System Requirements: Windows XP/Vista, 2.0 GHz Dual Core Processor, 1 GB RAM, 128 MB video card with shader model 3.0 support, 15 GB hard-drive space
Release date: Available now
If it’s one thing gamers and movie audiences love, it’s big explosions. Pyrotechnics, booming sounds and bright flashes are spectacles upon which big sales are often built. However, most games, even high-quality ones such as Crysis and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, are generally limited by what parts of the map can be destroyed, and what parts are permanent. While shooting through walls is now customary in FPS titles, I was genuinely surprised by Red Faction: Guerrilla developer Volition’s claims that players could “tear down enemy strongholds brick by brick.” And I was even more surprised when it turned out to be completely true. Between sledgehammers and explosives, Red Faction: Guerrilla is a game for anyone who has ever wanted to give Hollywood a run for its money in the category of spectacle.
Set on Mars, Guerrilla depicts the struggle of colonists oppressed at the hands of the Earth Defense Force (EDF). Your character, Alec Mason, a miner with expertise in explosives and mining tools, comes to Mars looking for work. After Mason’s brother is summarily executed by the EDF, Mason takes up arms against the oppressors, working to liberate Mars using guerrilla tactics against a well armed and trained adversary. Bombings, hit-and-run raids and ambushes are the tools needed to secure the planet and its people against its enemies.
If this story sounds like the beginning of a new videogame controversy, rest assured that the game is not Al Qaeda Goes to Mars. The insurgency you join is one that is closer to the American Revolution than simple terrorism. In a nod towards independence movements, the support of the people is vital to your efforts. In this sandbox game, you decide which EDF targets to attack, when to attack them, and how. This includes making sure that civilians are not harmed. As you achieve success, the people begin to rally to your cause. If civilians are killed by the EDF while fighting you, the population loses its faith in your cause. If you murder civilians yourself, they lose much more faith. This feeling of the populace is represented by a numerical value called morale. The good news is that increasing morale has benefits. You find ammunition in supply crates, gain more salvage as loot from completed missions and defeated enemies, and, at a certain point, the civilians rally to your cause by taking up arms. When the morale of the people is high enough, firefights that you initiate are joined by nearby civilians who reveal themselves to be armed with automatic weapons and a desire for liberation. Thus, while destroying things is important, indiscriminate killing and sabotage does nothing to liberate your people and eventually alienates civilians, making overall victory much more difficult to attain.
And destroying things is very important. While every building in Guerrilla can be completely demolished with enough effort, you goal is to destroy EDF property, including buildings and vehicles. As your character is an explosives expert, you start out with the ability to use remote-detonating devices. They can be thrown at (and can stick to) anything: cars, walls, crates, the ground and crew-served weapons. With a tap of the mouse, they can be detonated on command for maximum damage. You are also an expert with a sledgehammer and can tear down any building given enough time. Demolishing buildings has never been so much fun, but gamers paying attention can already begin to see the tactical possibilities. Enemies hiding behind cover can be bombed out of position. A patrolling guard on the other side of a wall can be quickly taken out with the sledgehammer. With enough stealth and patience, you can even plant explosives, leave the area and destroy an entire building while you’re driving away. In multiplayer, destruction is even more fun, because camping is a sure way to get killed and the map slowly changes as more and more is destroyed.
There are some hiccups in this successful port from console to PC. First, while the system requirements are not too stiff, you should take some time while playing through the tutorial mission to fine-tune graphics settings. Failing to do so results in choppy gameplay when you are detonating multiple explosives in a firefight, even when the rest of the game is running at a decent frame rate. Second, Guerrilla‘s DRM solution includes registering the game’s serial number to an email account that can never be reassigned. Don’t lose that email address, or you’ll never be able to reinstall. Also, a Windows Live gamertag is required to save progress, even in single player. While using Windows Live makes it possible to unlock achievements, I find it reprehensible that I am required to be logged in to Windows Live to save my game in single player. Another minor problem is that despite the fun available in a fully destructable game world, the missions all end up feeling the same after about five hours of play. Unless you’re inventive in how you play the game, it can get repetitive.
Still, all of that aside, Red Faction: Guerrilla is a solid game. I can see why my console colleagues had so many good things to say about it. The engine is excellent, and even as I wrapped up my last game, I found myself hoping that other companies would make use of what the engine has to offer. As long as you have an active Internet connection at all times, this is the game for anyone who wants to be immersed in a righteous guerrilla struggle.