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DEMOlition: Red Faction: Guerrilla (XBL)

April 30, 2009

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our first DEMOlition article here on Silicon Sasquatch! Our hope is to analyze recent game demos and offer a preview of the content presented in a given title. While we’d never pass a final judgment on a game based only on its demo, the fact is game companies hand the general public a piece of their work to recruit consumers still on the fence about a pending, or newly available, release. Because demos might be the only opportunity for many gamers to get a hands-on experience with the game, what’s in the demo matters quite a lot. Thus, we’ll be offering our professional comments, criticisms and questions of just what gamers might expect a complete game to offer based on its demo content. We hope you enjoy the format and find these to be genuinely useful. Feel free to send us your comments and criticisms via the comment system.

Let's call this a "Coversplosion"

Let's call this a "Coversplosion"

Red Faction: Guerrilla (RFG) is a third-person action title set on Mars and the third entry in THQ and Volition, Inc.’s Red Faction series. It’s been nearly seven years since Red Faction II, the last game in the series, and since then Volition has been hard at work perfecting its new game engine in an attempt to revolutionize environmental destruction in videogames.

Players enter the 10 minute-long demo as protagonist Alec Mason in a rather spacious but sectioned-off demo map  — straying too far will invoke the wrath of a game over screen.

Even so, the assorted set pieces, ranging from granite buildings to explosive metal tanks, fit the Mars aesthetic well. This certainly is a large demo to explore, and subsequent play-throughs nearly always result in discovering something new to blow up. To think this is just one tiny slice of the full game is quite encouraging.

But don’t wander off too much the first time through: the demo has a 10 minute time limit. It’s not so bad, as you’ll likely want to replay the demo again and again to continue experimenting with RFG’s destruction capabilities. Trust me, everything can’t be seen in one playthrough. You might not even reach the first objective before the time’s up because of all the available fun.

At its core, Red Faction: Guerrilla is a demolition simulator, plain and simple. There are numerous ways to go about tearing apart the game world, like explosives and firearms, but the absurdly brutal sledgehammer you begin the demo with is the most enjoyable. The ostrich-like weapon can smash through everything and packs the strongest melee attack in the demo. Swings are either vertical or horizontal depending on which button is pressed, and the variation is a simple but welcome addition; one button-hammering with a few animations wouldn’t have been as immersive.

Room with a view

Room with a view

The rest of the demo’s weapons — a pistol, shotgun and assault rifle — dig down to Red Faction’s FPS roots, and all handle well thanks to the tight firing mechanics.

Unfortunately, the weapons provided are going to be the most vanilla ones seen in the retail release, which will include around 24 over-the-top weapons like the Arc Welder. But demo players wouldn’t know that unless they had watched a few videos. If anything, the solid gunplay left me wanting more, but I suppose that’s the point.

The perspective change from first to third is one of RFG’s most significant alterations to the original Red Faction formula. Thankfully, Volition has done an excellent job with the over-the-shoulder style of camera, and everything seems to follow the player character well. Third person is more conducive to observing the full extent of your destruction anyway.

In terms of the demo, RFG flaunts its Geo-Mod 2.0 engine but doesn’t require players to level every building to achieve their objectives — it’s just more fun that way. Surprisingly, the cover mechanic is sufficient enough that you could treat the game as an average action title without too much of a problem. However, players are going to get a lot more out of the title by trying different strategies, and that’s apparent even in demo form.

Just walk away, Alec

Just walk away, Alec

The destruction element is the star of the demo. Girders can be taken out and the structures will collapse realistically without proper support. No canned animations here, and no limited destruction like in Battlefield: Bad Company.

Buildings are almost like “destruction onions,” with multiple layers to expose and destroy. Starting from the outside: first comes the outer covering, next a stone and rebar wall, then the steel beams and finally the chicken wire and drywall-like innards. And although the textures on some materials are pretty low-resolution, it’s absolutely engaging to pick apart a wall or bunker piece by piece.

My main complaint with the demo, and likely the retail release, is its health system. Without knowing the full version’s upgrade system, it’s hard to say what, if any, additions will improve Alec’s lifespan. The health regeneration is too typical, ironically, for a game so outside-of-the-box in its technology. Hopefully the retail game lets players add to their health pool or increase their defenses in some way.

Wooops.

Whoops.

Multiplayer also remains in the dark, and it’s something we’ll have to keep an eye on. It could be extremely fun to hunt enemies down in a game where “cover” means absolutely nothing. If multiplayer keeps the demo’s single-player mechanics, then great. But the retail title will need some unique modes to give online a long life; perhaps a Burnout-esque mode where players are scored based on the monetary amount of damage they cause.

Simply put, the emphasis on destruction is not a gimmick. It’s a fantastic way to enhance replayability, even in a demo. I’ve played this thing over 15 times, and each time I find something new and fun to do. If 10 minutes of a title can promise that much enjoyment, I can only imagine what the full version is like. So, despite some hesitations in what wasn’t shown by the demo, Red Faction: Guerrilla is still shaping up quite nicely.

Red Faction: Guerrilla releases June 2nd on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

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