In Volition's Red Faction: Guerrilla demo, your name means "builder" in a level you'll mostly end up tearing to pieces. Alec Mason. Some guy in a stylish duster with a six o'clock shadow painted from his chin to the back of his neck. He doesn't talk. Today's heroes rarely do. It's the old "he's our you" projection trick. It's supposed to make you identify more with the protagonist. Uh-huh. Me, I just feel like I'm piloting a department store mannequin.
What Red Faction: Guerrilla demo? Err, it's not actually out in the U.S. yet. It's just been released in Europe today...one of the (extremely) rare perquisites of editing this column while temporarily residing abroad.
That said, the single solo-play level only takes a few minutes to clear, the replay lure being an option to bump the difficulty level a notch. Otherwise it's you against some helmeted police force goons prowling around a bunch of militia-like structures framed by bleary Martian rocks and ridges. The Earth Defense Force (the bad guys) have reportedly confiscated a bunch of Walkers, i.e. mech-style robotic exoskeletons. Your job's to infiltrate the complex and bring one back, or as the guy giving you orders over a radio at the outset proselytizes, "liberate the sector." You know, "don't let the miners down," dear comrade.
The original Red Faction's fame-claim involved getting to blow up stuff you hadn't been able to previously per Volition's trendy-sounding GeoMod tech. Knock a hole in a wall and the game replaced the affected area with an "empty space" object. Not really physics, but impressive eight years ago.
Add physics, a third-person angle to help you ogle the demolition, and what Volition's calling an "open world," and you get Grand Theft Mars...I mean Red Faction: Guerrilla.
Back to the demo. What's the first thing I do after the game hands over the controls? Turn around with my axe-hammer-thing and wail on a bunch of steel barricades. Whoom-whoom-whoom, down they come. Simple enough, point made, and mildly satisfying.
Next experiment: Pummel the debris mess I've made. First minor disappointment — all the poles and meshy links are indestructible. Not so much as a scrape or dent. So much for atomization. (Then again, I'm an insurrectionist, not a jackhammer.)
Off we go then. Banging on stuff or smashing it around alerts the police, who have guns...which I don't. Nowhere to really run and hide here, so I'll just die, restart, and try this again. The demo doesn't lay out the rules, but after dying a few times, it's clear the level contains areas with invisible boundaries. Trip one and you'll have half the compound on your tail.
Since it's not a stealth game, I can't sneak around, and my objective's smack in the middle of police central. Fight? I suppose, but that way lies multiple reloads. On the other hand, I can go through anything with my trusty super-powered Hammer of the Gods. Steel? Concrete? Gates? Walls? No problem. I'll just stroll on down to a point as far away from the entrance areas as possible, then WHAM-WHAM-WHAM, and voila, I'm in!
A sprint or two later, I'm peeling off the side of the compound housing the Walker. Geez, it's pretty big. This could be cool...or then it could just be awkward. Have I mentioned I hate giant robots in games? Really. No one does cool mechs anymore. They're all so clumsy. Or on rails. Or just plain boring. Last time I honest-to-goodness enjoyed piloting a metal hulk around was Activision's Mechwarrior 2. That was 1995.
Okay, I'm riding in the thing's shoulder-side cab, and...not bad. Big, but responsive. Nothing complex to learn, just left- or right-handed thumps and the option to sweep your arms left or right like someone angrily clearing the top of a desk. Ripping apart multi-story structures is kinda cathartic. For a couple minutes, anyway. Then it's time to cruise before my health bottoms out, and the game launches its...
...truck-bed shoot sequence. Which I really wish it hadn't. I hate these things. This one's no different. It has all the cliches, including the One Gun to Rule Them All. With a dozen shots, I'm able to take out over twice as many bad guy vehicles, snap. Seriously, you give the bad guys just one of these things and it'd be Game Over, Sauron wins.
THOOM-THOOM-THOOM, dozens of trucks flying through the air, whoops and attaboys from my driver, giant structures withering under my virtually cosmic cannon-fire...and then I'm through, cue credits, and a banner touting the game's June 2009 release along with requisite bullet points enumerating missions and weapons and vehicles.
Demo verdict: I'm impressed with the engine's geometric flexibility. I'm persuaded by it's total destructibility per the Walker sequence. But I can't gauge much else at this point. Story? Campaign? Mission and area design? Weapons and ballistic play? Oppositional intelligence? Flexibility and design relevance of the "open-world" in which the game ostensibly takes place?
We'll just have to wait until June.
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