Monday, June 15, 2009

Red Faction: Guerilla (360)

Here's your lazy person's summary: this entire post is a big, sloppy Valentine to Red Faction: Guerilla, one of the best games of this or any other generation.

Games are about grooves. All games have them, and if you find the groove (and can stay in it long enough), you wind up liking the game.

With Red Faction: Guerilla, I've been in the groove for the entire first 15 hours. This game is so carefully and cleverly designed, and it's so polished, and it's bursting with personality. So let me tell you about what I know.

Let's begin at the beginning, with the plot:
1. You travel to Mars to work as a miner.
2. Things go awry.

That's all the plot this game needs.

In just one of innumerable instances of brilliance, though, that tiny sliver of story manages to provide a convincing rationale for running around with a sledgehammer.

And that sledgehammer is a SLEDGEHAMMER. Hit people with it--once--and they die. As they die, they will fly through the air--like they have been hit by a sledgehammer.

This is awesome.

What's also awesome is that the weapons you're least likely to use in this game are the ones with bullets. There are so many uber-powerful weapons available (including one that simply evaporates reality) that bullets seem entirely ridiculous.

What these weapons do, mostly, is cause explosions, explosions on a scale so epic that it can hardly be described. And EVERYTHING in this game can be destroyed--every building, every bridge, every storage tank, every vehicle. They explode in a manner that is so thrilling it has to be seen to be believed.

Even from 150 million miles away, you can feel it.

And when you destroy something, it stays destroyed. It's industrial terraformication--with a rocket launcher.

Yes, I know that's not a word. But after playing this game, it should be.

Gloria watched me play for fifteen minutes one night, and she said "Sometimes you just have to make things go BOOM."


It's not just about the explosions, though. The game engine is absolutely superb, rendering tremendous amounts of detail with minimal pop-up and almost zero framerate slowdowns.

And Mars is beautiful. It's vast and sweeping, geographically imposing, and truly impressive to drive through. The geography lends itself to a better game, because there is no need for narrow streets and masses of pedestrians (saying the same dozen stupid phrases over and over)--these vistas are wide open, generally, so any quibbles with the driving model are erased by the forgiving design. Roads and off-road are frequently not very different from each other, which encourages experimentation.

The result of this experimentation? Some spectacularly sick jumps, as exciting as any action movie you've ever seen.

In general, and this is another primary design strength of the game, the possibilities for experimentation (and its rewards) are almost unlimited. Any mission can be approached in many ways, because only the objective is defined.

Here's an example. I found trails through the mountains--narrow trails that were to small for a vehicle to use. Through some creative ledge scrambling and jumping, I was able to wreak heavy destruction on enemy infrastructure from a distance, and it was almost impossible for them to come get me.

It took time to find these areas, and it's not the most intuitive way to go about some of these missions. It might not even be the best way. What matters to me, though, is that I could do it, and there was nothing to stop me. That's how open world games are supposed to work.

And it's not just that the game will let you do anything. In addition to that freedom, excellent design touches are everywhere. One example is that the vehicles available for your use at safehouses change, so instead of getting comfortable with one vehicle and using it every time, you're encouraged to drive all the vehicles, and given how differently they handle (and how differently they're sized), it adds another dimension to the experience.

More touches? A flawless GPS system. A very striking day/night cycle. A morale system that punishes you when you kill freedom fighters.

It wasn't rushed. It's not unfinished. It's a highly-polished game, and it shows.

Did I mention the jetpack?

That's right. Sledgehammer. Rocket launcher. Jetpack. Seriously, there's lots more, but what the hell else do you need?

Is it perfect? No, although any complaints I have are minor. There are a limited number of mission types (nine, I think), so even as you progress to different areas, the missions are generally similar. There are so many different ways to approach them, though, and you get progressively more inventive (with more powerful weapons) as you go, so it doesn't bog down.

I'd also like for more distinctive personalities to emerge on the enemy side. Maybe that comes later in the game (I'm about 2/3 through), but it hasn't happened yet, and I'd like to get a sense of some individual menace.

One last touch of pure genius: the mission briefings are given by the same voice actor (Michael McConnohie) who starred in Crackdown ("Skills for kills, agent. Skills for kills.").

It's epic. Wait, let me correct that--it's EPIC.

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