The dusty plains of the red planet have always had somewhat of a draw to us lot down here on Earth, with its vast craters and windstorms, Mars has always been a curiosity to architects and astronomers, alike. With the topic of sustaining life on Mars covered in a whole range of movies, ranging from the good to the downright awful, it was now time for a next generation game to step up to the plate and take up the gauntlet.
The Red Faction series made up some of the better shooters on the PS2 towards the beginning of the decade and provided what was, at its core, purely a great multiplayer FPS; the kind of multiplayer where you'd splitscreen with your friends for a belly full of laughs and a face full of lead. After a long holiday for the series, it has returned with a gleaming new wardrobe and an impressive list of features, but is it any good? I strapped on my spaceboots and got ready to party with the Martians.
The premise reverses the roles of the previous games in the series and has you flying the flag of the rebellious Red Faction, fighting for their freedom on Mars against their opressors, the EDF. An experienced voice cast provides dialogue that portrays the Red Faction's plight perfectly, capturing the urgency and passion that all good revolutionaries from Lenin to Ché Guevara have shown. As missions are completed in a free-form, free-roam format, with random events springing up in each region, the story length and pace can be dictated by the player in this, very literally, sandbox game.
From the very first second you can move around your hero, Alec Mason, you will realise how well the graphics have been implemented. Pre-rendered cutscenes are old hat in today's new games, most will show some level of detail and drag the new player, kicking and screaming, into their respective story. The gameplay graphics are where the true prestige lies and with Red Faction: Guerrilla, Volition walk away with ten gold stars. The visuals are incredible and animations effortless. With a realistic motion blur when turning and a crisp quality to the characters' skin, clothes and weapons, alongside an impressive lighting system, the game manages to suck me into a Martian storm of immersion, filling my vision as far as the eye can see with undulating red outcrops and hard-lined, dystopian structures, all ready to be ripped into with my trusty sledgehammer.
With his brother torn away from him by the EDF, firmly establishing a cause for his ensuing rampage of mayhem and destruction, the protagonist, Alec Mason is presented as a likeable and emotionally-understandable character; which allows for a sense of drive in the player, pushing them through the story at a brisk pace. In his red and green garb, the classic colours of Communist icon, Ché Guevara, connotations with real world freedom fighters are clearly meant to be drawn. Unlike the more carefree and frivolous storylines of the likes of Saint's Row and Crackdown, Guerrilla documents the believable, yet tumultuous exploits of a balanced character, invoking empathy from the player to be a key feature in their enjoyment of the game.
The big selling point is the brand new destruction engine, Geo-Mod 2.0. This allows for the systematic dismantling of any structure in the game. The scope of such a tool is as wide as your imagination and creativity allows, with possible uses such as creating a covered shooting spot by smashing/exploding a hole in a wall or just creating a shortcut through a peaceful settlement to cut those few extra seconds off your commute to your next assignment. After all, in these economic times, every little helps, right?
Smashing your way through enemy establishments can prove a time-consuming, yet rewarding activity in itself with the option of utilising surrounding scenery such as dynamic explosive barrels and fuel tanks to quench even the greatest detonator junkie's craving for carnage. The main story missions are supplemented by a comprehensive compendium of mini-games and side missions which will tempt a hammer wielding, gutterally growling beast out of even the most mild-mannered of gamers. The weapons can be upgraded by collecting "salvage"; scrap metal from destroyed structures and vehicles. These gradually progress into being effecting death-dealing tools which will allow you to evolve from a simple Martian Miner to the scourge of the EDF.
The shooting system can sometimes be difficult to aim, which results in our Alec getting a sudden urging for a lead sandwich, but the desperate, adrenaline-fuelled last stands made up some of my best moments of the game. Hammering your way into a portaloo for some cover while you reload is something I've never done in a game, but the effectiveness of said tactic cannot be denied. After my short duration in the dunny, I emerged guns blasting bringing some serious pain to my foes. The rest of the gameplay revolves around the classic sandbox core, and Volition have clearly used their experience from their comical retelling of the gangster game, Saint's Row, in creating such a fluid and thrilling game to play.
For those who aren't content with maiming, pounding and crushing the EDF in the single player campaign, the violence can be taken trans-atlantic with some multiplayer madness. The modes include the classic mindless murdering of deathmatches and team deathmatches, while Volition have extended some more complex team objective based variants, including a 'defend-the-fort' type mode. The pace is quick and exhilerating, requiring constant effort to prevent your character's nutsack being pounded into a fleshy puddle and returned to you via the headset in a garbled torrent of trash talk and insults.
At the centre of it all, the games success revolves around simply how much fun it is. When playing, it always remains a pleasure and hours can be easily sunk without any trouble. The replayability aspect is heightened due to the opportunity to embark upon a mindless destruction rampage, which, ignoring the story, could keep you entertained for a good while. As the pace of the story is dictated at the player's own pace the game's lifespan is difficult to quantify, but if you go through it too quickly you will probably find yourself replaying, for the simple thrill of knocking down a monolithic tower with just a sledgehammer and what must be some incredibly beefy biceps.
Sam has been unable to peel his bloodshot eyes and RSI-ridden wrists from the world of gaming since he was first introduced to it, like all good junkies, by his Grandad. From those early days of MegaDrive sweetness, bashing through the throngs of enemies on Shining Force II, his love of all things games has extended upwards and outwards onto a variety of platforms. You can either believe that spiel, or get the real scoop and know that his spaceship actually crashed here some years ago and he is currently incognito as a games writer for Console Monster.