Format: 360, PC, PS3
Release: Out now (360, PS3), August (PC)
Alec Mason may be the worst miner in the solar system: he can’t even crack the Martian permafrost with a swing of his hammer. But Red Faction: Guerrilla‘s particular flavour of environmental deformation means that his talents lie in another area – the spectacular obliteration of architecture in the name of political dissent. Thankfully, the death of his brother at the hands of the corrupt and oppressive Earth Defense Force initiates a swift career change from pit-worker to Red Faction insurrectionist.
Mason’s mission to rout the EDF strays little from open-world convention, but its familiar components clip together tightly. Unlocking progress is a matter of boosting Red Faction morale and reducing EDF control – goals which tie up the game’s various strands, from the central story missions, secondary activities and randomised events to the simple (and sometimes not so simple) destruction of EDF property and personnel. In fact, nearly all these activities culminate in – can you guess? – blowing up a building or two, each of which is modelled to factor in the gravitational stress tugging on every strut and buttress. Smash a number away and the remaining materials reach critical point, girders snapping, concrete crumbling, the whole structure eventually collapsing in upon itself.
The process can be hastened by Mason’s arsenal of explosives, eventually swelling to include thermobaric rockets and charges that create miniature black holes. There are times when this is of tactical use – blasting gangways from beneath enemy feet, tumbling girders on to unwitting heads, drilling escape routes through walls. But its purpose is mainly spectacle, serving to distract from the otherwise bland gunplay. Demolition is mostly imprecise and targets are often cloistered among indestructible rocky terrain, closing down tactical variety.
Red Faction is nonetheless a solid piece of engineering, with a robust mission structure, respectable quantity of formulaic content, pliable driving model, maniacal enthusiasm for pyrotechnics and, of course, extravagant deformation technology. Sadly, these competencies exist in a world that never quite manages to charm or engage. Its environmental design occasionally hits a chord – when the sun sets over a dusty plane, the soundtrack stripped back to plaintive Vangelis-esque chimes – but more often than not you find yourself swallowed up by various shades of uniform brown rock, rarely wowing with its desolation. You wish the EDF would hurry up with its terraforming efforts, painting the dirtball in cities, flora and fauna. One zone, Eden, is differentiated from its neighbours by the addition of a thin beard of grass to its surfaces – but it’s no more populated with interest. The smatterings of colonial pre-fabs don’t add enough to a landscape which neither resembles credible geology nor looks fascinatingly alien.
Indeed, Mars ultimately fails to mean a whole lot – the tale of the colonists’ struggle for independence made humdrum through limp cutscenes, seeded through the world by flatly written news reports and AI barks. And though this little diminishes the delight of knocking a cooling tower down with a singularity bomb, or watching several tons of concrete crumple into the face of an EDF lackey, it does stunt the dramatic significance these events hold. Red Faction plays its hand early, letting you blow a building to pieces in the first few minutes of the game. Though the explosions scale with progress, and the act of detonation continues to be a giddy pleasure, Mars could do with a thicker atmosphere.