman god of war