With the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 hardware, many developers claim they’re finally able to achieve destructible environments. The thing is, Red Faction achieved it in 2001 on the PlayStation 2. With that background, it’s not surprising to see Volition pushing the envelope once again with Red Faction: Guerilla, which ships for PS3 and Xbox 360 later this year. As the third game in the series, Red Faction: Guerilla marks a step forward for the franchise, both in plotline and technology. But more important, it marks a step forward for third-person shooters, as it takes environmental destruction and strategy to the next level.
Red Faction: Guerilla has been in development for six years, but unlike games such as Duke Nuken Forever, this one has actually been moving forward the entire time. For the first two to three years, Volition debated environmental destruction and the actual logistics of it, asking questions not just about the gameplay consequences, but about the effect large-scale destruction might have on an open-world game. And make no mistake, Red Faction: Guerilla is an open-world game. It was only after these discussions wrapped up that Volition began to tackle the AI and technology needed to pull it all off, which was another three-year process that resulted in the game we recently had the chance to sit down and play.
Because the series is known for its environmental destruction (and because it’s just cool to blow stuff up), Red Faction: Guerilla leans heavily on this element. From the default sledgehammer, which crunches through thin walls and into enemies on the other side, to the ‘mech-like Walkers, which rip through entire buildings as they stomp, almost everything relates in some way to structural deformation. Many games achieve a similar visual effect using normal maps and other graphical tricks, but Red Faction: Guerilla actually calculates geometry, with every bit of damage being a physics-based deconstruction.
For instance, if you want to smash away at a barracks with the sledgehammer, pieces of concrete will chip off the building and expose girders and rebar underneath. Keep smashing, and those support structures will break, leaving a little hole for sniping, walking or just enjoying the breeze. Continue to destroy the first-floor walls on a two-story building, and eventually the structure will collapse under its own weight — a startling physics-based lesson that actually required the development team to learn a thing or two about real-world architecture, engineering and weight loads.
This provides some intriguing gameplay possibilities, several of which we experienced firsthand. In one scenario, we used the sledgehammer to chip away at an enemy stronghold until it seemed to be all but falling down. We then tossed a few remote-detonated charges onto the remaining supports and backed away, pressing the B button to detonate the charges and watch with satisfaction as the second floor slammed into the ground. Because none of this was scripted, neither were our foes’ responses or deaths. Again, because Volition spent two to three years on AI and engine technology, both the friendly and enemy AI know how to create, navigate and respond to changes in the environment, a remarkable feat that caused a few of our enemies to survive their fall. Fortunately, our machine gun made sure they didn’t survive much longer.
In another scenario, we used the rocket launcher to create a gaping hole in the side of a building, then went looking for a Jeep. Before getting behind the wheel, we tossed the maximum four charges onto the back bumper, then hopped in and drove toward the hole. Right before the Jeep entered the building, we hopped out and took cover, then remotely detonated the charges. Half the building crumbled to the Martian soil. Volition also told us about a playtester who accidentally destroyed the steps to his second-floor hostage-rescue objective. Unable to progress as planned, he used a charge to knock a radio tower on top of the building’s roof, used the resulting “bridge” to walk from the hillside to the building, then blasted holes into the roof so he could get to his target. Aside from being cool, the environmental destruction in Red Faction: Guerilla can also serve a distinct purpose.
Red Faction: Guerilla isn’t all about destruction, though. It’s also about continuing the storyline from the first games in the series. In the first Red Faction, players took on the role of a miner who started a rebellion with the EDF to rally against a group whose nanotechnology was mutating humans. In this third game, however, Mars has been under EDF rule for 50 years, and the group has become more of an oppressive force than a friendly one. It’s up to the players, then, to stage yet another rebellion, this one a more grassroots affair as they take on the well-equipped and high-tech EDF forces.
This is where the open-world elements come into play. Because players are staging a grassroots rebellion, it’s crucial to have the support of “the people.” To achieve this, players will be presented with core missions, side missions and targets of opportunity, each of which has a different impact on the game, but none of which is required. Core missions are essential to the plot, so those won’t change much from player to player, but depending on your penchant for completing side missions and targets of opportunity, your experience could be very different.
In some respects, this aspect of the game is like Crackdown, in which players could go straight for each mini-boss and risk life and limb, or take down the various mini-bosses who were responsible for guns, armor, reinforcements and vehicles, thus making the bosses a bit easier. Red Faction: Guerilla works much the same way, with radio towers, convoys and other installations all being targets that, if destroyed, will make it more difficult for EDF forces to raise their alert level, call for help, send reinforcements or otherwise withstand players’ onslaught.
Destroying EDF facilities will also cause the EDF to spend money on repairs rather than reinforcements, making players’ jobs easier and boosting the morale of citizens. Morale can also be boosted by going on killing sprees within each mission, because when word of such sprees “gets around,” it’s essentially used as propaganda for the main character. Aside from warm fuzzies, one of the biggest benefits of high morale will be discounted weapon upgrades, so players will definitely want to pay attention to it.
Boosting morale via killing sprees gets a whole lot easier when players use one of the three Walkers in the game (Light, Medium and Heavy). These Walkers operate like the familiar ‘mechs we all know and love, with the Heavy one resembling the powerloader exosuit from Aliens, but on a much larger scale. Because they operate like a vehicle, the Walkers provide extra protection from gunfire, though they do take damage from enemies and the environment (remember, players can bash their way through entire buildings). The big advantage, though, is the combat abilities each one provides. The Light Walker, for instance, can jump incredibly high, almost as if it’s flying, while the Medium Walker has ranged weapons, and the Heavy Walker is basically a metal ogre whose “melee attacks” are devastating. Needless to say, it’s easy (and fun) to dish out the pain with these things.
Volition is still trying to incorporate Walkers into the Red Faction: Guerilla multiplayer modes, but the company hasn’t nailed down the specifics. One idea is to have a single Walker in certain levels over which each team fights, much like players battle online over a single rocket launcher in so many of today’s team-based shooters. Following that logic, Volition is planning several different multiplayer modes, including team-based ones, but the specifics are still being nailed down.
Standard Deathmatch and Capture-the-Flag modes will definitely be included, and Volition is working on a siege-like mode in which one team tries to destroy various defenses on its way to the final objective (the enemies’ base). Volition also hopes to create custom-match options that will let players determine how long the environmental damage persists, thus offering a more-strategic element for gamers who want to think on their feet as buildings come crumbling to the ground. But again, nothing’s been finalized.
The multiplayer components aren’t the only things being finished up, of course (no, there won’t be co-op campaign support, so don’t ask). Chief among Volition’s concerns is the framerate, which the developers fear might take a hit in light of all the on-screen action and physics calculations. From what we played, even with self-shadowing characters, vehicles and levels, there is no detectable sign of chug — and the game looked fantastic. Our biggest concern, actually, had to do with the vehicles, which seemed slow to respond when driving and ran over us far too often when piloted by non-playable characters.
But if slow steering and NPC driving abilities are our biggest concerns, Red Faction: Guerilla is on track to be a very special game. Gamers have been clamoring for true destruction since the first Red Faction gave a taste of its potential. Red Faction: Guerilla lays out a full destruction buffet. Just as important, the game shows that destruction isn’t just a graphical feature, but a strategic element that can provide gameplay options and promote creativity. Volition has made great use of the past six years. This title hadn’t been on our radar at all, but having experienced it for ourselves, we feel confident saying Red Faction: Guerilla could be one of the best shooters on any platform in 2008.
— Jonas Allen