"Red Faction" Sequel Shows Off Industrial-Strength Innovation

My people, they hunger. The soil of our terraformed Mars is barren, and the pittance it yields is snatched up by the thugs of the Earth Defense Force as quickly as it is grown.

We work the mines in conditions which no terran worker would tolerate and at wages which earthbound beggars would scoff. The EDF owns the tools, the mines, and the supply routes. The EDF owns the miners.

We live in shantytowns built from cargo containers and whatever scrap we can salvage. The floors are rusted metal; the doorways are always open to the harsh Martian dust. We burn in the heat of the day and shiver in the cold of the night.

My people, they cry out for a hero—a man unafraid to take up arms against his oppressors, unafraid to lead the hopeless in a battle against tyranny, unafraid to load a garbage truck with explosive charges and drive it into a power station. For freedom.

Red Faction: Guerrilla, 2009's best application of technology to date, allows you to be that hero.

Things have gotten militant on Mars since Volition's 2001 release of Red Faction (and its sequel, which we'll ignore since it had little to do with the original). The honeymoon between the titular Faction and their former Earth Defense Force allies ended approximately .003 seconds after Earth decided that Mars' resources weren't worth a chummy relationship with Mars' population, leaving Martian colonists withering under military rule.

When new miner on the block Alec Mason inadvertently becomes the subject of Gaming Intro Cliche 28 (aka the "They killed my brother!" impetus), he reluctantly joins the rebellion and sets in motion a chain of events that breaks the stalemate between Faction and Force.

From there, players are dropped into the basic open-world mission-based third-person shooter/driver hybrid template, with a dusty red patina and an assortment of improvised mining equipment-based weaponry thrown in for flavor. But that's where the derivatives end. Far from being a mere Grand Theft Martian Mining Excavator, Red Faction: Guerrilla applies an industrial-strength can opener to the "open world" concept, breaking down barriers both physical and incorporeal and forcing player innovation through the sheer amount of innovation built into its systems.

Guerilla's big draw is its use of Volition's Geo-Mod 2.0, a physics engine an order of magnitude more complex than gaming's usual fare. Simply put, every artificial structure on Guerrilla's Mars is subject to a cornucopia of formulas far more dynamic than "if wall=1, passability=0," ultimately rendering in real time the contest between structural integrity and brute force.

The destructibility of the environment opens up new avenues of gameplay and allows for methods of innovation unseen in most games to date. Obstacles that in other games can only be surmounted using one method find themselves the victim of the protagonist's abundant palette of destruction.

Walls can be gone over, under, or through. Buildings can be infiltrated or bombed to rubble. Enemy soldiers can be shot, stabbed, burnt, dissolved, electrocuted, crushed beneath a destroyed building, dropped from an intact one, or (given sturdy enough transportation or a successful enough stealth run) ignored altogether. With the amount of options available, Guerilla's mission structure is limited nearly exclusively by the player's skill and imagination.

It's beautiful, this freedom, and practically unprecedented, but too much of Guerrilla's lengthy campaign all at once can cause the mind to tarry too close to event horizons that no decent person should cross. Without enough discipline, formalities like mission briefings and morale scores soon become irrelevant, a garnish of text atop an entree of excuses to lay waste to anything man-made.

I've seen its effects firsthand, and I know now its danger. I can no longer enter a building without taking inventory of its structural weaknesses, and it won't be long before I'm unable to maintain arousal without thinking about the effects of a projectile-delivered cloud of nanites on the support struts of a four-lane bridge.

I fear that I'm too far gone. In the future, will I weigh the best moments of my life against my experiences in Guerrilla? Will a job promotion have the same thrill now that I've seen the way shards of glass shimmer in the air after a thermobaric rocket shatters every window in a half-built skyscraper? Will my wedding day be as momentous now that I've used a nano-enhanced particle accelerator to dissolve an incoming enemy warship?

I don't know, but my firstborn son will have his work cut out for him if he wants to impress me.