When I heard Volition and THQ were making a sequel to two of the most destructive First Person Shooters, I was interested to see how they'd approach the idea of a next-generation engine to power a new level of destructibility in games. I'd long been a die-hard fan of the first and second Red Faction and the thought of applying those similar engine designs to our new console systems and updated PC's appealed to me.
So I watched the development of Red Faction Guerrilla with eager eyes. Well, having had hands on with the game for a while now I can say that this instalment of the RF series is totally different to the first two games and in a good way.
Mars in the future has been terraformed by the Earth Defence Force and what started out as a fairly helpful occupation has turned into a brutal iron-fisted regime of martial law, daily beatings and slave workforces across the face of the red planet. Enter you, Alec Mason, a newly arrived miner who is quickly drawn into the world of Guerrilla Warfare when his life is changed forever and he is branded a criminal, worse of all, a Red Faction insurgent. Alec now joins the Red Faction...and its payback time.
Viewed from a 3rd person (a first for the series) Alec's world is akin to that of Grand Theft Auto IV or Saints Row 2. It's an open world sandbox title and against those two giants it has some big shoes to fill, thankfully, it does so in spades. Right from the get go Red Faction Guerrilla is a solid title; the controls are smooth and easy to learn. You move with the left stick, move the camera with the right, the right trigger fires your weapon or swings your hammer and the left trigger does a secondary overhead slam with the hammer or melee attack with a weapon. A simple tutorial leads you into the actual game and explains the controls extremely well.
You can steal or borrow vehicles from sympathetic miners, or those of the Red Faction when you return to your Safehouse. Mars is split into sectors with names like Parker, Dust, Oasis and so forth. Alec's job in the game is simple; he must use Guerrilla Warfare Tactics to break the EDF's control on Mars. He can do this in several ways, by attacking EDF convoys, performing side-missions known as Guerrilla Actions across the various sectors of the red planet and completing story based missions that are important to the Red Faction's progress and war effort.
As you destroy priority targets, convoys and fight the good fight, the EDF will begin to lose control, shown by a display on your minimal HUD. Your final Red Faction mission will always be locked out until you have brought down the EDF's control to zero and finished the previous Red Faction missions in the sector. Once you have completed the RF missions and the EDF are at zero, you can embark on the final sector mission that will liberate the sector.
It's important to explain right now that the people of mars are caught between the EDF and the RF. Thus every sector has Morale and it can fluctuate based on several factors. Kill your own people or the people of Mars; morale is going to drop like a stone. Let the EDF get away with murder and the morale drops again. So you have to be careful to watch that innocents don't get caught in the crossfire of your revenge.
A liberated sector has no EDF patrols and everyone should be friendly towards you.
Alec isn't alone in his fight and should you have a high sector morale then you're more likely to find that the RF or sympathetic miners take up guns and join your cause. This can lead to some pretty epic fire-fights. Volition have implemented a cover system in the game and with a quick tap of the left bumper Alec can push against a surface, lean out and shoot at the enemy. Cover of course doesn't really mean much in this game since it has Geo Mod 2.0 powering it. Alec's health regenerates after a short amount of time as long as you keep him in cover or hidden.
Alec has another tool is in fight to liberate Mars. Scrap, from scrap the RF techie can upgrade your character, weapons and ammo counts (and a few other things I'm not going to spoil) back at any Safehouse you visit. To earn scrap you can destroy vehicles, undergo certain Guerrilla Actions and just smash or destroy EDF structures. Of course doing the latter will draw heat from the EDF pretty quickly and depending where you are, the severity of your actions, you'll get a varied response that ranges from a few troopers to a whole army looking to put you in the red dirt permanently. Once you have enough scrap you can trade it to your tech for upgrades and for example, increase the amount of remote charges you can place at one time.
Side missions can either give you control, morale, scrap or a mix. These range from Heavy Metal (smash things using a set vehicle for a particular goal: kill x of y) whilst the Red Faction moves supplies elsewhere. Collateral Damage: Play gunner for a RF driver and blow up a certain amount of stuff before he makes it back to the Safehouse, Raids with the RF, House Arrests and more. If you want to see everything RFG has to offer you're going to be at it for quite some time since the whole of the Red Planet is pretty large and opens up at a nice pace.
The main story is delivered in nicely presented and paced chunks as the game progresses and is told in a solid cinematic way using the in-game engine to power all of the special effects. The mission design is excellent and there are some truly epic and innovative fun missions in both the side category and the main story.
Geo Mod 2.0
This is the heart and soul of RFG, the Geo Mod 2.0 Engine. I can say truthfully that this is next generation true physics based destruction and nothing, not even Digital Molecular Matter comes close to replicating the system that took 5 years to build from scratch. Using a bewildering amount of calculations the developers have managed to build a non-scripted destruction engine that delivers high end destruction with no cheap tricks or swapping in a broken bit of rubble. Everything that you destroy in RFG comes apart as it might in the real world if you applied the amount of force that Alec Mason likes to often use.
When you light up a building with a demo charge it will not come down the same way every time, everything has a structural weak point (or numerous), obeying the laws of physics and coming under torsion, stress, strain and so on. You might need to place a few more charges to bring the whole thing down, ram it with a large object or just hit it repeatedly with the powered hammer that Alec uses on Mars as a miner's tool and weapon. It's up to you how you approach the destruction in the game, since RFG does all the hard work for you under the hud.
Do you slam your hammer into a few joists, place a couple of charges and then litter some hydrogen (explosive) barrels around to minimise your ammo use. Or do you place as many demo charges as your upgrades allow and then move to safety as you press the detonator and watch the whole thing blow apart differently every time.
Once debris are loose, they're 'live' which means if they collide with you, they'll inflict damage or sometimes they'll outright kill an opponent. With this in mind you can begin to see the huge opportunity for creative warfare. Why use a hundred rounds of ammo to kill an EDF patrol when you can mine a bridge, hide and then drop them into a valley of remote detonated charges and trust that any debris that don't kill them from the drop will be turned into random missiles from the charges. This includes bridge parts, bits of EDF vehicles and so on.
There has been nothing like Geo Mod 2.0 ever in any game, PhysX doesn't come close, Havok doesn't come close, you need to check out the game just based on Geo Mod 2.0 alone. Destroying things has never been so much fun!
RFG is a great looking game with some truly spectacular vistas to explore on Mars, every sector has a unique theme and design with a lavish attention to detail across the surface, even the Badlands looks gorgeous under the lighting engine. The game has a dynamic day and night cycle that delivers some gorgeous transitions and combined with the usual tricks of the trade, specular lighting, particles, a little bloom and various smoke effects it really is a solid graphics engine. There are numerous little touches as well such as the tiny dust devils that sweep across the surface and the change in the martial sky.
It's not just the surface of mars that looks great either, the attention to detail on Alec Mason is superb; the attention to detail on the EDF, the Red Faction and even the miners is all top notch. It's a great looking game in the character, vehicle, structure and design departments as well, highly polished texturing combined with some truly nice character designs.
Along with the solid graphics engine, Volition has a superb animation quality. There are a lot of tiny details in the game, the flow of Alec's coat and the way that everything moves from the vehicles to the NPCs in combat. It's all very slick and taking cover behind objects and walls looks and feels natural. Alec runs naturally as well and not a single animation in the game looks forced. In the expansive cut-scenes there's a solid level of detail, facial animation and control, nothing looks stiff or stilted. It's a world beyond Saints Row 2 and even GTA IV in that respect, even though GTA IV has an incredible animation system known as Euphoria.
Personal physics in RFG are good as well. Volition have remembered to include the fact that we're on Mars, thus, the gravity is different and the whole game reflects this from the jumps you can do as Alec to the distance enemies will fly back when shot or blown into the air. It's all solid and the ragdolls work without any problems whatsoever. Collisions with vehicles and so forth knock you back a fair way and you can be knocked over, crushed or flattened by the right amount of force. Vehicle physics are all different with the Walkers stealing the show with the Light Walker and its DFA (Death From Above) jump-jets, yes; I am a Battletech/Mechwarrior fan.
The AI for the most part in RFG is solid, it does a good job of supporting you when the RFG turn up to help, being oppressed as the people of Mars often are and challenging you by throwing intelligent EDF opponents who use grenades, tactics and even try to shoot hydrogen tanks next to you if you're stupid enough to take cover by them and remain hidden. I've seen it occasionally suffer path-finding problems in the RFG Safehouse or out in the wilds of Mars; this is rare and doesn't really impact the game at all. In combat between the RFG and EDF the AI performs extremely well, delivering a living battlefield experience with the occasional idiot straying into your sights, fortunately this isn't a detriment really, since these aren't hardened soldiers, they're just miners trying to free their planet. They use cover, they move around and it's not a static fight.
The same can be said for Mars by day and sometimes night, fire-fights can break out, the EDF can oppress the people at any time if they feel like it and none of it is scripted. You can intervene and kill the EDF before they have a chance to call reinforcements and the AI will react accordingly, even thanking you for the help and rallying to your cause if you have a high enough morale in the sector. The non--combat AI is just as good and Volition have delivered a living, breathing, Mars full of character and atmosphere.
The sound in RFG is excellent, top notch audio and Mars is brought to life with a variety of ambient noises and effects. The guns have a distinctive audio feel and the explosions are loud and meaty. Vehicles also have a distinctive aural quality and the light purr of a sporty model is vastly different to the thunder of a large Walker or a grumbling truck.
I wouldn't mind a stand-alone soundtrack of this game, the music is excellent and the composer has done a top job of capturing each musical theme for the various sectors. The music is dynamic so it shifts to match what's going on and can serve as an audio cue for impending doom.
Voice and Dialogue
The voice actors for RFG deliver their line with nary a stilted performance and they do with style and gusto, really bringing the characters to life. The NPC dialogue and various exchanges as the RF and people of mars go about their daily business are excellent as well. The script is tight and the story is a solidly designed one with some really good character interaction and effective villains.
There's no coop in RFG (boo!) but that doesn't mean the game is any less fun in the multiplayer stakes. You can play pass the pad with Wrecking Crew and setup a variety of maps, weapons and conditions in the numerous modes on offer. The idea at its core though is simple - bust a set map, break as much as possible in a particular time limit and then pass the pad, whoever has the most score at the end of a certain number of rounds is the winner and they get to brag to their friends.
The true meat of the multiplayer is found online where all the physics from the single player game are smack bang in the design of the mp. There are numerous modes on offer with an expansive ranking system, experience point awards and other goodies to unlock through competitive play. Team Deathmatch (Team Anarchy) and Deathmatch (Anarchy) are present along with Capture the Flag and several new game modes. The mp content is highly configurable and there's an expansive array of options for the host to create the perfect match for friends (and enemies) to enjoy.
With the addition of an Assault based game mode, a Destruction mode and the Control Mode RFG mp really takes things to an interesting new level. Volition have not implemented classes however, they went one better and created a backpack system that allows the player to customise their role in the coming madness. There are packs that allow you to sneak around like a scout type, packs that allow you to fly, to thrust up through a building as a wrecking machine or even packs that emit a subsonic signal that rumbles through the earth, great for disorientating players and knocking down buildings.
There's even a heal pack that allows a player to act as a team healer.
What makes the RFG mp truly unique and fun is the inclusion of the Geo Mod 2.0 engine, cover is no longer a viable place to hide when your opponent can use a nano rifle to break the wall down into thin air. Or you can have a thermobaric rocket smash into the wall and kill you and your friends. Keep moving and taking pot shots when you can.
Do not do as the three unnamed gentlemen did in an mp test match, stand inside a building and snipe from the windows. A couple of singularity bombs and a few explosives brought the building down and killed them with the debris. In RFG you have to think differently to survive and be on the lookout for attacks from anywhere. Its fast, its fun and it's incredibly frenetic. It has a good selection of interesting maps and with the configurable options and modes you can tailor a game to taste.
In the Assault mode you take turns to destroy an opposing team's target/structure, in Control, you must maintain control of 3 points around the map. Destroy an enemy point and you can rebuild it with the reconstructor, in fact you can rebuild pretty much anything that's not 100% destroyed with that thing. Having a problem with a building wall that's open, fill the gap with the reconstructor?
The destruction mode sees one player nominated as the Destroyer and they have a variety of weapons to bring mass destruction down on the world. Protect them and try to kill the other team's destroyer...the team with the most destruction tallied at the end wins the match.
There are other modes on offer but this is a tiny look at the excellent and addictive multiplayer in RFG.
Mars without Arnie in sight is a breath of fresh air and RFG delivers action, story, destruction and fantastic multiplayer with insane goals and addictive experience tallying in one smoothly done package. Geo Mod 2.0 is the best thing to happen to gaming, sandbox or otherwise and whilst there are sure to be imitators, you'll never look at another so-called physics based shooter again in the same way. I highly recommend this game to everyone, no matter what the platform, 360, PS3 or PC.
You owe it to Volition to check this out and appreciate the 5 years it took to make Geo Mod 2.0.
Just as a note: There are some Easter eggs in RFG; I'm not going to tell you what they are though.