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The open world nature of many games is a feature I usually struggle to enjoy. A story told in this environment invariably ends up fragmented into too many missions or diluted until it barely resembles a basic plot. These were my expectations of Red Faction Guerrilla but I was delighted to find that this basic conflict between oppressed settlers on Mars and their military overlords coherent and enjoyable.
I can't sit back and say that the story was amazing or left a poetic mark in my memory - it wasn't. But rather than overstretch its world, the game stayed within its own boundaries and showed me that even the simplest tales, when told well, are still meaningful and can give a sense of place. This is what marked Red Faction out to me more than any other recent game. Everything from the characters, the buildings and the general environments interacted and behaved together consistently.
What I found even more appealing is this main character isn't the generic space marine so many other games offer up. He's from the same school as that sort of protagonist but his skills as a miner form the basis of the combat system. The first two Red Faction games both revelled in their destructible environments, but Guerrilla feels like a proper evolution of this feature. The satisfaction I gained from demolishing the mission critical building by accidentally destroying the larger one next to it was simply joyous. It tapped into my basic and primal desire for destruction that's totally appropriate for the colonial Mars environment.
Everything from the characters, the buildings and the general environments interacted and behaved together consistently.
The mechanics of progressing in the game made real sense to me as well. Destroying key targets would loosen Government control but I also had to appeal to the population as well. This was where the side missions came into their own. Each of these had me either going on raids with fellow guerrilla members or helping to defend certain area. Meanwhile in the open world I would receive occasional radio chatter leading me to other missions.
I found myself on the verge of starting one mission only to be swayed by a distress call to help out somewhere else. Rather than being irritating, this method cemented the whole world in place for me. I began to feel that this version of Mars during its future colonising was getting more believable and more compelling than some tired science-fiction setting that's been done to death.
What added some spice to the game up were the Marauders. They immediately struck me as being very similar to the Reavers from the TV series Firefly. Just as that particular offshoot of humanity appears grotesquely harsh and violent, so do the Marauders and they gave me an unexpected edge to the game. Having a feral form of our own race is something I find both unsettling and fascinating.
As simple as I found the overall story the game threw in some unexpected moments of melodrama that did its best to pull the plot into more serious waters.
It could have been a perfect opportunity for the game to play around a little with the usual western misconceptions about tribal cultures. But I ended up feeling disappointed that it didn't take the Marauders in the direction I was hoping for, humanising them a little too quickly and glossing over their origins and motivation poorly.
As simple as I found the overall story the game threw in some unexpected moments of melodrama that did its best to pull the plot into more serious waters. In one mission I captured an enemy commander and was instructed to man the gun whilst my fellow freedom fighters interrogated him. As I happily began blasting the pursuing vehicles a disturbing passage of audio began to play and it reminded me that real insurgency's are truly brutal and unforgiving.
If I had seen the awkward character model being tortured then I probably would have found it more hilarious than gruesome. But the fact it all happened off-camera made this audio surprisingly gripping and meaningful. This moment didn't bring Red Faction into some brave new world that I would have relished, but it added a bit more colour and depth to my experience at least.
As I happily began blasting the pursuing vehicles a disturbing passage of audio began to play and it reminded me that real insurgency's are truly brutal and unforgiving.
Adding to this rich tapestry were the riding shotgun missions with the semi-psychotic Jenkins. I found these to be the most entertaining of the whole game. Not because of the havoc I wrought on the back of the modified vehicle but because of the insane rhetoric spouted by the driver. Hearing him spout off about the eventual fusion between Man and his car or how he would evolve to breath Carbon Dioxide just to screw with the EDF was priceless.
This mix of humour and pathos is something I've always warmed to as it conveys a more believable semblance of humanity. Red Faction, whilst it's no emotional masterpiece, managed to balance those elements enough for me to find it enjoyable and compelling. Almost without my knowledge I became invested in the bid to free Mars against the military and reclaim it for the oppressed workers. If a little more has been done to the main storyline, explaining the Marauders history or culture and tying it deeper to the main events, then Red Faction could've been something special.
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