Guerrilla is all about potential, never encouraging you along a ‘correct’ path but giving you the tools and a mission and setting you loose in a way no other open-world game has had the brass balls or sheer programming smarts to allow up until this point. For technical reasons it’s a sparse world – applying the destruction model to an entire city would murder your system and reduce the framerate to Hanna-Barbera levels – yet it never feels empty. There’s always something to do, something to destroy, or some squishy skull to smash with a sledgehammer.
Yep, it’s as if they knew. They knew the best vehicle foisted into a shooter is Halo’s Warthog so they made every car bouncy in the same way, even naming their main jeep the ‘Groundhog’. They also knew how you hate hopping off the turret to drive the ‘Hog so they gave every vehicle-mounted gun an auto-targeting system. They knew how much fun a physics playground can be, but they also knew how limited physics toys are and found fun ways to exploit the physics – explosive weapons, gravity weapons, even ones aimed from space.
They knew it was fun to just tear through Mercenaries 2’s world on an unstoppable gin-soaked rampage and how many laughs were had with Saints Row 2’s bonkers shit-hosing tankers and sausage wagons, but they also knew that both games were complete technical shambles. They built their new Red Faction on an engine that almost never drops a frame, built a world that remains perfectly consistent, and populated it with characters who rarely lose their way.
They knew how much fun it is to bring down a building, but they also knew how hard it is to build challenges in a world with no lockable doors or windows. They created story missions that only briefly steal away your time with exposition before leaving you to smash things up, stop convoys, steal documents, rescue hostages, recover artifacts, and assassinate enemy commanders – whether you snipe them with precision or drop a sky-scraper on them and their entire army. And while obligatory bloke in a bio-suit Alec Mason’s story isn’t nearly as expansive as Nico Bellic’s and the world isn’t anything like as delicately detailed as Rockstar’s Liberty City, it’s clear that’s something the developers always knew. Red Faction: Guerrilla was never about telling the best story or showing the most beautiful scenery. It’s about having the biggest explosions, the most bombastic action set-pieces, and the most flexible combat.
Guerrilla is the surprise summer blockbuster this year, filled to the brim with gaming superlatives and free of any pretentiousness or doubt as to what it wants to be. Volition have quite possibly made the best straight sandbox action game of this generation. And who knows, perhaps they knew that too.
June 2, 2009