Guerrilla partially deals with the issue that has dogged the earlier games in its series – which was their stubborn refusal to grant the player even a tiny fraction of the freedom implied by their environment-altering gimmicks. In the first Red Faction you were given the tools to alter the levels and then set basically on rails through static environments for the entire game. It was almost insulting how wide the gap was between what it appeared you could do and what you actually could. That isn’t quite the case anymore. The Red Faction series is finally moving closer to where it should have been all along.
Let’s be clear, though: Volition still doesn’t get it. Yes, you can now make a smokestack topple onto another building or onto a squad of soldiers. And you can blow up a bridge by either knocking out its supports with your super-powered hammer or by placing explosives. But this new system is still not used to its fullest extent; most of the time all it means is that the standalone structure (windmill, guard shack, conveniently unguarded fuel tank) renders itself into a blossom of debris after you blow it up or knock it over. As far as the mechanics are concerned, these structures might as well have gone the traditional route – building model A becomes destroyed building model B after taking damage. Just like Geo-Mod was once abused and shoehorned into a ruthlessly linear experience that allowed no space for the exploration it seemed to facilitate, the new building-demolition system has been shoehorned into a game which benefits only superficially from its inclusion.
"Red Faction: Guerrilla can be tenuously described as Grand Theft Auto on Mars."
The good news this time around is that the game Volition has chosen to shoehorn their gimmick into is a lot better. Red Faction: Guerrilla can be tenuously described as Grand Theft Auto on Mars. You control a rough-hewn trench coat-wearing miner named Mason (Mason!?), and his hammer and demolition charges allow you to carve a fiery path through the fuel depots, administrative centers, mines, military bases, and towns of several districts across the surface of the planet. You can hijack vehicles (from cute little future-pickups to tanks), murder guards and really anyone except plot-crucial NPCs, and reduce every structure on the map. Where this game diverges from GTA is, predictably, how the environment is treated. Everything outside of your “base” area in each district is basically expendable. There is nothing to do in most of the buildings on a map except for those in your base; they exist mainly to be destroyed or to serve as backdrop for a raid or an ambush. You go out from your “base” into the world, blow it up, and return to rearm. At the base you can outfit yourself in the manner of an RPG, buying weapons and armor upgrades with “scrap” – special, useful debris left behind in the wake of most explosions.
Like GTA, there are little things you can do between official missions like mining ore, or searching for Ultor (reference to the first game, don’t worry) employee tags, which inexplicably lead you to the locations of hidden bombs which you can then strap to a vehicle and detonate at your leisure. In each district there are several special, plot-driven missions you have to accomplish before you can liberate that district and move on to the next one. There are also numerous one-off “rescue the hostage” or “assault this base” missions that you can pick up, if you want to earn extra scrap from the inevitable wrecking of yet more Martian architecture, or if you’re bored. This free-form structure is made easier to negotiate by a competent map that lists the location of every objective, mission, base area, ore deposit, bomb, coffee shop, and boutique. It’s also made easier by the fact that you are utterly uncoerced by the game’s omniscient narrators back at base: you can do the main missions right away and move on quickly, or you can take your time and tear everything down at a more languid pace.
"Guerrilla is fun, until you make a terrible discovery: it’s pretty easy."
A game that apes GTA’s best qualities competently (and this is one) is bound to be a lot of fun. And Guerrilla is fun, until you make a terrible discovery: it’s pretty easy. You will only die if you run out of ammo, and you will never run out of ammo so long as you keep killing people and taking their guns. Your health recharges absurdly quickly (hide behind a crate for ten seconds) and only a few guns ever give you any guff anyways. Unless you insist on reducing every enemy to a pulp with your hammer you will only die if you’re caught in a burning vehicle or if you forget what you’re doing for a few minutes. Once you get more advanced weaponry like the rocket launcher and arc welder (and that happens fairly early), dealing with hordes of enemies is a snap. Of course enemies and enemy vehicles can re-spawn as long as your alert level remains high; and it won’t dip until you’ve stopped killing people. This means firefights frequently become tedious, and then exasperating, and then finally lethally boring, after the tenth APC filled with soldiers has tipped over and exploded, and the twelfth hapless gunship has listed to within range of your heat-seeking nuke launcher and you've blown it out of the sky.
What would have helped Red Faction: Guerrilla is if it had aped the games it is clearly trying to ape more effectively. The world outside of your base isn't nearly vibrant enough to serve as something other than a stage for moving the plot forward or doing the occasional generic hit-and-run or base defense mission. The actual fighting is either easy or tedious, the story isn't the greatest (there are cool moments – anything to do with the Marauders, for instance) and there are too few interesting areas to distract from the seemingly endless procession of apartment blocks, guard stations, office buildings and mine vehicle parking lots.
Ultimately Guerrilla is unsatisfying, only because it doesn't take its own ideas far enough. What is there is not bad, and if there is blame that needs to be apportioned it can probably be laid at the feet of whoever was responsible for not giving Volition enough time to get where they might have been headed: to a more interesting world, to a thicker plot, to more clever AI, etc. Red Faction: Guerrilla is the game for people who are either perfectly satisfied with above-average shooters or are lovers of the might-have-been.