Epic Sandboxes and their assorted spades – Red Faction: Guerrilla
The Game (PS3/Xbox360/PC)
I have to say I was a bit surprised back in 2008 when the Red Faction name first started cropping up again; the franchise had more or less faded into obscurity after the early days of the PS2, along with the as of yet unfulfilled promises of fully destructible environments offered by its “Geo-Mod” technology. I was even more surprised when I finally got my hands on Guerrilla and discovered it was one of the most exhilarating sandbox games I’d ever played.
But before I go into that, I should say right away that I make no excuses for Guerrilla’s narrative, it reads like a trashy sci-fi novel thrown together in an afternoon. You play Alec Mason (sigh…) a bald, white, downtrodden menial worker on a terraformed Mars, and In the wake of your brother’s death you must lead a rebellion against the cartoonish oppressive E.D.F, that’s Earth Defence Force for those of you who are under exposed to generic Sci-Fi junk (or haven’t played a certain series of ridiculously awesome low budget Japanese games). Alec is supported on his quest by a love interest, a wise old mentor, the tribal leader of the – blah blah blah etc. Don’t pay the plot any heed, lest you fall asleep. All you need to know is that they brought the Geo-Mod tech back, and this time it works.
Much like the game itself, at first glance the sandbox in Guerrilla doesn’t look that impressive. It’s not particularly big, the buildings are boreing and there’s not a huge range of activities. Then why is it so epic? Because you can smash it. All of it. And I don’t mean the Mercenaries style destruction where damaged buildings just fall into the ground in perfectly square blocks! Geo-Mod 2.0 lets you systematically obliterate every individual chuck of both a building’s interior and exterior, piece by piece.
While being given this level of influence over a game environment is gratifying enough in its own right, it also adds a whole new level of tactical gameplay that few games can offer. Building got too many goons for you to handle? Detonate some mining charges on the support struts and watch it collapse around them. Front entrance to the military base too well guarded? Go round the back and smash a new entrance. House in the way of your shortcut? Drive straight through it.
Sure, it’s not exactly realistic and the simulated physics sometimes produce weird results, but I think I speak for a lot of gamers out there when I say that I’m fed up of action games forcing me to find coloured key cards, hidden switches or the correct security personal to open a door when my character is armed with enough explosives to bring down a whole city. And that’s what I think makes this sandbox so gratifying, if something blocks your path, be it a door, wall, person, car, entire building or whatever, there’s no doubt in your mind how to correctly resolve the situation: destroy it. I mean come on, they even made the scrap left over from your rampages the games currency! Those buildings are just asking for it.
For dealing with the more fleshy obstacles, Guerrilla gives you the standard array of action game weapons like shotguns and pistols, but you ain’t gonna topple many fortresses with just those. The real fun starts once you get your hands on miniature nukes, black hole bombs or the overwhelming might of the Nanotech rifle, a gun that simply disintegrates anything you decide you’re not too fond of. If you’re lucky you may even stumble upon a mech, a vehicle that lets you walk straight through buildings like they weren’t even there.
It’s not all just indiscriminate mayhem though, the game features numerous demolition challenges that limit you to specific amounts of ammo for each weapon, forcing you to get pretty creative with how you go about your business. And if Guerrilla taught me anything, it’s that the only thing more satisfying than seeing a 10 story structure fall beneath your feet is knowing you did it with only 3 well placed mining charges and a rocket. Well ok, there’s one thing that’s better: knowing you did it by demolishing all the ground floor walls with a giant hammer like some sort of angry Norse god.