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Joystiq hands-on: Red Faction: Guerrilla (360/PC/PS3)

Zack Stern

At a recent THQ game event, another writer asked me about the original Red Faction. I told him it was one of the first games to use destructible environments. And then as I kept talking, I added qualifiers and backed off from that statement. Eventually, I rambled on to say it was also the first not-fully-successful game to do that in a long line of unsuccessful games. It was still cool -- smashing through a window was impressive -- but it didn't give the destroy-anything sense that the developers pushed.

Due late this year, Red Faction: Guerrilla could finally deliver on that promise, although it has caveats of its own. Still on Mars, this time you play almost the entire game above ground. I had fun smashing holes into buildings and even destroying them with a sledgehammer. But I missed the underground, mining elements of the original. If everything is supposed to be destructible, why not the ground, too?

On a technical and design level, it makes sense that a destructible ground would be a lot to ask. But it sure would be satisfying. Even without that option, Red Faction: Guerrilla could be a great game

Gallery: Red Faction: Guerrilla | 22 Photos

I played in a sparse, Martian colony, apparently trying to help with an uprising against an oppressive regime. But I ignored most of my radio orders and just wandered around to see what I could destroy.

I started with my sledgehammer, smashing windows and walls from outside a small building. Walls splintered into chunks of concrete. Martian pre-fab housing is cheap, I learned. I kept working my way around the small building, etching a broken line into a ring. Nearly the entire way around the structure, the roof still hung in place -- maybe I was quick to judge those Martian builders. Finally, I knocked through a pillar, collapsing the entire roof on top of me.

I lived. But the third-person camera showed only the roof from above, and I couldn't feel my way out. I know, I thought, I'll smash my way out. A few more swings broke a hole in the ceiling for me to climb up.

While the building was shrunken down like one of those contracting RVs, the roof was mostly intact. I had more work to do, swinging the sledgehammer sideways, but not being able to connect with the concrete below me. Ahh, the left trigger swings down. Smash, smash, smash.

Satisfied that I could break apart those buildings, I tried digging into the red, Martian clay. I had no effect. I wanted to make a quick foxhole for fire-fights, traps, or tunnel around like Bugs Bunny. Oh well, maybe next time.

I jumped into a truck and started my own demolition derby. I plowed through most walls with enough speed, although my sledgehammer was just as effective. Vehicles withstood a lot of abuse. I tried hopping out and hitting the truck with the sledgehammer, but the same swing that powdered concrete just bounced off.

Finally, I tested my armament and explosives. I tossed timed charges around, detonating structures or enemies. Part of the view blurred around the excessive heat, and the rest of the graphics looked great. I fired guns, blowing up a convoy with rockets, and spraying bullets while leaning around a wall. The weapons all felt responsive and the destruction delightful.

Volition is aiming for multiplayer competition up to 16 players. (They're confident that the game will work with at least 12.) In addition to typical games, like capture the flag and deathmatch, some new types will take special advantage of the destructive world. Specifics were light, but it sounds like assault-type games with one team attacking and one team defending will be about demolishing bases.

Red Faction: Guerrilla connected me to destruction, always a high point in an action game. The switch to third-person helps convey that scope. Missions and objectives will be important, but the parts I saw were almost enough to make a great game on their own.

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