Would you have guessed that blowing the crap out of things would be fun? Yeah, probably so, and it's been done before, but wow, does Red Faction Guerrilla (RF) make it a heck of a lot of fun. I never played the first game, so this was my first introduction to the series. The story is pretty simple. A while ago, the Earth Defense Force came to Mars to kick some bad guys butts. They did just that. But apparently things have not turned out so well on Mars. The EDF are generally a bunch of pricks and have turned the red planet into a police state. (Are you seeing any real life corollaries yet? Don't worry - it gets more obvious later.) Your character lands on Mars and about 5 minutes later is embroiled in the local rebellion against the EDF. The story though is secondary really. It's not bad, but the game play is what I really want to talk about.
Just about every single structure in the game is destructible. Ok, by itself, that doesn't sound terribly interesting. But wait - it gets better. Most missions involve you tearing down buildings. Every EDF building represents their ability to exert control over the populace. So the more you destroy, the more you help free the people of Mars. Where the game shines is how many different ways you can take buildings down. You can - for example - throw charges on the wall, run away, and activate them remotely. This creates an incredibly satisfying explosion that may - or may not - take the building down. You really have to think about where you place your charges to get the maximum effect. Of course, you also have a sledgehammer. If the building doesn't come down before you run out of charge, you can wail away at it with your hammer.
One of the best moments in this game was the time I was taking down a tall guard tower (with the guards still on top - heh) with my hammer. I succeeded in knocking it down... right on my head. I laughed my rear off at that and ensured that next time I stayed towards the edge when taking the manual approach.
Another cool moment was when I driving quickly to a target and didn't break in time. This is when I discovered that yes - an armored vehicle is like one large sledgehammer. I proceeded to back up and ram the building again a few times.
What's nice too is how the EDF responds to you. Do enough destruction and they will send a few flying vehicles after you. Do a lot of damage and eventually they send heavy tanks after you. How did I discover this? I was racing away from a crime scene (wait, did I say crime scene - I mean freedom fighting!) in a zippy little humvee type car. I was feeling a bit cocky since I knew the EDF had no chance of catching up on me. I saw something new approaching me and had about one second to think "Hey, that kinda looks like a tank" when the next thing I new my vehicle (and myself) were about 200 feet in the air after taking a direct hit. I survived, barely, and booked away as fast as possible.
A lot of things are done real well in this game. The graphics are incredible, and frankly, it's nice to play a GTA type game not set in NYC (or some other Earth city). The designers did a great job creating a partially terraformed Mars. The sky - the ground - it just all plain works and works really well. The towns all have a 'wild west' type feel, which make sense as Mars in the new frontier.
Alright - so - you can't talk about this game without mentioning the obvious parallels to Iraq. The good guys come in - push out the bad guys - and then a local insurgency takes to arms against the good guys. I will say that on more than one occasion I felt a bit weird. For example, at one point you are tasked with preventing the EDF from entering a base. One of your fellow freedom fighters suggests placing explosives on the road to take out the EDF. So um yes... roadside bombs. Later on in the game you move from simple building destruction, stealing, etc, to assassination. I have no doubts in my mind that the developers were trying to create some kind of sympathy for the terrorists in Iraq, but it definitely makes a takes a bold stance.
I do have one complaint about the game. I have frequent XBox freezes when playing. A reader suggested this tip: XBox 360 Cache Clear Code. This kinda works. I now do this tip before I play. Before this, I was lucky to get more than 5 minutes in. I've got friends with the game though and none of them have seen this problem, so it may just be me. And no. This does not mean my XBox is going to red ring. Don't even think it. Period.
Oh - and one mission is a complete rip from Call of Duty 4. Did that bug me? Heck no. It was a rip from easily the coolest part of Call of Duty 4 so I didn't mind at all. I recommend this game 100%. I think it is probably my favorite game of the year so far. It may not be as deep as Fable or Fallout, but for pure devilish fun, it is incredible. It's my Crackdown for 2009.
These aren't the best screen shots. My source (Gamespress) didn't really have any 'in play' shots. Sorry about that!