Monday, August 2, 2010

Bargain Hunter Review #3: Red Faction: Guerrilla

I apologize for the lateness of this post. I've had it typed up for a while, but StarCraft2 interrupted my posting. Now let's get to the review.

When I was thinking about how I was going to describe this game, there was one word which continually entered my mind: ambition.

Red Faction: Guerrilla, RF:G from here, is an ambitious game. This game is made by Volition, a company with a solid history. How or why they decided to transition from SpaceSim to shooters is beyond my imagination. I actually avoided the Red Faction series because I loved their previous Freespace games and wanted more of those. They never came, but the Red Faction series stands tall on its own feet. This is due to the GeoMode gaming engine, which powers the Red Faction games. This engine allows the developers to create any structure, or terrain in previous games, and make it destructible. Every man made object you find on the surface of Mars can be blown apart. This level of destruction is the key component of the gameplay in RF: G.

See, wasn't that pretty.

The Story
You play the character of Alec Mason. He has come to Mars to work as a miner with his brother. His brother turns out to be a member of a "terrorist" organization known as the Red Faction. I put terrorist in quotes, because Mars is controlled by the Earth Defense Force or EDF. The EDF is a totalitarian regime. People are rounded up and shot without trial. If the EDF even suspects you are a Red Faction member, you are guilty. It turns out Mason's brother is in the Red Faction and is gunned down by EDF guards who soon turn their sites on you. You've been on Mars less than a few hours and already you are guilty of being a "terrorist". Thankfully, some Red Faction members show up and assault the guards holding Alec Mason. While a guard has his back turned, Alec Mason reaches for his Sledgehammer and delivers his first blow for the Red Faction.

This story has a base attraction to just about every worker that simply wants to do his job and go home. It's a tale of the working class rising up against those who abuse them.

Mars looks great. The canyons and mountains have distinctive red tones. The sun is tiny like it should be. I would think the Development team did some research on how rock strata looks. Most of this game takes place in canyons. The Mars Colony is an active environment.
There are people driving on roads or just standing around civilian structures. Because of all this "activity", RF:G suffers from the Barren Wasteland syndrome you often see in shooters. Remember all I said about the wonderful GeoMod engine allowing you to blow things up. In order to make a game with so much data run smoothly a compromise has to be made. You couldn't feature the details of destruction like this and set the game in a jungle. Now some people might say, "Why not? Crysis did it." But Crysis needs nearly $500+ of video card power alone to play it with a decent framerate. RF:G makes a compromise with the typical barren rock wasteland to reach a wider audience.

The argument could be made that Mars is already a wasteland. While that may currently be the case, by the time this game starts Mars has been going through the process of terraforming. If more foliage was desired, writers could simply write that the terraforming has come a long way. Boom! Now there could be Forests.

This is not a criticism of the game. The visuals are great and appropriate.

I am a bit iffy on the in-game cutscenes. I think they are well done, but something seems slightly out of place. It doesn't seem quite as good as the HalfLife2 facial animations. Perhaps they exist just below that quality level, or somewhere too close to the Uncanny Valley. They don't detract from the gaming experience, so don't worry too much about it.

For gameplay sounds, nothing seems to stand out. There isn't anything that pops or sounds memorable. The sound effects for guns, cars, trucks, haulers, exploding buildings all sound like they should. Perhaps this was the goal. But sometimes, it's good to go a little over the top to give a game some oompf!

The Soundtrack is great. The soundtrack does not detract you from your actions. It swells up for emotional effect when it needs to. It dies down and disappears in the background when necessary. The Soundtrack doesn't tire the listener out. The Soundtrack is everything it should be. Normally in games I turn the soundtrack off. I get tired of the repetition. I didn't have to in RF:G.

NPC's/Artificial Intelligence
I'll have to split this up into the different types of NPC's you see.

The Earth Defense Force:
EDF Soldiers will run for cover in this game. They also will charge right up to you. It's a mixed bag, depending on your location. One of the weaker points of the AI involves any Armored Vehicle with a turret. If you kill the gunner the driver will step out of the protection of the AV to attempt to man the turret. A swift sledgehammer attack, or a few rounds from the Assault rifle can rub him out the EDF gene pool.

The EDF has superior numbers and firepower. After you finish the Parker Sector, the EDF has a near limitless amount of soldiers to throw at you.

The Red Faction:
Some missions will have members of the Red Faction fighting by your side. Also, as you raise morale, sometimes passing Colonists will join with the Red Faction and assist during one of your attacks. They are very competent about taking care of themselves. Sometimes a few of them will die, but as far as taking on EDF solders, they are really good.

Occasionally, they will do some of the most frustrating things that any AI can do. Imagine assualting an EDF Guard Tower and some miner's join you. You decide to leave and get in a vehicle when some clueless NPC's stand in front or behind you. You don't want to run them over. This obviously lowers morale. There isn't a horn on the vehicles either. I was frustrated by this the first 3 or 4 times it happened. Eventually, I gave up and just started running them over. If that happens to you, that's my recommended course of action.

The Colonists:
Colonists are a mixed bag. Most of the time they'll simply swear at you, as you drive by. Many times they panic when the shooting starts. Some of the time they'll join you. So you don't want to scare them too badly, or get them hurt. They are a potential pool of cannon fodder. A really frustrating scenario, which you'll run into, is when driving along the roads of mars and a civilian decides to turn right in front of you and you have an accident. If EDF troops happen to be patrolling nearby, your alert level goes up and bullets, rockets and whatever else they have is flying your direction. Even though it was clearly the colonists fault.

Don't run over or kill too many Colonists. It lowers the Morale.

Your Character
The only character development comes from which upgrades or weapons you select to buy. You are limited to 4 weapon slots. One of which will always be a Sledgehammer. So in reality, you have 3 slots to fill up with weapons. Some weapons that I didn't think were useful, became very useful when I started to use them. So try them all out for a few missions. Also, if you don't like your loadout, when you kill a soldier you can swap out with whatever they are carrying. You can make new weapons available by taking them from soldiers and visiting the weapons cabinets at the safehouses.

It's a shame you are limited to so few weapons. Many of the weapons are just plain fun, but since you are limited you try go with a more Utility route in your loadouts.

Don't think that having one of your slots permanently reserved for the Sledgehammer is a bad thing. The Sledgehammer is incredibly useful. It's probably the most useful item in the game. It can one-hit kill any NPC. You can use it to tear down buildings. If an EDF soldier jumps behind cover, then use the Sledgehammer on the Wall or barrier. You'll bust through the cover and kill the soldier with ease.

I would highly recommend getting the armor upgrades. Those will keep you alive.

There isn't much in character development. It all comes from the story you are playing.

Destruction is the name of the game. The game tries to make you addicted to it. Like that's a problem. To earn upgrades or weapons you have to gather Salvage. You gather salvage through... you guessed it: Destruction. The more man-made objects that are destroyed, the more Salvage you get. You can also earn salvage from the mining nodes that are sprinkled on the landscape. But those are scattered pretty far about.

What is this game like to play? If you could imagine
a game that was the cross between Grand Theft Auto and Borderlands, then this is it. I know of some popular people on the internet that think that Borderlands was the best game of 2009. I tried Borderlands. I didn't think it was nearly as good as RF:G. Perhaps Borderlands is best played in co-op mode. I'm guessing co-op gave Borderlands the edge in their minds. Borderlands takes place on a desolate planet with a static environment. Most of the humans you saw there, you were trying to kill. This isn't the case in RF:G. In RF:G the humans bring the world alive.

There is a basic structure to success in the Single Player Experience in RF:G. Mars is divided into sectors. At the start you can only work in the Parker sector. If you ever played an MMO, I would consider the Parker sector like that first zone every character starts in. It's just there to get you started on your journey. Once you hit the Dust Sector it's like hitting a wall of EDF. This forces you to adjust your tactics. You have to adopt a Guerrilla style of gameplay. Your over all goal is to Free Mars from the EDF. But you have to liberate each sector first. To liberate a sector you have to do three things.

1. Lower the EDF Control level to Zero.
2. Raise the Red Faction Morale to 100. This isn't entirely necessary, but it helps in a huge way.
3. Complete the Red Faction specific missions in that sector. There are usually 3 or 4 per sector. The last one usually flags the sector as liberated.

Raising Morale has two effects. Red Faction weapons lockers will start spawning on the map. The higher the Morale the more lockers will be made available to you. These will allow you to replenish your ammunition and switch loadouts in the field. The second effect of a high morale, is that civilians will more likely join you in a fight against the EDF.

Once you move out of the Parker Sector to the Dust sector, you can drive about in an open world style to all sectors except Eos. It's the last sector and therefore special to the storyline.

Needed Improvements
1. There are several times in the game where are you without a vehicle and need to get somewhere. You go out to the road to "acquire" transportation, but for some reason there's no traffic. The means running by foot to find a vehicle. Later in the game, there's an upgrade you can buy that transports you to a Safehouse. This should have been enabled by default.

2. The little details stood out too much. By that I mean, buildings seemed empty. There were the typical crates in buildings, but they were mostly surfaces. The more fancy buildings had empty counters, computer and a radio playing on a mantle someplace. There are no plates, no coffee cups, picture frames or anything that makes the buildings personal. This make the game feel sterile. I'm sure these items aren't in the game since most of the buildings you enter, you are there to demolish. Also, where was the food. What do the people on Mars live off of. I didn't see any gardens, just a few plants and some grasses in the Oases and Eos Sectors.

3. There are a few opportunities in the game where you get to drive a giant Walker. These things do a lot of damage and just walk through structures. This is arguably the most fun part of the game.

Here's a video from THQ staring Richard Machowicz

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be that many Walkers around. There are 2 or 3 you get for missions and that's about it. Nothing I can climb into and just use. Since the Red Faction are a group of miners and they use these as tools all the time, I would expect to have more available.

I noticed that in the next iteration of Red Faction they have evolved the Walkers into Combat Mech Suits. They look great. So hopefully that will satisfy the requirements of this improvement sections.

4. As with all games dependent on Physics as part of the gameplay, there are a couple of places where something seems to go wrong. I'll name a couple.

A: I was driving along the road and I tried to make a sharp right turn. My vehicle decided it could fly. I tried hitting "Use" to get out, hoping I could fall to the ground. Thankfully after 10 seconds or so, the vehicle respawned with me on the ground.

B: On one mission I had to ram a lot of towers with my vehicle. My vehicle sustained so much damage I had to get out. I got ran over by an EDF AV. Then again, and again and again and again. Thanks to the physics engine, my character was ragdolling on the ground underneath these vehicles unable to get up at all forcing me to reload.

C: Sometimes when you destroy nearly 90-99% of a buildings supports, some wayward beam that must be made of Carbon Nanotubes is holding the entire structure up.

I don't know if this is an issue with testing, or the way computers try to handle physics. Physics in games has been around a while, but we are still in the infancy of of how to program it correctly. I'm sure future physics engines will correct for some of the things I mentioned.

5. RF:G suffers from Consolitis. Consolitis is when a game designed for a Console like the XBox or PS3 are ported to the PC. It also may refer to a PC Game that gets dumbed down to play on a Console and thus "ruining" the PC Enthusiast experience. These Controls are meant for a console controller. There is a bit to much play in the steering of fast vehicles for a keyboard. I think this also limited the number of weapons you can carry. I wish I could carry a lot of the weapons around. Being limited to 3 wasn't particularly fun. I eventually came across a loadout that worked for whatever situation I was in though. So maybe I didn't need all those weapons. Still, a lot of work went into making those in the game, only to have them not be used due to slot limitations. I wish there were more freedom in what I could carry.

6. Impromptu missions from the radio. I'm not sure this is a needed improvement. I like the feature, I think it needed more fine tuning. Let me explain. Every now and then random missions will come over the radio. You can choose to ignore these if you wish. But accomplishing them raises morale. These missions have you doing all sorts of tasks. That is unless you are in the Dust Sector.

In the Dust Sector, I got a "random" mission 3 times in a row. When you enter Dust, near one of the Safehouses there is a garage and barracks that the Red Faction live at. When you drive by you get a cry for help over the radio. "The EDF have found us, please come help defend us." I accepted this mission and drive up. Next thing I know 3 EDF Armored Vehicles and a tank pull up. Unless you take out that tank quickly all the buildings will be destroyed. During these missions there's a meter in the upper right showing you the number of EDF and RedFaction soldiers left. You have to get the EDF Number to 0, while of course keeping as many RF members as possible. When you start this mission, the EDF number starts at 15. I got it down to 9 and destroyed the tank and the 3 AV's. Then, the number popped back up to 15. Here came two more AV's. I destroyed them and got the number down to around 7. Here come more AV's. This went on for 10 minutes. I finally finished the mission. I go get in a vehicle and start to head towards the SafeHouse. I immediately get another call on the radio, "Looks like the EDF wasn't happy about not finishing us off. Please come to the barracks." I accept the mission thinking, "Back to back missions, that's clever." So I have to suffer through the same fight, but with much lower ammo than before. I win the 2nd round, go hop into a vehicle and start off for the Safehouse when once again over the radio comes a call for help to defend the Garage and Barracks. Naturally, I declined and went to the Safehouse to get a good rest. Every time I drove past that location on the map, I got a call to help defend there. This was really annoying.

One type of random mission is to stop a convoy or chase down a defector. Remember what I said about consolitis. Trying to chase down a vehicle with a keyboard was difficult. Sometimes I would fail the mission and would get yelled at over the radio by the Red Faction Leader for my failure. This made me resentful to the RF General. I didn't see him out here tracking these people down.

"Would I recommend you spend money on it?"

I spent $5 on this game during the Steam Sale. According to Steam, I spent 42 hours playing the game. Now, I'm a completionist, so I like to finish as many of the side missions as possible. I also had to restart some of the Red Faction missions a few times. I did not finish all the missions. I eventually got frustrated and decided, "You know what, I'm just going to destroy stuff." That made me happier in the end. So, if you just stick to destroying EDF Property and doing the Red Faction Missions there is about 30-35 hours of gameplay.

This is a great SinglePlayer Game.
I was unable to play any MultiPlayer. It seems no one is playing the Multiplayer portion of this game. Which is a shame. Maybe people are too busy playing Call of Duty or Team Fortress 2 for their Multiplayer fix. Which is a shame, I think this would have been really fun to experience.

In conclusion: I had a lot of fun destroying everything I could see. I would recommend you buy this game. This is easily worth $5 and I would even go as high as $9.99.