Red Faction: Guerrilla
Total Recall (or Philip K. Dick's original novel, We Remember It For You Wholesale, if you prefer) has a lot to answer for, with its story of one man single-handedly freeing an oppressed Mars from a tyrannical regime. Red Faction: Guerrilla deals with a narrative that's thematically very similar, albeit without the head-swirling identity crisis bit. The fascist Earth Defence Force play the role of shady antagonists, controlling the red planet with an iron fist, forcing the population into forced labour camps and then glossing over the cracks with a nice bit of cheery propaganda. Thus it falls to you, Alec Mason, one man with a name like a pub landlord, to depose the EDF, restore order to Mars and raise the morale of the people. All in a day's work.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Red Faction started life on PS2 in 2001 and originally touted its FPS wares with a dose of freeform terrain deformation. That is blowing huge chunks of rock out of the landscape. It never quite delivered on its initial promise though, and the game and its sequel while solid enough shooters, failed to set the world alight despite the power of the much-vaunted Geo-Mod engine. LucasArts' Fracture recently had a crack at updating the idea, failing miserably with a tightly linear framework that restricted the use of your terraforming abilities and made for one of the dullest sci-fi shooters in recent years.
In essence then, terrain deformation isn't necessarily a very good idea, which is why Volition has gone back to the drawing board for Guerrilla, shifting the perspective into third-person and focusing solely upon structural destruction using the shiny new Geo-Mod engine 2.0. The result is the purest, most accomplished realisation of destruction yet seen in a videogame, with Volition's five years of development put to incredibly good use creating a vast landscape populated with countless buildings that can be systematically razed to the ground. Each structure in the game has been carefully built so that it's architecturally sound, meaning that when you smash it to pieces, it reacts in a realistic manner, breaking apart, straining and buckling until it eventually topples, which is when the Havok physics take over, sending the rubble crashing around you in an extremely satisfying cloud of billowing dust and debris.
Playing as reluctant hero of the guerrilla uprising Mason, it's your job to bring down the EDF by any means necessary, which basically means destroying all of their stuff and killing all of their troops. Equipped with a hulking great sledgehammer and a cache of remote activated explosives, you're a one-man arsenal who can swing a hammer through a wall like a tiger tearing through a paper bag. Whatever you destroy dispenses glittering hunks of salvage that can be collected and exchanged for new weaponry and upgrades, such as the Arc Welder, the saw-blade spitting Grinder, matter-vacuuming Singularity Bombs or the devastating Thermobaric Rocket Launcher. The methods available to you when tearing down structures are almost limitless and don't always require the use of weaponry. You can drive a truck through a wall, taking out the load bearing pillars or you can even rig it with explosives, drive the thing into a building, dive out and set it off. Or why not stick a mine to an EDF soldier's head, watch as he comically runs around trying to swat it from his face and then detonate it as he nears a 100-foot tall smokestack?
Anyone who revels in blowing things apart or smashing through walls (that's pretty much everyone, isn't it?) will be in their element playing Red Faction: Guerrilla. The destruction mechanics and the tools at your disposal are always inherently gratifying, even if the story and characters fail to conjure up the same degree of passion. Indeed, if you were to strip away the ability to break stuff, Guerrilla would be an altogether less appealing prospect. While the story provides adequate motivation to venture out into the world and demolish the various valuable EDF bases strewn across your map, the story itself isn't particularly strong, but then that's probably because it doesn't really need to be. The environment itself and the numerous tasks you're presented with is more than enough to keep you occupied and although some mission types tend to repeat now and again, you're generally presented with something different to do every time, whether you're riding shotgun in a vehicle controlling a rocket-launching turret, or rescuing hostages or wiping out an enemy stronghold, you're always entertained, always compelled to keep playing.
As an open-world, the game is enormous and the six distinct regions of Mars each offer something unique, whether it's the lush greenery of Oasis or the icy mountain peaks of Eos. The way in which the world is designed ensures that you're never without something to do and even if you find yourself stranded in the middle of a remote expanse of land, a vehicle will inexplicably show up out of nowhere with a member of the resistance helpfully dropping it off for you before wandering off. It makes no sense whatsoever, but at least you're able to carry on enjoying the game instead of having to sprint for ages in order to find the nearest civilised area. Suffice to say, single-player lasts for hours on end, but there're also a range of multiplayer modes to delve into that prove to be just as effortlessly addictive and deliriously fun as the main game.
Consisting of six different modes, Red Faction's 16-player multiplayer incorporates all of the wanton destruction from the single-player campaign while adding a selection of backpacks that grant a specific enhanced skill. Anarchy and Team Anarchy are your typical deathmatch modes; Capture the Flag is as self-explanatory as always, but Siege, Damage Control and Demolition actively utilise Red Faction's destruction model in a meaningful and exciting way. In Damage Control for instance, teams take turns to defend or destroy three marked targets, with the defending team equipped with the Reconstructor, a device that enables you to rebuild a dismantled target in real time. The backpacks add a little spice to the proceedings with Rhino allowing you to smash through walls killing anyone stupid enough to be in your way, while Thrust sends you crashing vertically through whatever is in your path. Others give you a burst of running speed, increased firepower, health benefits or another tool of destruction. Naturally, chaos ensues when 16-players all get their hands on Red Faction's formidable arsenal and an ability enhancing backpack, which is why you'll keep on returning to multiplayer as no two matches are ever the same. And then there's Wrecking Crew, a brilliantly compulsive offline party game that allows players to take turns causing as much damage possible before the timer runs out.
Red Faction: Guerrilla's Martian sandbox might be a touch barren in places and the story and characters may border on the bland, but when there're so many different activities vying for your attention and so much to annihilate, it's impossible not to love it for all its unpretentious bombast. This is explosive, balls-to-the-wall action that makes no concessions in delivering the ultimate playground in which to wreak havoc. The almost limitless potential for reckless mayhem is what makes Guerrilla such an unashamedly fun game to play, which is why this is without a doubt the biggest summer blockbuster so far this year and consequently an essential purchase. Now go on, get your ass to Mars.