Red Faction: Guerrilla Review

I really liked Red Faction: Armageddon, the fourth game in the Red Faction series, but it’s largely considered inferior to its predecessor, Red Faction: Guerrilla. I avoided Guerrilla for the longest time because it apparently had troubles with Games For Windows Live, which was only stripped out of the game at the end of 2014. After playing through it for the first time, however, I can’t help but wonder why it’s considered the superior game of the two; Armageddon had a sense of eeriness and progress as you pushed forward, whereas Guerrilla exists solely as a vanilla sandbox explosion simulator with a terrible story and terrible characters tacked on. That’s not even mentioning the low-gravity physics weirdness that makes the entire game feel like one of Mass Effect’s “Mako” sections. The only redeeming aspect of the game is the destructibility of the many buildings you come across, but sometimes they don’t even stay destroyed, and when they do, you never get the sense that they’re lived in or important so much as they exist solely to be shot at, making their destruction somewhat less fulfilling. Add on top of that the less creative arsenal—I seriously missed fun weapons like the magnet gun and many others from Armageddon—and it’s just a vastly inferior game.

This is the only open-world Red Faction game

Something I’ve noticed is that open-world games get treated with kid gloves because of their size, even if that size is just meaningless fluff. Case in point: a linear game with terrible characters and a terrible story will be considered a bad game, but if an open-world game has a terrible story and terrible characters, many will defend it as though those looking for anything other than a big sandbox are missing the point. As a result, few open-world games strive to create anything particularly memorable, and most become interchangeable; if you have Just Cause 2, you have no reason to buy Red Faction: Guerrilla because it’s the same kind of mindless explosion simulator that’ll send you trekking through long distances of nothing across the map to further a terrible story. I don’t hate open-world games, mind you—Far Cry 3 and several others have won me over by managing to be interesting beyond their open-world fluff. Anyone who tells you that Guerrilla is anything more than fluff broken up by periodic destruction is lying to you, though.

Blowing stuff apart is the only real upside of the game.

I’m blown away by how bad the story is

Armageddon wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, but it was a competent action-movie type of game that kept that vibe throughout most of its play time (barring a few glaring missteps toward the end that I haven’t forgotten about, nor forgiven). Guerrilla doesn’t even try to be interesting like that, though, giving you a hilariously predictable revenge story to start with, only to almost completely neglect the main character’s motivations, the personalities of the game’s villains, and the personalities of all of your co-conspirators in the Red Faction resistance movement. By the time the end credits roll, you’re bound to have almost no connection to anything that’s happening beyond the same explosion lust that compelled you toward the beginning of the game. Even the very first Red Faction, a 2001 first-person shooter, gave you more motivation in its story.

The characters are terrible, too

The easiest example of the lack of attention paid to characters would be Samanya, a character who should be important, and who has the closest thing to a back story of all the game’s important characters, but whose character model somehow manages to have purple-ish hair while prerendered video shows her as a blonde. Naturally, I assumed these were different people, and I was only corrected thanks to my tendency to turn on subtitles. I could see someone who plays without subtitles making it to the end of the game completely unaware that they’re the same person, especially since they act completely differently. In prerendered video, Samanya has abundant personality and seems driven. In-game, however, she spends the first three quarters of the game talking about how you need to collect salvage to upgrade your weapons. Later in the game, her polygonal manifestation does play a role in a few missions, but even there her contribution is minimal and almost completely devoid of the same type of personality she shows in cutscenes.

Invisible walls are a huge annoyance when you go up mountains.

Invisible walls limit exploration

The world of Red Faction: Guerrilla is comprised almost entirely of mountainous terrain, so it’s only natural to want to exploit the low gravity (and later on, a jetpack you can acquire) in order to scale many of the mountains. Problem is, there are all kinds of invisible walls you have to contend with, and there’s no obvious way of telling where they’ll strike. In the video above, I was able to get on top of the mountain only to hit an invisible wall, but a mission later on refused to grant me access to the top of a mountain despite having the requisite height.

Small mission areas make the game feel linear

Since you’re unable to scale peaks to avoid confrontation in many missions, you’re instead funneled between peaks, turning the game into little more than a corridor shooter. Many missions are automatically failed if you stray too far from where you’re supposed to be (this being an absurd inclusion in an open-world game), so you really only have freedom outside of missions. Even more annoying, it’s possible for the game’s awkward physics to send you careening out of the mission area despite your best efforts to stay in, failing a mission for no reason other than the odds being against you. Something as innocuous as getting hit by an enemy vehicle just the right way can put your fate in the hands of the game’s physics, which are a terrible thing to be subject to because of their randomness.

This video sums up the stupidity of the game’s physics remarkably well.

Let’s talk about the physics for a moment

Mars is a floaty place. Guerrilla seriously overemphasizes this, though, making driving—long drives always being necessary to getting to the next mission—feel like a never-ending Mass Effect Mako section. Even worse, the vehicles in the game don’t even have the Mako’s jets that often helped right the vehicle when the physics made it go crazy, so flipping vehicles is a common occurrence. This is doubly frustrating when you consider the fact that many of the game’s missions take place within vehicles. The end result is that a large portion of the game is just not very good or fun at all, being tedious at best and maddening at worst.

That floatiness makes the gunplay feel awkward

Outside of vehicles, you’ll often get into gunfights with groups of enemies. There’s a rudimentary cover system that you can use to aid you during these sections, but it doesn’t work very well. Even if it did, many missions need to be completed as fast as possible to avoid too many “friendly” deaths (which lowers the amount of bonus salvage you get after the mission is completed), so sitting around and trading shots with the enemy is almost never a viable strategy. More often than not, you’re best served avoiding bullets altogether and using explosives to get through things as quickly as possible. In the rare cases where you can afford time to take cover, you’re almost always backed behind a destructible object that will quickly be shredded by the enemy, and the gravity and awkward attempts to find and duck behind new cover while enemies flank you make the whole thing a serious chore. I eventually stopped trying to make it work because it simply doesn’t.

You need to unlock missions

Guerrilla’s world is sectioned into different areas, and each area has its set of missions to liberate it. The first one or two are usually available right away, but missions beyond that are locked until you’ve lowered enemy “control” in the area. This is accomplished by blowing their stuff up, and while it sounds like an interesting concept at first, unlocking new missions eventually turns into a serious grind, especially when you unlock newer and better explosives (needed for destroying buildings because bullets won’t cut it) that have stricter ammo requirements. Having to run back to a safe house to get more ammo to blow up some buildings so that a new mission will finally unlock is every bit the hassle it sounds like, and having to do this for every new area is even worse.

The game works best with a controller overall, though these “collateral damage” missions are best with a mouse.

The world revolves around salvage

As Samanya constantly reminds you, salvage is all-important. Salvage is basically scrap metal awarded after missions, though it can also be obtained by destroying enemy objects and buildings. Here’s the strange thing: if you liberate an area from the “bad guys” and a building becomes controlled by the “good guys,” destroying it won’t give you salvage anymore. Another strange thing is that missions give you a salvage bonus based on morale, and keeping it high requires avoiding friendly losses (including your own deaths). Since you never seem to have enough salvage, it’s important to keep this high, and doing so can be a chore because of the game’s physics. One mission had me being chased by a number of enemies and ended with me bailing out of the vehicle, and whereas most missions despawn enemies once completed, the enemy vehicles kept coming, hitting me into a bottomless pit and giving me an instant death before I could even move. Boom, instant penalty to my bonus scrap until I completed some side missions to make everyone happy again. Even with the bonus, there never seems to be enough salvage, and the game eventually turns into a soul-depleting grind for it.

The save system is okay

In addition to an autosave, Guerrilla allows you to save outside of missions, though only so long as you haven’t alerted any enemies. Loading these saves sends you back to the nearest safehouse, however, rather than saving your location in the world. This makes save/loading an easy way to get back to your base if it’s closer to the next mission objective than wherever you are, though this method is eventually rendered obsolete by an upgrade that lets you teleport to any safehouse you want. One downside is that you’re unable to name your saves, so those who make an effort to save after every main mission (like me) will find it a hassle to find the particular save they’re looking for. Still, I’ve seen much worse save systems.

Controllers are best most of the time

I started out playing the game with the keyboard and mouse setup, but this makes driving a serious pain whereas the controller allows for more subtle movements, which makes it a little easier to avoid flipping vehicles. Weapon switching is also a bit more intuitive on a controller, and you can turn on an aim assist to help counter controllers being less suited to precise aiming than the mouse is.

I eventually found that the side missions were necessary later in the game to unlock new missions, and all of the game’s side missions are terrible beyond words except for the ones where you drive around with an annoying guy and shoot missiles at enemy buildings. Sure, the buildings regenerate for some reason after the mission ends, but it’s probably the closest thing to actual enjoyment I got out of the game. These sections also happen to be incredibly difficult with the controller (the video above was taken with me using a controller, and you can see how bad some of my missed shots were for it), whereas they’re much more suited to mouse controls. That’s why I found myself switching to the keyboard and mouse for these missions and sticking to the controller for everything else.

What’s the point of having a bunch of destructible stuff if some of the most obvious stuff to destroy is indestructible?

Some things just don’t blow up

For a game that revolves around everything being destructible, there are a lot of things that simply aren’t. Take the bridge supports in the video above; not only do you need to unlock a special weapon to take down the bridge, but even it can only hit the metal bars holding up the bridge. Those concrete supports are invincible to every weapon in the game. Some bridges are also inexplicably solid, and shooting them to slow down pursuers is less of an option when there’s a strong possibility nothing will happen as a result. The terrain is similarly untouched by your arsenal, though the days of the first Red Faction’s Geo-mod are long past, and this is a given in so many games that few are likely to notice.

Lots and lots of red and gray

There’s really nothing graphically impressive about Guerrilla. Blood textures bug out randomly, there’s lots of ugly red and brown, almost all buildings look the same (though a late-game city area is a bit more varied than what came before it), and texture detail proves consistently underwhelming, with the textures on vehicles being especially awful. Even the prerendered cutscenes are ugly, being compressed terribly and managing to be both blurry and blocky.

Wait, does this game have music?

That’s not a fake question. As I sit here, having played through the entire game to the end, I legitimately can’t remember a single music track. Was it all ambient garbage? Maybe some kind of bombastic orchestral music? Whatever it was, it ended up completely drowned out by explosions and enemies barking at each other. Clearly, nothing on the soundtrack stood out.

Red Faction: Guerrilla

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