When Red Faction burst onto the console scene in 2001, destructible environments didn’t really exist in video games. Thanks to the revolutionary GeoMod engine, gamers could alter their environments at will, blowing holes in walls to make new doors and destroying cover to expose enemies. Fast-forward to 2009 (after Battlefield: Bad Company had created even better environmental freedom with the now famous Frostbite engine) and Red Faction: Guerrilla once again redefined player freedom with the GeoMod 2.0, allowing for the complete destruction of any structure in the game. Nine years later, gamers can once again wage war over the independence of Mars with Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered Edition on PS4 and Xbox One. The updated modern classic carries the same tight gunplay, exhilarating chases, and environmental destruction, but unfortunately retains the game’s numerous flaws too.
Guerrilla’s story is simple enough and follows the same general theme as its predecessors. The miners of Mars are forced into employment by the vicious Earth Defense Force, pushing the over-worked laborers to fight in open rebellion using both traditional and guerrilla tactics (Oh, now I get that title!). The characters are mostly generic with little in the way of character development, with the exception of Red Faction co-leader Sam who is the source of the only narrative twist in the game. The story isn’t necessarily boring, it succeeds in contextualizing explosive, tense battles while keeping the player in the game, just don’t expect a groundbreaking science fiction narrative a la Halo or Gears of War.
Every sector of Mars is filled with the same side-missions as the previous, ranging from hostage rescue to EDF base raids to transport escorts. The missions, both main missions and side-quests, rarely deviate from a combination of drive, blow-s--t up, and drive away structure. Even main missions consist of simply driving to an objective, destroying an EDF stronghold, then escaping- just dressed up a bit more. This may sound somewhat repetitive, and it is to an extent, but the core gameplay is so much damn fun the repetitive mission structure isn’t even bothersome.
The gunplay is tight, fast paced, and challenging. There’s a cover feature included in Guerilla, offering more player freedom towards gun fights, but the excellent destructible environments encourage a run and gun play style. Luckily, the gunplay feels catered to run and gun players with tight movement and responsive shooting mechanics. I did find the default sensitivity settings to be waaaaaaaay too high, so some players may need to play with the settings first before finding their perfect sensitivity.
The multitude of weapons at the player’s disposal make the gunplay even more addicting. Players will have to grind for about four hours using a basic assault rifle and pistol combo before discovering more options, but it’s worth it for the diversity available once the introductory phase of the game is completed. The guns open up all different types of play styles, some making great use of the game’s incredible environment physics.
The pulse rifle and pistol are perfect for players looking for a more typical cover based shooting experience with more pinpoint accuracy. The assault rifle, arc rifle, and shotgun encourage the run and gun gameplay the game is perfectly suited for, mixing ranged and close-quarters attacks for maximum efficiency. The most exotic weapon, the nano gun, is arguably the best. It’s a one-shot, one-kill super gun that immediately dissolves any foe that also dissolves a considerable section of any building it is fired at making it the most versatile gun in the game. The nano gun makes every encounter better, allowing the player to immediately turn the tide of a battle by either hastily picking off a squad of soldiers or quickly taking the floor out from under attackers.
Both the nano rifle and the explosives available allow the environment to be the player’s best weapon. Seven EDF soldiers have you pinned down from a bridge? Fire a rocket at their feet and simply take their high ground from them. Or bring an entire building down on entrenched enemies with well placed charges. Planted charges and there is one measly wall keeping the building up? Hit it with a nano shot and bring it crumbling down. Destructible environments made this game a classic in 2009 and, even nine years later, disintegrating a building in seconds never gets old.
Guerrilla shines brightest in it’s non-scripted confrontations across various side missions. On multiple occasions a routine hostage rescue turned into a 25 minute all-out battle between members of my guerrilla faction and EDF soldiers. Wave upon wave of EDF forces descended on me only to be met by more guerrilla reinforcements of my own. These frequent events made me feel like I was truly embroiled in a massive, all-out war, even when the reward for winning was simply accomplishing a minor quest. These clashes called for a tactical combination of vehicular, cover-based, and run and gun gameplay in order to come out alive, really showcasing the varying play styles available in Guerrilla.
On-foot firefights are routinely offset by vehicular segments offering a refreshing change of pace from the chaotic battles with EDF forces. Driving makes for exhilarating moments and explosive chases. Speeding across the Martian dessert while dodging incoming missiles and EDF humvees as a dozen more pursue from behind is an experience that still hasn’t been replicated in most modern games.
These situations are so undeniably exciting that they overcome the sloppy driving mechanics that plague the vehicular sections of the game. Somehow, despite truly explosive and exhilarating chases and escapes, driving feels simultaneously sluggish yet slippery. Those are such diametrically opposed adjectives that driving mechanics are almost impressive.
Driving on a smooth road between objectives is tank-like. In these moments, there’s no feeling of speed and making tight turns is nearly impossible. The only way to make a quick turn is to rip the emergency brake, immediately sacrificing all control feeling like the player’s vehicle is suddenly on ice. The problem becomes even more glaring during the more chaotic and combative vehicular segments, where every single bump sends vehicles flying off course in uncontrollable directions. Luckily, these segments are so chaotic, fast-paced, and exciting the mechanics are easily forgotten in lieu of the awe of all the carnage surrounding the player.
The slippery driving controls are just one of many flaws that hold the game back from true greatness. No single flaw is great enough to ruin the experience, nor do they collectively render the game a disappointment. That being said, there are a lot of problems with this game, ranging from barely noticeable to rage-quit-inducing frustrating.
The controls show their age and take some getting used to. Sprint is mapped to L1 as well as taking cover, you have to click the left stick to crouch, melee attacks are saved for the L2 trigger. I constantly sprint into cover on accident or simply forgot that sprint was a bumper command rather than a analog-click command like modern games. I rarely used crouch since it was awkwardly mapped to the same stick as movement, making it nearly impossible to crouch without moving in some way. And, why not just switch the command for melee with the command for weapon zoom (R3)? Pressing a trigger to hit an opponent in a shooter game in 2018 just feels weird.
The sound design quickly turns from monotonous to downright annoying after about two hours of gameplay. All automatic weapons sound the same, vehicles are constantly revving past with the same “wrrrrrhh” engine noise no matter the make or model, and wind bites at players’ ears non-stop. The sounds all still feel like they’re from 2009 and it shows, usually as multiple different noises blend with one another to create a soundscape that is both overwhelming and unpleasant for much of the game.
Then there’s the problem of companion AI- it’s pretty bad. AI guerrillas who show up to fight alongside protagonist Alec Mason are little more than useless human shields that distract the enemy just long enough for the player to regain health or eliminate the last remaining EDF forces. They rarely inflict any damage on opponents or make effective gunners.
AI passengers, especially rescued hostages, are undoubtedly the most frustrating of Guerrilla‘s AI problems. On multiple occasions, my recently rescued hostages would suddenly jump out of my speeding vehicle to randomly attack EDF soldiers- sometimes unarmed. More often than not this would force me to slam on the breaks, and return to heavily contested EDF zones to rescue two hostages who almost always die in the fray. Spending 15 minutes rescuing a hostage only for them to die after inexplicable hopping out of the getaway car is easily one of the most frustrating gaming experiences of the year for me.
Despite these handful of flaws, Red Faction: Guerrilla: Re-Mars-tered is still a very enjoyable experience worthy of it’s remaster, especially at just $30. There’s plenty to complain about, but every complaint is washed away by the immense fun to be had in the core gameplay. Red Faction: Guerrilla: Re-Mars-tered stands the test of time thanks to it’s revolutionary destruction engine, exhilarating gunfights and vehicular chase sequences, and diverse weaponry inviting multiple styles of play. It’s just too bad this remaster couldn’t do away with poor vehicle controls, painful sound design. wacky controls, and horrible companion AI.