Monday, April 27

Red Faction: Guerrilla Preview

Red Faction: Guerilla has options. In fact, options is the name of the game, or at least of the PS3 demo I've been playing for the last few days.

Guerrilla's calling card is "destructibility." And in this aspect, the game truly does separate itself from the sheaf of other third-person shooters. Pounding a mullet through a wall is quite satisfying. As you blast through a wall, shingles or bricks go flying with the impact, revealing rebar support beneath the surface. Even better, enemy EDF soldiers have no place to hide; burst through their cover, and they'll go flying along with everything else. You feel powerful.

Don't like physical labor? Destructible objects are everywhere: one-shot bio-hazard drums, gas-filled towers that explode into green plumes of flame, propane tanks that can be lifted and tossed, and machinery that electrify and then, what else, explode. Additionally, one of the primary weapons are remote mines. Throw a bunch of these out, hit circle to detonate, and they'll blow-up in succession. It brings back fond memories of GoldenEye. These are no measly explosions, either; they're big, colorful, and feature all sorts of heat distortions. Explosions instantly devour buildings and launch nearby enemies into the air. Developer Volition's clearly devoted much effort to the effects, and it shows.As buildings become damaged, they are shaded red in the mini-map in the lower-left corner and a percentage is displayed over them to signify its degree of durability. The lower the percentage, the closer the building is to being fully destroyed, a feat which nets players resistance-moral points. These percentages, such small things, nag at players like dangling carrots, coaxing them to finish buildings off. The reward is moral points and sweet sweet satisfaction. Notch one more on the belt.

On top of destruction, Guerrilla also offers up a decent third-person shooter is also present, featuring, apparently, a couple dozen weapons. Players can jump, run, crouch, "fine aim," and standard to all of the genre now, cling to walls, peek around walls, and roll away from walls: all useful abilities. In the demo, you have access to an assault rifle, remote mines, mallet, pistol, and shotgun, not to mention heavy gun turrets. The game has no lock-on function, but does have a liberal snap-aim. Something of note, the cross-hairs differ per weapon (and also, oddly, are colored to blend with the background), each type representing that weapon's firing-area. Headshots certainly play their part here, but overall, the game does not require precise aiming, asking that players simply mow enemies down. Running and gunning is entirely dependent on the number of enemies around, not unfeasible, but taking cover is advised. Also, the player-character regenerates health liberally.

Vehicles are also available and, more pointedly, prominent. Using vehicles is almost mandatory, and encouraged, because once enemies start swarming around the player in droves, it becomes more and more difficult to fend them off with the ole' lock, stock, and barrel. Running over them is so much easier, and turrets, with an over-heating based ammo system, are far more effective than your standard guns. Best of all is the walker, a bipedal construction mech. Well, more like destruction. Hold down the R2 button, walk through a warehouse, and watch it come tumbling down on you. If blowing up buildings with planned demolition charges is like popping bubble wrap, one, bubble, at, a, time, then crashing through buildings with the walker is like squeezing the living hell out of the whole sheet.
The latter section of the demo is an on-rails shooter wherein you defend the truck from encroaching tanks. It's a good time, particularly when trying to take out passing buildings on the side while still fending off the AI.

If you achieve three kills in quick succession, regardless of means, a running "killing spree" counter will pop up. Another dangling carrot, and an effective one. Once this is on, there's no going back. My best score so far (on foot) is nine. These points add into some greater points purposes, but I don't fully understand it without playing the entire game. A similar destruction points system exists too that, if I'm guessing correctly, results from quickly knocking down a bunch of buildings. These systems are nice additions. They don't interrupt the gameplay really, except by player free-will, and add an additional, self-assumed challenge.

The combat isn't spectacular; rather, it feels a bit muted, distanced, but it is good fun and has its challenges. The controls are a bit strange, though, all three options. Though, by and large, they all perform competently, some vital function is always relegated to the R3 button: fine aim or melee. Why not set these to circle and set the much less often used detonate to R3? Really, in this day and age, I see absolutely no reason players should not have the option of fully customizing their control scheme. Ultimately, I settled on the Alternate 2 option, which assigns L2 to fine aim and R2 to fire.

Red Faction: Guerrilla offers choices to players, so many choices. Blow up a building or tear it down. Do neither. Kill people. Pass them by. Go for killing sprees. Kill them with vehicles. Kill them with guns. Getting a picture? I will say that in combat, all of these options mesh together fairly well, as I used whatever means most handy to take people or buildings out. But the game's options feel too disparate. As a player, I don't know what the game is asking of me. What does it want me to do? And I think the answer is this: whatever you want.

Well, that's actually a more difficult question than it seems. Because, if I just want to win the mission, I can jack a vehicle, drive right by the AI, jack the walker, and talk it to the truck. Simple, and really not much trouble. But it's too easy. Challenge is fun. And so if I want to have fun, ignoring the mission is the best course of action. I am referring to the demo mission alone, of course; I'm sure the whole game with its hundreds of missions offers many more challenging goals.
But to squeeze the most fun out of the demo that I could, I started making challenges for myself. This, ultimately, is where I feel Guerrilla will offer its choicest meat. I gave myself a sprint challenge: get to the walker and bring it to the truck as fast as you can. It was fun; my record so far is 1:51:39. I also tried taking down every building without the use of the walker; I never beat that one. How about get the highest killing spree you can? The game opened up for me once I gave myself these challenges, and I began to appreciate its potential. But I fear that with its abundance of options, everything comes off as a bit diluted. The key to the game's structure is not only showing players that they can go crazy in whatever ways they want, but also offering them reasons to do all of the things it offers. And I think the game admirably tries to do so with its myriad of points systems and overall story goals. Whether or not it succeeds we'll have to wait for the full game to find out.

The last point I want to mention is the game's being in third-person. Volition argues that the reason for this decision is so players can see more of their surroundings and have a better view of the destruction they cause. I'm not entirely sold on the idea. I think third-person does do both of these things. But I also think the game feels dulled from the perspective, and could have had a considerably more visceral impact from first person. Based my experience with the demo, I also think the game could have benefited from a slower pace and from tighter, more directed gameplay. Everything happens so quickly, and I think the game would be stronger and carry more weight if the pace were more deliberate.

Red Faction: Guerrilla is a fun game. I've played the demo many, many times now, an obvious testament to my enjoyment. I think Guerrilla is one of those games that will become more and more fun the longer you play it and the deeper you delve into its story and scenarios. I look forward to playing through the whole thing.

Images from Gamespy.