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Time Demolished: 3 hours
Phoenix Down Review
Games sure have changed a lot in ten years. It would appear that I, on the other hand, have not. That puts me in good company, because Red Faction hasn’t changed much either.
Martian Law Review
I didn’t actually care for Red Faction: Guerrilla when it first came out, which just goes to show you that you never can tell with some people. I mean, this game lets you destroy absolutely everything with explosives and a giant hammer, lets you drive trucks that look like they were pulled right out of the good version of Total Recall, and features the opportunity to pilot giant robots. I mean, what’s not to like?
Well, the story, mostly. In 2009 developers were still getting their open-world legs under them, and a lot of the trappings of single-player, linear-narrative games were still staining the genre like red wine on suede. It wouldn’t be until 2010 that Just Cause 2 would show us what open-world games should be, and that is simply this: silly. Silly is what makes the open world fun, so the story should match.
Red Faction: Guerrilla, though, takes itself very seriously, with a serious story about a serious protagonist standing up against serious bad guys in a serious world. Sure, that serious world is Mars, but it is very brown, and brown is the official color of gritty seriousness. Just ask Call of Duty, when it’s done shooting a bunch of zombies while dressed as Fred from Scooby Doo.
The story’s seriousness lies in serious contrast to the seriously silly gameplay mechanics. To illustrate the contrast most effectively, at one point you have to drive a van around Mars, avoiding the authorities while someone in the backseat tortures a man to death. Shortly after, you’ll be stealing a giant mech and destroying much of the city like George from Rampage. You could strip your gears changing directions like that, and for me that’s when the wheels came off of Red Faction: Guerrilla.
Now, I’ll not balk at gritty depictions of videogame violence. I love all of the Doom games, even both versions of Doom 3 (the first of which is a three-hour walking simulator in an abandoned mining facility, and the other is five hours of shooting monsters that hide in closets), and my time spent in Saints Row probably betrays me as an awful person (throwing styrofoam coolers in the ocean never gets old! I’m littering! Hit me with that $1000 fine if you can!) but listening to a man screaming as someone does goodness knows what to him, and does it with every sign of enjoyment, is a bridge too far for me. I stopped playing the game shortly after.
I’d forgotten how haunting that scene was until I started playing the re-MARS-ter, a title that I can only applaud for its unabashed silliness. THQ Nordiq knows why Red Faction: Guerrilla is fun, but that cognitive dissonance is still a bit much for me. I’d much rather that, along with better visuals, sharper textures (those brown hills look SO BROWN, you won’t BELIEVE how brown they look!) and better framerates, someone had spent some effort punching up the script a bit. Of course, by then you’re talking “reboot” instead of “remaster,” and I can’t think of a suitable Marian reboot pun, unless we go deep into the weeds and make a joke about how this time they got the metric conversion right so the Climate Orbital Narrative doesn’t crater itself quite so badly.
That’s right folks, when we do nerd deep-cuts, we cut deep as the Mariner Valley.
The rest of the game is fine. The shooting action is great with a mouse and keyboard, and the building physics is still unintentionally hilarious. Without getting into spoiler territory, I want to buy stock in the company that builds the fire-escapes for those Martian skyscrapers, because those suckers are sturdy AF. Vehicles are as floaty as you’d expect from a game set on a planet with gravity about a third of that of Earth. You’d think the vehicle manufacturers would have figured out that they should make the cars heavier, but they’re apparently too busy making terrible GPS software.
Seriously, people! There are a number of places on the map where the breadcrumb trail tells me to drive straight up a wall to get to my destination. I can see the little yellow triangles all the way up, but I just can’t seem to get my little pickup truck to make the climb without rolling over on its back like a turtle on rollerblades. It’s like when Waze tells you to turn left across six lanes of traffic, except not quite as dangerous.
In the end, it’s Red Faction: Guerrilla with a fresh coat of paint. If you already own the PC version, you get it for free. If you don’t already own the PC version, you can relive your sledge-hammer demolition dreams on the cheap. The Re-MARS-ter isn’t there to change minds, it’s there for the fans.
Will I keep MARS-ching on?
Eh, I’m probably good at this point. I own Just Cause 2 and 3, as well as Saints Row 2, 3 and 4, and I even still have a PS3 copy of Mercenaries 2 kicking around. All of them are better open-world games than Red Faction Guerrilla, especially Mercenaries 2. It reminds me of that time that I started playing Mass Effect: Andromeda and it made me want to go back and play Fallout 3 for a fourth time.
Hmm. Mercenaries 2 is only ten bucks on Origin right now… Well, I’m off!
Is it the Dark Souls of open-world Marses?
Most open-world games are tough when you’re outnumbered and surrounded, because your typical open-world character goes down quicker than a soccer player standing next to the opposing team's lead striker when the ref isn’t looking. Red Faction adds the difficulty of figuring out how to demolish a building that can support five stories with a single prong of rebar, without crushing yourself.
Even so, I won’t say that Red Faction is the Dark Souls of open-world games, but I will say that it’s not the Dark Souls of open-world games.