In many ways, it's entirely fitting that a game so determined to showcase cutting-edge destructible environments should be set on Mars.
This barren and desolate planet is the perfect backdrop to construct a world from the ground up, without having to have to worry about pesky details such as trees and rivers. Or possibly even bacteria.
The original Red Faction, launched in 2001 for PS2 and PC, bought developers Volition a considerable amount of kudos for showing just what was possible if you provided a first-person shooter with a halfway decent collapsible terrain model. It might not have been immediately obvious why some environmental objects were more collapsible than others, but the change in game dynamics afforded by such physics helped to make for some compelling multiplayer.
Red Faction Guerrilla is the third title in the series, and this time around there's a few changes. The first-person model is out - replaced by a third person view presumably designed to give the player a better look at the eye-candy, and gone too is a linear, structured progression through the game. Volition may have developed last year's Saint's Row, but it would be unfair to accuse Guerrilla of being a Saints Row follow-up, although it's clear to see they have DNA in common.
Our hands-on session started with the opening cinematic, which sets up the story of the Mason brothers. It seems our protagonist Alec is a recent arrival on Mars, and is tasked with joining a mining team. However it's not long before his brother is executed by the Earth Defence Force (EDF), which swiftly provides him with an incentive to join the guerrilla group Red Faction in an attempt to avenge his death, and basically wreck up the place as much as possible. As far as tales of retribution are concerned, it's no Count of Monte Cristo, but it's clear the main focus is on pushing the Geo-Mod engine to the limit rather than tackling complicated narratives.
Throughout history, most Masons have been concerned primarily with building and construction, however Alec has abandoned any attachment to his surname by adopting some of the most comprehensive demolition abilities we've ever seen in a game. Despite his prodigious arsenal, which we'll get to in a bit, one of the most powerful items he's provided with is a simple sledgehammer. Using this, he can pretty much smash his way through anything - rock, fences, pipes, entire buildings - it's all down to your own destructive desires, as pretty much anything built atop the Martian soil is able to be destroyed.
Of course, the real fun starts when projectile weapons enter the equation. Rockets cause impressive area of effect damage, and swiftly carve out a swathe of destruction through buildings. For a more precise approach, rifles can be trained on particular weak points to reduce them to rubble. Alec's movement can also be assisted by a rocket pack, offering a quick skyward thrust, as well as a "rhino" attack that he can use to run at a building and physically smash his way through it. Volition may have inadvertently populated Mars with a new superhero, as the game elevates your from a mere guerrilla terrorist to a deity-like figure with control over the structural integrity of every immediate dwelling.
The game encourages this wanton destruction too, so you won't feel guilty by spending a good part of the game smashing things.
Progression through Guerrilla appears fairly open-ended, with many missions requiring you to utilise industrial transport to move from location to location. You'll find yourself blowing up buildings, assassinating members of the rival force, and generally doing your best to win the local population in each sector over to your cause. The terrain and character models stack up well - and although this was preview code we couldn't see any sign of dropped frames or pop-in from the heavily modified Havok physics integrated with the Geo-Mod engine. It's hard to imagine however that such complicated terrain modification can be integrated without sacrificing some texture quality, although we'd love to be proven wrong with the final build.
To close out the demonstration, we had a go at the Wrecking Crew mode, in which you can challenge other players to cause as much damage as possible within a limited time. The specially designed map consists of a number of structures in varying states of repair, and you're tasked with using specific user-defined weapons and explosives to knock as many of them down as possible.
Depending on the damage you do, you'll be awarded a final score, and it's here that the Geo Mod integration really shines. It's so realistic that you are provided with a grace period after your time expires to allow any teetering, partially-destroyed structures to finally topple. It was here too that we were introduced to the singularity weapon; simply fire it near a structure and watch a mini-black hole rip the thing to pieces. Just don't get too close to it.
Happily, you can experience Red Faction: Guerrilla before the June 5 release date by means of a playable demo hosted on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. A PC release is in the works, but don't expect this for another couple of months. We'll bring you a full review shortly - we're especially looking forward to checking out the multiplayer component, so stay tuned.
Thanks to THQ New Zealand, we're running a Red Faction: Guerrilla giveaway! If you'd like to win one of four copies of the game, as well as a T-shirt, head over to GP Forums for more information.