Red Faction Guerrilla Impressions: Better Red Than Dead

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It must be tough work, running with a sledgehammer. It's maybe not as dangerous as running with scissors, but then neither is sprinting with a 50 pound bag of salt pellets. Still, my guy in Volition's Red Faction pulls it off with aplomb. He's an indefatigable instrument of architectonic-pulverizing adroitness. Like the Peter Gabriel song, let there be no doubt about it.

This morning I've been out working over the game's "medium importance" destruction targets, also known as "wind turbines." (Shhh...don't tell the environmentalists.) Actually do, because they're apparently evil turbines, owned by the Earth Defense Force, the big bad be-weaponed guys who want to subjugate my team into their crazy indentured Martian mining corporatocracy.

So I'm out cruising for fields of eco-friendly power nodes to "disassemble" with my trusty metal-brick-on-a-stick, rolling through a haze of red and bleak, and boy do I suck at finishing what I started. Every time I put my hammer through an enemy target, half the map turns out to say hi with guns. You know how I'm usually griping about locked-out difficulty settings? Not in this game. Should've played at 'normal' instead of 'hard' and now I'm weeks behind the curve trying to finishing it.

I'll say this: Did you read my rant about the demo? Ignore that. I was apparently high. Red Faction Guerilla The Actual Game is maybe the best argument for not judging a game on its demo I've encountered. That's because the demo was bad, but the actual game is quite good. I'll tell you why in detail soon. In not-detail, it's one of these gameplay-first affairs that practically does backflips to please. Think Saints Row 2 but on Mars (both games are from the same developer) with dollops of Destruction Derby.

You know, the kind of experience where every activity's an unusually clever and compulsive game all its own? Where they're sprinkled everywhere? Like that. Like racing around in a heavy motor vehicle plowing over hapless bad guys and aiming for radar towers, or stealing vehicles and racing them back to safe zones under fire. Like setting charges at just the right support points to take down a massive building before a timer zeroes, or pulling off the same with only your sledgehammer. Beat the timers and you get salvage, which translates to cash, which lets you buy better tools of destruction. How many games make freeform demolition a financial virtue?

Then there's the morale mechanic, where how well you're doing in a sector eventually coaxes supporters from passerby during enemy engagements. Die a lot, on the other hand, like I've been, and your morale plummets, leaving you friendless in a firefight. Does that seem counterintuitive? The whole "as you fail, it gets easier to fail" approach? I've always thought so, but then losing help as you morale-up wouldn't be much of an incentive, and the game offsets the "as you succeed, it gets easier to succeed" thing by fortifying the heck out of the most well-guarded targets.

The only downer: For a game set on Mars, Red Faction doesn't have much to say about the planet itself. It doesn't feel like being on Mars (you know, based on my personal time there). Okay, it doesn't feel like I've always imagined it would (with, you know, air you can breathe). Okay, fine, so I know jack about Mars. All I'm saying is you might as well be in the Mojave wearing rust-tinted shades. Occasional news broadcasts crackle from video stations offering crumbs about the planetary goings-on, but that's it. There's an actual story that sort of wafts out of the cracks between sector assaults, but it's mostly background noise. The good news is that the story never mucks up the game bits. That bad's that you never quite connect emotionally with what you're doing, or why.

So like I said, more Saints Row Mars, less Grand Theft Bradbury. Oh, and without the former's whole Ali G vibe, sadly. Yeah, I miss that too.

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