“See you at the party, Richter!”
It finally took seven years before a sequel would appear to Red Faction 2. By then the first person fever had slowed considerably and in its wake came a plethora of sandboxes. Numerous titles that didn’t originate in an open world environment came to be, such as Burnout Paradise and Red Dead Revolver.
Evolving into a sandbox gives the player much more freedom of movement and fractures the linearity of gameplay considerably. Typical to role-playing games, you’ve a choice of missions to undertake and usually in whatever order you desire. However it can ultimately degenerate into a repetitive nature where you grind very similar jobs until the story opens further.
Progressing through story objectives eventually opens up the map further. Your small corner of the game world expands. You gain access to better equipment and weapons. But in response you’ll go up against greater threats. Regardless of where your player character starts, eventually they are spearheaded against the main antagonist.
Set fifty years after the events of Red Faction 1, the cruelty of Ultor is now a distant memory. The Earth Defence Force now governs the red planet, while civilians from Earth arrive in hopes of starting fresh from their resource-starved world. With help from the EDF, Mars is eventually terraformed enough to give a breathable atmosphere and even more people migrate to this new life. With the world seemingly pacified, Earth feels to need to demand even more resources. The EDF follows through and tightens the grip on Mars, prompting a few to re-ignite the Red Faction rebellion among those born on Mars.
Born twenty years after the events of Red Faction 1, Alec Mason is another man looking for a decent working life. He is contacted by his brother Daniel to come work on Mars for a mining company.
Upon arriving he witnesses the brutality of the EDF regime, a scene not dissimilar with Ultor fifty years earlier. Within hours of arrival. a routine inspection by the EDF turns nasty, as his brother is killed. Naturally Alec doesn’t take well to this and immediately rebels with lethal force.
The Red Faction rescues Alec and takes him away to a small hideout in the Parker Region of Mars. At this point he meets up with a new ally called Samanya, a technician within the Red Faction. She describes to Alec the scale of the EDFs atrocities and how they’ve occupied the entirety of Mars. As a new member of this rebellion, it’s up to the player to liberate each sector of the map from the control of the EDF.
Playing the game
Developed and published by THQ Nordic, Red Faction guerrilla expands on the settings of the first Red Faction game exponentially. No longer are you confined to tunnels underneath Mars or locked to a simple linear path. From the start, your bother Daniel demonstrates how to use your simple explosive charges and ever trusty sledge-hammer. He teaches you how best to use them on buildings in a tutorial that you’re free to approach however you want.
With the new Geo Mod 2.0 in effect, the terrain becomes unmovable but the buildings are completely destructive. You’ll learn to look for supporting pillars and walls, where a well placed explosive or sledgehammer application will be the most efficient demolition tactic.
Soon after you see the scale of the world around you. People go about their daily lives, while EDF soldiers occasionally harass them. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes amble past and those within have no qualms about you taking their ride either. Naturally the enemy AI will take offence if you happen to drive into a military outpost, or tear down a building by a simple swipe of a mech’s hand. Story missions will see you going head on against the EDF and vary from the typical mass destruction of an airbase to escorting NPC characters.
Side missions include timed demolition and racing challenges to on-rails shooting and rescue operations. Perhaps my favourite was the demolition mini games. With minimum tools and a strict timer, you’re tasked to bring down a building or structure by any means. These include throwing an explosive barrel and shooting it mid-air, or a chain reaction of limited explosives within a structure
As a matter of fact, to say the EDF are efficient in responding to attacks is a gross understatement. Alerts go through four colours, from green, yellow, orange and finally red where they will bring in tanks and aircraft. Shooting accuracy of the enemy has improved considerably compared to the original Red Faction games. Troops no longer blunder towards you, often shooting from range and vehicles if possible. Their choice of phrases feels a little more realistic, and isn’t comedic like previous games. They frighten easily when you operate advance weapons too, such as the nano rifle. Nobody likes to have the floor underneath them dissolve into a cloud of dust.
The story evolves well over the course of the game. You begin with very simple and short missions to “prove your worth” to the Red Faction. More completed missions means the EDF loosen their grip over the sector and more Red Faction members are available to fight back when you’re in trouble. The game encourages you to bring down EDF structures between missions and destroyed buildings leads to salvage. With this currency, you’re able to upgrade your weapons and purchase new ones. Your sledgehammer can be upgrades a few times over, and the jetpack enables faster movement through the world.
The available weapons range from simple explosives to thermobaric rockets. They are all fairly easy to operate and you’ll learn the ropes of each one during missions or challenges The Geo mod physics has been re-written into a whole new engine. Stone walls fracture and crumble under the stress of explosions and shatter debris, instead of a simple crater. Walls and floors employ a complex lattice of supports and beams. By employing tricks seen in demolition challenges, you can bring down large structures with a few well placed strikes.
Or instead drive hulking robots through tall hangers and watch the structure integrity of the building tumble.
As I mentioned earlier vehicles come in a garden variety of civilian and military formats. They include simple pickup trucks, people carriers, buses and even two-legged walking mechs of different sizes. And with the ease that people surrender them, it makes it easy for a clean getaway. Each one has its own handling and a few have their own weapon systems with infinite ammunition. Inevitably the lighter, faster ones will be prone to more bouncing and over steering than the larger trucks. This is especially evidence with the ferocity in how the EDF pursue you, as they often lose control of their own units during high-speed chases.
Four years later we would see another addition to the franchise in the form of Red Faction Armageddon. Taking place in the year 2175, fifty years following the ending of Guerrilla we step into the boots of Darius Mason, grandson to Alec. From the beginning he is a member of the Red Faction, as the organisation been transformed from resistance to a legitimate standing army.
While pursing a group of cultists that originate from the Ultor scientists a century earlier, the RF forces are drawn into an explosive finale with the planet’s terraformer at the core of the battle. Darius and his unit are tricked into destroying this machine by the cult, pushing humanity underground below the weather-torn surface of Mars.
After this event, Darius now works as a miner for the small township. He is soon tasked with a job that takes him deep into cavernous areas unfettered with human habitation. Again, he is manipulated by members of the cult but this time he releases a plague of alien creatures.
Fighting off the onslaught he is eventually led back to town via an AI that accompanies him throughout his travels. His warning of an impending alien threat falls on deaf ears as it’s all too late when they finally do appear. He is called on by his former comrades and a former marauder called Kara to help people escape his town and deal with the aliens soon after.
Playing the game
Going back to its underground origins, Armageddon sticks to its third person setting from RF Guerrilla. But it chooses a more linear path, as you are limited to a singular task each time and with one route throughout. The subplot of Red Faction 1’s plague comes to light again too, so far as to mention Capek’s involvement.
Again, it feels similar to the first game, where you are journeying alone with only your talkative artificial intelligence S.A.M for company. The Situation Awareness Module provides hints and clarification of your mission through the game. She also gives funny observations along the way and makes contact with other characters whenever she feels the need to do so.
This back and forth rapport is seen with other characters too. Darius may come across initially as grizzled but his character does come across as more likeable than previous protagonists in the saga. The usual twist of introducing aggressive aliens into Red Faction doesn’t come across as dour or terrifying but instead plays out with a strong spirit of adventure and excitement.
A few familiar sights return with regard to weapons, such as the sledge-hammer, rocket launcher and explosives. There are numerous skill upgrades to implement too, such as visible enemy health bars and higher resistance to explosions. Wheeled vehicles have been replaced with walking mechs. These are formidable tools of destruction that allow you to go toe-to-toe with the aliens on a much more level playing field.
These two and four-legged handle extremely well and are overly powerful in eradicating both cultists and aliens. There is also a flying vehicle towards the end of the game that has even more firepower to bring down upon the aliens.
The underground splits evenly between confined and open. Industrial areas are often shadowy with dim lighting but are generally easy to navigate and explore. Walls, floors, walkways and staircases can be destroyed but are quickly rebuilt with SAM’s nanoforge ability. Natural caves and tunnels have plenty of hidden areas to explore for salvage and voice recordings.
The Geo Mod 2.0 allows for more environment destruction. With use of a magnet gun, you can fire one shot into a large building or rock and another onto an enemy. Upon launching the second magnet, both magnets attempt to fly across and collide into one another, taking whatever they’ve attached to. This opens up a unique method of both clearing paths and attacking the creatures.
Both alien and human enemies are doggedly relentless in attacking you, the aliens even more so. They come at you in either swarms of smaller ones or a few larger ones. With a precise swing of your hammer, you can easily take out smaller enemies. But the larger ones will need well-timed and precise shots to deal with.
Playing them today. How well do they hold up?
Having originated from eight (Guerrilla) and six years (Armageddon) ago, the games hold up extremely well. Asides from the obvious graphical upgrades, both worlds feel and sound more alive. The dialogue script feels much more human and both allies and enemies struggle evenly against one another. The world carries on around you, like any title from the GTA series.
As I mentioned earlier explosions feel much more potent. Gone are the days of mere flash and smoke, as we now see debris fling everywhere and people reacting accordingly. Through trial and error you can see structural weak points and act accordingly. The new Geo Mod engine really enhances the feeling of cathartic destruction.
One such demolition in Guerrilla challenge tasked you with destroying a tall building with multiple levels. With a handful of weapons including one rocket and a nano rifle, the most effective way was to take out supports of the roof. This in turn let it’s weight and gravity crush the remaining levels.
The freedom of Guerrilla was a breath of fresh air to the saga, allowing Alec to venture wherever the player pleased, taking on both story and side missions whenever. While Armageddon is shorter and more linear in contrast, it still employs the same smooth game play and weapon handling. A more focused story, with smaller locations gives Armageddon a more claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s darker and more dangerous to fight in these tighter spaces too.
In both games enemies are far more numerous and dangerous when up close. Their vehicles constantly manoeuvre instead of remaining still, while you attempt to fill them full of lead or rockets. This is especially the case with Guerrilla, where EDF soldiers are very accurate with turret and heavier tank weapons. Compared to the first two Red Faction games you’ll be taking cover more often when attacking more secured depots and outposts.
These two follow-up games have thrown out stealth sections. When you do enter larger installations, be prepared to defend against the incoming waves. However it’s easier to surprise the aliens in Armageddon than entering a restricted location in Guerrilla.
All in all, all four games are fairly solid titles of their respective time. The first Red Factions may lose points in terms of looks and a much smaller scale of world. But back then it tapped on an original concept, regardless of a limited execution. But it was these grass-roots that would eventually pave the way for a sequel and one after that. Mars would evolve from just being another sci-fi trope to a world that cried out for open rebellion, with you at the forefront. You took on the likes of Capek, Sopot and the EDF. These were enemies that outnumbered you a thousand to one but you made them hesitate if their plans of conquest would really work against such determined rebellion.
It was all up to you to make the world a safer place from tyranny or alien invasion. You alone made that difference.