49. Red Faction: Guerrilla
Format: Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3
Most of the games on this list are things of elegance. They demonstrate superior design, rabid originality, refinement and class. Red Faction: Guerrilla is not one of these games. Red Faction: Guerrilla wants shit to blow the fuck up.
Guerrilla is the third in the Red Faction series. The first two were first-person shooters on the PlayStation 2, PC and Xbox. I haven’t played them. I’m not convinced that anyone’s played them. The cornerstone (pun kind of intended) to the Red Faction series is destruction. The first two games were on systems that couldn’t handle what the developers wanted. But come the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the tech was there for stuff to go boom.
Guerrilla breaks from its predecessors by swapping into a third-person, open-world format. (One of the admirable things about the series is Volition’s willingness to completely change the game style – the fourth game, Armageddon, switched things up again to a linear shooter a la Gears of War and company. And there was also a spinoff between games 3 and 4 that was entirely vehicle-based, although apparently that was a bit pants.) The plot, such as it is, sees you as builder Alec Mason (DO YOU SEE WHAT THEY DID THERE DO YOU) drawn into an attempt to free Mars from the military chokehold of Earth forces and give the planet a fresh start. You do this by breaking things.
Guerrilla is entirely a showcase for GeoMod 2.0 – an engine that allows unrivalled levels of physics-based destruction. Every building in the game can be destroyed, and it’s all carried out the way you would in real life. Walls shatter before steel beams buckle. You can take out a building in one go with a well-aimed sledgehammer swipe at a load-bearing area. Use an explosive and bits of wreckage fly through the air and smash through other buildings. No piece of cover is entirely safe, as it too could be destroyed.
It’s astonishing. Allegedly, Volition had to hire some real proper architects as the engine was so true-to-life that some of the more outlandish sci-fi structures they’d come up with wouldn’t take their own weight and would collapse as soon as they were coded into the game. And it makes the primary act of the game – its core, its USP, its very raison d’être – exactly as enjoyable the five hundredth time as it is the first. Smashing stuff up simply never gets old. And the toolset you get for smashing up said stuff is highly pleasing. Mason’s never without his trusty sledgehammer, and the limpet mines you get right from the start – chuck ‘em on to something, detonate ‘em when you feel like it – are so pleasing they’re unlikely to ever get left out of your inventory. (Extra sadist points – stick a mine to an enemy soldier and cackle as they run around in a panic.) Going up through typical weapons through to oddities like the electricity-shooting arc welder, sawblade-spitting grinder or the enforcer, with its homing bullets, is great fun.
And great fun is basically what this game is about. It’s not deep and meaningful, and it’s not trying to be deep and meaningful. It just wants to entertain you. When it gets it right, it’s like playing a cheerfully dumb action movie from the ‘80s or ‘90s – probably starring Stallone or Schwarzenegger – and is exactly as enjoyable as you’d hope. (You even get a jetpack near the end. And occasionally you get to run around in a big mech suit smashing things just by waving its arms about.) Admittedly, it doesn’t always get it right: some missions are annoying, the last one in particular, and quite a lot of the sidequests are a bit rubbish. But the good bits are so good that it doesn’t really matter. Plus, it’s an American-made game from 2009 where you play as a heroic terrorist with distinct Communist undertones. How likely is that?
MAGIC MOMENT: The mission that ends the second chapter, where you have to evacuate a town before the troops arrive, is breathlessly exciting.