When you first pick up the controller for Red Faction: Guerrilla, there's a very tempting trap to fall into. Between thoroughly destructible buildings and a free-roaming setup that allows you to meander along at your own leisure, that initial urge is to take your basic melee weapon--a miner's sledgehammer--and knock down every structure in sight. It's a slow process, but a rewarding one, as you see all that concrete, rebar, and iron come toppling down in a realistic crumble. We had the opportunity to do just that with a recent hands-on session with the Xbox 360 version. But it wasn't all fun and games, as THQ and Volition reps were on hand to explain the game's new layout and story, and the technology behind it all.
Driving all that destructibility is a dystopian plot that details the struggle between descendants of a Martian mining colony and the totalitarian Earth Defense Force looming over them. You're a member of the resistance force, a guerrilla soldier whose job is to chip away at the EDF's control and influence over civilian life through a variety of means. The game is laid out in an open-world setting where you can choose to take on whichever missions you'd like that aren't crucial to the overall story. We didn't get to see any story missions during our demo, but we did get to see some of the side missions, or guerilla actions, as they're called in the game.
You hear about potential guerrilla actions through the media and word of mouth. All around you are news kiosks broadcasting local riots and uprisings, radio transmissions that give you insight into nearby turmoil, and passersby looking for a helping hand. All these events play out in real time, so if you hear about a scuffle two miles away, it will come and go whether you actually choose to take part in it or not. But Mars, it seems, is a hotbed of conflict, so there's no shortage of guerrilla actions to take part in.
For our first guerrilla act, we got a call from Jorge, a slightly eccentric rebel on a motorcycle. He wanted us to hop on the back of his heavily armed bike--one equipped with a turret gun and a grenade launcher--and rack up 12 million credits' worth of damage to nearby EDF facilities. This is essentially an on-rails mission requiring you to shoot all the EDF buildings and vehicles tailing you along the way. The technology behind Red Faction: Guerrilla lent this mission much more of a strategic feel than your run-of-the-mill on-rails sequence. If Jorge drove by a tall building, you need to aim your grenade launcher for the base of it so as to cause the most damage to its structural integrity. If you target it correctly, you'll see the entire structure topple over--a far cry from the disappearing walls of recent games featuring destructible environments.
Another guerrilla act we tried is one called Demolitions Master, which is a timed challenge pitting you and your sledgehammer against an EDF barrack. You need to knock the entire building down in less than three minutes, but you can also do these continually and try to beat your best time in each subsequent attempt. As you knock down the building, you'll see all the ingredients that go into making it. Bits of rebar stick out of the crumbled cement, metal mesh protrudes from the wall, and support beams in the roof fall down independently of the other roof materials. It's clear that a lot of work went into each structure to make them feel so realistic inside and out.
Wreaking havoc on EDF outposts plays a practical purpose. Besides the fact that destroyed buildings offer a few pieces of valuable salvage you can use to upgrade your weapons, each zone in the game (think of them as Martian neighborhoods) features a sliding scale of EDF power and civilian morale. When you take out EDF buildings, signage, and propaganda in an area, its grip on that region will decrease. Likewise, civilian morale will rise by virtue of stirring people's emotions, getting their courage up, and reducing their exposure to EDF messages. And it's not just a number; when civilian morale is high enough, they're more likely to help you out when they see you fighting EDF forces. Instead of fleeing at the first sight of a conflict, they'll pick up a gun from a dead soldier and give you a hand. Of course, it also works in the opposite direction. If you get sloppy in a firefight and happen to catch a civilian with a few stray rounds (or a sledgehammer to the face, as we may or may not have done on accident), their morale drops considerably.
While you'll need to keep an eye on whom you're shooting during these uprisings, one of the things that makes combat easier for you is the cover system. You'll automatically stick to a wall when standing near it, and from there you can do the usual tricks like leaning out for precise shots and blind-firing. It was definitely strange for us when we first noticed that sticking to a wall was automatic, but it seemed to work fine and we weren't constantly latching onto walls we didn't want any part of. Popping out of cover is as simple as moving the control stick away from the wall, or if you stick around too long, enemies will eventually blow up your little safe haven and the game will automatically tell when there's no more cover.
And you will need to keep an eye on that cover, because whether it's a wall or a building, a smokestack or a bridge, every structure in the game is capable of being destroyed piece by piece. You can use it to your advantage in combat by knocking down structures on top of enemies, like with the smokestack, or taking their legs right out from under them by blowing up an elevated walkway. And to go along with all the uses for the destructibility during combat are a few potentially interesting guns. The best we got to see during our demo was a device called the grinder, a gun that shoots radial saw blades as projectiles, which is generally followed by a torrent of blood and an EDF soldier moaning in agony. Red Faction definitely doesn't shy away from the gore.
So far, it looks like placing the Red Faction series into an open-world environment was a good idea. The potential for goofing around with the environments seems pretty solid, and should add plenty of replayability on top of the basic story. We had a lot of fun smashing flaming barrels being used by hobos to warm their hands, placing satchel charges on bridges and detonating them when a car drove by, and hijacking dump trucks to play chicken with large buildings. However, we're eager to see how the story is going to play out with this game being far less linear than previous Red Factions. You can expect to see more on that front in the near future. In the meantime, Red Faction: Guerrilla is scheduled for a 2009 release on the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.