Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Grand Theft Mars

There’s a lot of driving in Red Faction: Guerrilla (RFG.) Sometimes you’re schlepping a team of Martian revolutionaries to a mission. Others you are tasked with delivering a specific vehicle (safely) to a designated location within a time limit. Usually, you’re just getting from point A to point B on the map and the nearest SUV is the most efficient means of transport available. And there’s rarely a time in the game when you find yourself wanting for a vehicle; they’re everywhere – SUVs, pickups, dune buggies, garbage trucks, sort-of Euro-style lories, troop transport vehicles, tanks, and even the skiffs that the indigenous Marauders drive around as they harass miners and military alike.

All of this commuting might have become tedious had it not meaningfully contributed to the story and gameplay. But if you could use the vehicles to creatively add to the destructive element of the game, then you’d have something. Did I mention that you can use the vehicles to creatively add to the destructive element of the game? No? Well you can, and it’s great fun.

I’m not familiar with previous games in the Red Faction series, but that certainly did not diminish my enjoyment of the game. Evidently, Martian colonists needed the help of the Earth Defense Force (EDF) to repel some sort of invasion and having accomplished this, the EDF has sort of set up shop as the government and are running the place with an iron fist. You know this because as you start interacting with the Martians you hear comments from passers-by on how much life sucks on Mars under the EDF. So you soon join up with the Red Faction, the insurgency whose goal it is to return Mars to the Martians. And so begins some rompin’ stompin’ good times.

You see, RFG is all about the destruction. With your primary weapon, the trusty sledge hammer, you can smash up, say, that transport container over there. In doing so, it gives up a few pieces of salvage, the currency of this game. Salvage is what buys you upgrades for your weapons (you mean I can get an even better sledge than this?) and armor. But it doesn’t stop there. Bringing down bigger structures, say that EDF office complex over there, also builds support for you from the Martians and reduces the control of the EDF over a particular area. This means that when you get into a scrap with the EDF forces, you are more likely to be assisted by some passing-by guerrillas and weapons chests left around the map are better stocked. It reinforced my belief in the general goodness of humanity the first time an SUV came screeching up and a couple of guerrillas hopped out and jumped into the fray – “Here I come to save the day!”

As the game progresses, you can elect to participate in a variety of side missions to help build up you trove of the precious salvage. Some of these have you participating in guerrilla raids, others have you destroying specified targets. Still others are tutorials in how to better blow things up. That’s right, in addition to hammer, you get to tote around a supply of various exploding thingies. Just toss ‘em at the desired target stand well-clear and hit the detonator. For bigger targets, throw multiple charges before setting them off and before you know it you become quite adept at controlled demolitions. Gotta love destruction raised to an art form.

That’s what kept me compelled by the game; it encouraged you to be resourceful to the point of being creative. Need to bring down that bunker but are short on ammo? No problem; just jump into that garbage truck someone carelessly left out and keep crashing it into the structure until you achieve the desired level of damage. Got an enemy troop transport bearing down on you? Just throw one of you explosive charges at it and hit the detonator. Problem solved!

Finally, I must mention the physics of the game as they are exquisite. Gravity (even Mars’ slightly less potent gravity) is your friend, and the game engine enforces the might of your ally. As you hammer and bomb your way around a building you can hear tortured metal creak and shreek, and the ground rumbles and shakes as the structure begins to fail. I’m not exaggerating when I say that wrecking stuff is addictive in this game, “I’ve really got to be someplace else, but, gosh I sure would like to take down that garage over there.”

Add the fact that RFG is quite a large game (I truly enjoyed exploring the varied terrain of Mars we were given) and this is a really compelling package for me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get a hold of Orbitz to find out when the next flight for Mars is leaving.

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