Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-MARS-tered Review

Red Faction: Guerrilla debuted on the PlayStation 3 in 2009, itself the third game in a franchise that started off as a first-person shooter for the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox. The game was notable for its Geo-Mod technology, a game engine that let players to fool around with the environment and blow holes in floors, destroy rock walls, and other fun geo-forming activities, all in the name of unionizing workers in the face of their harsh treatment by the Ultor Corporation (yes, that Ultor). Red Faction: Guerrilla was a notable departure from the older games in the series, ditching a first-person gameplay for a third-person, open world game set on the Martian surface some years after Ultor’s flight from the planet. Under the leadership of the Earth Defense Force, the Martian laborers find themselves once again subjugated by the same people tasked with restoring order and production on the planet. The Red Faction have reformed, bringing in protagonist Alec Mason into the fold as he leads the downtrodden workers in an uprising against their harsh taskmasters.

My memories of the first two Red Faction games are more than little fuzzy and although Geo-Mod was a cool new feature, I wasn’t overly fond of the playing the game built around it. Guerrilla was a different story. The PlayStation 3 iteration of Geo-Mod lost the ability to reshape the ground and walls and instead brought a previously unseen level of structural destruction seen in a game at the time (Just Cause 3 wouldn’t come out for another six years). Practically every structural object found in the game, like large industrial pipes, gas tanks, homes, guard posts and towers, could be completely reduced to rubble with enough patience, tenacity, and remote charges. Demolition work was awesome because of how buildings reacted somewhat realistically to the damage being inflicted to them. Hammering away support points would cause the building to completely fall apart in a wild cacophony of shattered glass and the groaning of bent steel.

Red Faction: Guerrilla used free form destruction to encourage creative solutions to different problems and now that the game’s prefabricated buildings are open season, the gameplay possibilities multiply. Stuck trying to advance on an enemy base but overwhelmed by its defenses? Grab a truck, load it with sticky remote charges, drive it through a wall, and trigger the bombs (from a safe distance, of course!). Some missions even put you in the driver’s seat of heavy machinery and power loaders, which makes bursting through enemy bases like the Kool-Aid Man more fun than should be allowed. If nothing else, I'm pleasantly shocked with how much fun trashing buildings is after all these years. No other game has done it better. 

There’s a specific purpose to causing all sorts of mayhem on Mars. In order to fight back against the EDF, Alec Mason and the Red Faction have to earn the support of the people by liberating different zones on the planet. Just like Just Cause, mainline liberation missions only become available once you’ve caused enough damage to the EDF by way of a modest collection of secondary activities. You’ll be called to numerous guerrillas to help rescue hostages, defend Red Faction bases, deliver special vehicle under strict time limits, and generally smash up the place. Liberation missions unlock once you’ve earned enough support and they feature longer missions that involve the Red Faction trying to suss out the EDF’s plan for a new nanobot-based weapon. Once all the main missions in the area have been completed, you go into a new zone on Mars and do it all again. Payment for completing missions and diversions is scrap, which serves as the primary currency among the Red Faction. Through scrap, all things are possible. It can increase the amount of remote charges you can carry, build and upgrade special weapons, and boost Alec’s protection from enemies. Destroying buildings always leaves scrap behind, so there’s always an incentive to stop what you’re doing and drive a construction vehicle through someone’s house.

It didn’t take long for me to settle back into Guerrilla, a game I didn’t play for more than a year after it came out. I’d forgotten how much fun it can be to run around, senselessly bashing stuff or blowing it up with explosive barrels. I was having a great time with it all until I reached a liberation mission called “Ashes to Ashes,” which involves Alec helping out with evacuations as long range cannons lob shells all over the place. Long repressed memories came rushing back in an instant after watching twenty minutes worth of progress wiped out because I died from something completely out of my control. This is something that happens quite a bit because of the physics engine, the randomness of encounters, and the ease with which things can go totally off-kilter. Failing a mission means having to do it all over again from the beginning which is never fun. Why not drop me off at a checkpoint instead of standing in front of the quest giver? What’s really weird is that if I fail a side activity, I can choose to restart it from the “You Failed” screen. This could be a perfect quality of life enhancement that remasters are born for but instead, I get to sit through long load screens.

Red Faction: Guerilla was a pretty decent looking game on the PlayStation 3 back in the day, though more than a little on the drab side. The “Re-MARS-tered” version (which is such a dopey title) cleans it up a tad with high-resolution textures, better framerate, improved lighting effects, and native 4K support. All this sounds great, but sharper textures and lighting doesn’t make the game any prettier (as it wasn’t a stunner to begin with). Remnants of the game’s nine year old self crop up from time to time, like during cutscenes that weren’t passed through the remastered filter and frequent draw distance pop-in. I also experienced an alarming number of instances when the game locked up for a few moments whenever there was a lot going on screen (and for this type of game, the chances of that happening are always high). I remember a lot of people said back in the day that parts of Guerrilla's always felt like it were hanging by a thread. I didn’t notice it then though I certainly share that sentiment now.  

Red Faction: Guerilla Re-MARS-tered seems like an odd game to bring back from the pile. It was a cool enough game in 2009 but a lot of time has passed and other games managed to do more with the open world genre. It serves as a nice nostalgia piece but even in its remastered state, the game feels like a relic. Beyond the Geo-Mod antics, there isn't all that much to call out. Driving from Point A to Point B is boring because there’s rarely anything to do in-between, there’s no in-game radio to help ease the tedium and dead air, no random pop-up missions, gun battles don’t feel particularly satisfying, and I was unable to muster much care or sympathy for the game’s ragtag band of rebels. In fact, I’m sure they grew to hate me over time because of how often I used their homes as my own personal demolition derby. The best thing that can be said about Guerrilla is that Geo-Mod is still such a joy and is capable of creating fantastic moment to moment experiences. I love to walk up to tall smokestacks, plant remote charges all along the base, and watch the ensuing fireworks. I’ll even put myself in the path of falling debris just because it’s funny to watch an entire office building come down around Alec’s head. Finding new and creative ways to topple buildings is really the only thing I needed out of the game, both now and in 2009. Another thing the remaster has going for it is the price. Thirty dollars is a respectable amount to ask for an updated version of a video game that excels at doing one cool thing really well.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.