Red Faction: Guerrilla, from Volition, Inc., is mayhem incarnate. It’s an open-world action game set on the terraformed surface of Mars, gloriously structured around charging at cops with a sledgehammer and turning them into gargling piles of riot gear. You can launch your truck from a Martian dune, lodge it in the side of a huge smokestack, cover it in winking mines and blow it all to hell as you make a death-defying leap to the ground. There’s just one niggling issue: Bullets can kill you.
That’s the way it is in most games, but Guerrilla isn’t most games. It allows – even encourages – the systematic destruction of entire city blocks’ worth of buildings with little more than your hammer and some C4. To have that end with the crunch of your bones and a sluggish Game Over screen is an injustice on par with the wholesale exploitation of an entire colony’s worth of Martian miners.
Unfortunately, those are The Rules. You can’t jump that far. You can’t survive that fall. Thanks, Volition, for pointing out that our protagonist has limits and vulnerabilities. Not that I’m ungrateful or anything, but I was pretty sure you couldn’t smash through three feet of concrete with a meter of steel, either. Or kill hundreds of people without ever stopping for a hot meal. Or foster a fair, free society by leveling buildings and flattening cops.
Face it, Volition: You’ve held Mars in your despotic grip for too long. We gamers refuse to toil under the oppression of the Health Bar. We will throw off the shackles of limited ammo. We will reclaim the means of instantaneous travel. We will fight you with difficulty levels; we will fight you with walk-throughs; we will fight you in the config files; we will fight you with hacks and glitches, exploits and trainers. And we will never surrender.
Arming the Resistance
Certainly, there are times when games should be enjoyed and judged in the manner their creators intended. But no matter how thoroughly you might enjoy Niko Bellic’s struggle against his psychopathic tendencies in your first play through of Grand Theft Auto 4, you don’t return to Liberty City to have a quiet stroll or go clothes shopping – you go there to drive cars into helicopters, to see how many times you can bump into people before they snap, and if you’re in a particularly dark mood, to blaze a widening trail of cops from one bloody end of the city to the other. Sometimes you have a taste for character and story, for fairness and progression. Other times, you just want chaos.
That’s why I immediately took a trip to the shady areas of the internet and secured a trainer for Guerrilla when I picked up the game for the PC. Trainers are magical programs that mess with the memory addresses your game uses. If your game stores how much gold you have in a particular memory address, for example, a trainer can sneak its hand into that drawer and tack a few zeros onto the end of your in-game bank balance. It can even mess with the part of the game that decides how big explosions are or how fast time passes. A trainer can make a game very easy – but it can also make a game very different.
Guerrilla, if you haven’t played it, starts with the most effective tutorial ever. After a dreary boilerplate intro, I’m holding a sledgehammer, and in front of me there is a wall. My NPC chum begins to timidly instruct me, but what follows is instinctual. I click the mouse. Alec Mason swings the hammer, and it connects in a shower of bricks and girders. My companion urges me to move through the cramped hole I’ve made, to press on to our next objective. Instead, I plant my feet and keep swinging.
Five minutes of gaming glee later, the wall is just a cloud of dust without so much as a brick to its name. Still, the NPC chatters on at me. It’s now perfectly clear that this game will attempt to tell its bland story at every turn. The character beside me is a traitor to the cause; he wears the uniform of the Red Faction, but he’s a slave to Volition’s misguided instincts.
It was important that I give Guerrilla a fair trial, though. I dutifully play through the missions, hiding behind cover and using the oh-so-familiar assault rifle to lay down suppressing fire in extended skirmishes with the tyrannical EDF forces. To the game’s credit, the missions are varied, and a select subset are pure and simple demolition challenges. Sadly, far too few of the early struggles involve smashing things. Eventually, that innocuous file in my downloads folder is starting to look like the only way I can liberate this game.
The First Wave
Alec Mason looks the same as he does every day, but today his plans are different. I mash the F9 key, and suddenly Alec is rich. I move him into the upgrade shack and buy everything – particularly, I upgrade his ability to place mines, from three or four at once up to a dozen. I hop into a jeep and press F4 – imperceptibly, the jeep becomes invincible. I put the right half of my truck on a ramp and inch up it until it tilts, then hop out again and place all 12 of my remote mines on the rear underside of the jeep. Then, I set out for the nearest EDF encampment.
When we reach the compound, I tear into the guard towers, which fall in a shower of gunmetal matchsticks. That gets the attention of an entire garrison of EDF troops, which promptly begins to shower my impervious vehicle with rockets and bullets. Swerving wildly, I’m nonetheless careful not to expose my glowing rear. I don’t want the show to start early, and my plans hinge on preventing even a single bullet from striking the remote mines clustered around my tailgate.
Backing my truck and its precious cargo up a mound of Martian soil, I take a moment to get my bearings, confident that the EDF won’t advance while they’re lobbing missiles. My goal is in sight – a quick right turn and I’m roaring uphill towards the EDF barracks and the destructive crescendo of my mission. With a breathless right-click, the mines go off as I reach the top of the ramp. Thrown by the exploding mines, the truck sails through the air in a somersault. The momentum of the climb carries my chariot over the top of the barracks, then crashing straight through the roof. The EDF stop firing for a moment, while their stammering AI tries to work out where I am.
It’s beautiful. The whole system collapses – the game’s rules are irrelevant, the EDF are dumbstruck, and their barracks are a maelstrom of filing cabinets and death.
All I’m doing is screwing around, but with great power comes great opportunity. Suddenly I’m playing a different game. I’m no longer sneaking around, dying and cursing and twiddling my thumbs while the map reloads. I’m no longer restrained at all by the rules encapsulating my avatar. Instead, I’m surrounded by a set of physical laws that are a lot more fun to butt heads with.
A revolution is only ever the start of something better, and after all I’ve done, it was Volition’s technology that enabled me to triumph over their story and world design. The sheer wasted potential of Red Faction: Guerrilla‘s unprecedented free-form destruction was impossible for me to tolerate. Certainly, there may be writers and designers at their studios working on a deeper, smarter story for the next Red Faction game, but couldn’t they just design fifty more ways in which things can break, bend, melt, shatter and explode?
Guerilla is, despite everything, a great game. Its worst injustice is that, at some point after the creation of that gloriously destructive central mechanic, it was smothered by story and characters and missions. With cheats, I successfully washed away that shallow coating, and made it my own. As a gamer, it is your duty to do the same. You have nothing to lose but your health bar – and you have worlds to gain.
Jaz McDougall is a freelance contributor to The Escapist.