The first Red Faction was released way back in 2001 when the PS2 was still considered a graphical powerhouse, the Dreamcast had just kicked the bucket and Microsoft was hyping up the forthcoming release of the first Xbox console. The game itself was an enjoyable but fairly standard shooter. Its only unique feature being extensive but incredibly underutilized terrain deformation dubbed “Geo-Mod;” an interesting concept that in practice rarely went beyond using your weapons to blast tunnels to nowhere. Not long after the release of the first game came its inevitable sequel which is generally considered to be inferior to the original due to offering more of the same with a less competent execution.
Red Faction: Guerrilla separates itself from its predecessors by breaking free from the first person corridor shooter gameplay established in the first two games in favor of a third person view and open world design. Missions are separated into two categories: Story missions and guerrilla actions. With former directly advancing the games story and the latter indirectly doing the same by unlocking new story missions. The game world is separated into six distinct sectors with each starting off as being completely controlled by the antagonists of the game, the EDF (Earth Defense Force).
Completing guerrilla actions or causing enough damage to EDF property will lower their control of the sector, and as their grip weakens new story missions open up. Once you’ve reduced their control to zero, and providing you’ve completed prior story missions in the area you take on one final mission to liberate the sector. This pattern repeats in each sector until you’ve beaten the story. Extremely formulaic, but it works well. Missions generally involve destroying buildings or vehicles (shocking, I know), rescuing captured civilians or escorting convoys.
To pad total gameplay time and provide an excuse for achievements there are more Guerrilla actions than are needed to advance the story, so gamers with crippling OCD will get some extra value outside of what needs to be done to move the plot forward. Certain types of guerrilla actions have par times and pro times; beating the pro time in all available missions of a given type unlocks an achievement. Once you’ve gone through the main storyline the game allows you to continue playing in order to finish up any leftover guerrilla actions and to just goof around.
Of course, considering the story is about as deep as a wading pool and your characters primary motivation for joining the Red Faction is “ZOMG THEY KILLED MY BROTHER!!111”—which in itself is short-lived and doesn’t really come into play much past the first quarter of the game—this isn’t really a game you play for its engrossing narrative. You play this game primarily to have some fun blowing shit up, and by god, shit blows up well. Volition has decided to abandon terrain deformation completely in favor of extensive building destruction, a decision that ends up being far more usable in gameplay than the deformable terrain in the previous games ever was.
Need to get to a captive civilian in the back room of a building? Run around and install your own door. Collapse smoke stacks onto enemy buildings or personnel, collapse a bridge as an EDF convoy passes over or underneath it. Is there an enemy patrolling above you? Knock the floor out from under him. RFG’s destruction opens up many possibilities for creative destruction, and seeing things get destroyed in so many spectacular ways often evokes a sense of awe that makes the situations you find yourself in feel extremely satisfying. If you want to attach a buzz word to what often transpires during an RFG play session, I guess you’d call it emergent gameplay.
Aside from the main single player campaign, the PC version of RFG also boasts all three DLC releases from the 360 version as free on-disk extras (sans DLC-specific achievements, sadly) and a hotseat multiplayer mode called “Wrecking Crew” which allows you and up to four friends to compete for the highest score by causing as much destruction as you can under various restraints in timed rounds.
In addition to that there is very competent multiplayer offering providing the usual assortment of game types with the building destruction thrown in to set it apart from other online shooters. Unfortunately, while I find the online gameplay itself to be very entertaining, the game suffers from a sub-par matchmaking system that, combined with the small but seemingly stable player base, often has you waiting upwards of 10 minutes before you can start a match. During peak hours that wait can be shorter, but even then you’ll find yourself twiddling your thumbs in the lobby for far longer than you’d like.
I found Red Faction: Guerrilla to be a very enjoyable experience which has provided me with roughly 67 hours of entertainment as of writing this, roughly three quarters of that sunken into the main single player campaign alone. I’d recommend it to anybody who doesn’t mind a game that’s light on story so long as it makes up for it with entertaining gameplay, and if you can get a match started the multiplayer is fun to boot.