Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review of Red Faction: Guerilla

Unlike the previous game reviews, I'm going out on a limb here and reviewing a game that I have not actually completed. There aren't a ton of games that I will not finish, or at least come close to finishing. After all, given the price of games these days I feel like I should complete them on principle alone. However, I find myself unable to continue playing Red Faction: Guerilla after a particularly bad night.

The game's premise is interesting enough: liberate sectors from the oppressive EDF to free the planet. The destructive quality of the game is appealing. There are a number of different ways to bring down whole structures: detonators, shooting explosive canisters, or even going back to the basics with a sledgehammer that does an ungodly amount of damage. All that is very satisfying and enough to hold your attention for a while. Once you get into the meat of the game, which involves carrying out a number of missions and challenges to eventually build morale enough in an area to overthrow the EDF there, the controls and a few other mechanisms are lacking.

First off, the driving controls are just cludgy and unresponsive, and not at all consistent. In some vehicles a slight push on the joystick has such an immediate effect the vehicle almost overturns. In others, it feels like you're almost breaking the joystick to get even the slightest response from the vehicle, resulting in crashing into everything around you. Pretty frustrating if you're trying to escape, which happens often.

The aiming controls for gunplay move the fight scenes aggravating and prohibitively difficult. Maybe I've been spoiled by games that have aim assist using such features as snapping, friction, and magnetism like Halo. I feel the mark of a good FPS is making the aiming and shooting feel natural and intuitive while accounting for the fact that the "game" will almost always move faster than the controller. There is no snapping in this game, so shooting at the enemy involves pretty erratic controller movement and generally spraying the area with gunfire instead of any precision. You can click the right joystick to go into more of a first-person/sniper mode, but honestly the action is usually too fast for this to be effective or practical. Shooting in this mode makes for very challenging maneuvering when trying to duck, run, and shoot, which is pretty much essential to survive most of the firefights in this game. However, the AI doesn't seem to suffer the same limitations, hitting your character with almost unerring accuracy from all directions.

The missions also tend to be ridiculously hard. You have the option of course of choosing which missions to perform; the end result simply needs to be that you build enough morale points to free the area. I think we've all been in the situation however where you start a missions, die, and then keep retrying it because you think, "There's no way this can be that hard." Well, it is. I played a hostage rescue mission where I needed to free one hostage, just one, compared to the two or three in previous missions. The problem is the hostage was being held right in front of a wall of explosive barrels. This meant that if I used an explosive myself anywhere near the building, the hostage died. If I managed to take out the guards around the building and got into it to untie the hostage, inevitably a soldier would creep up out of nowhere and shoot at me, hitting the barrels and blowing both myself and the hostage to smithereens. If I managed to untie the hostage and run from the building, the hostage died anyway from gunfire. I finally gave up and decided the hostage could just chill there until the area as a whole had been freed.

In another mission your only task is to use a tank and destroy 30 EDF vehicles. Seems simple, right? And it starts out fairly simple, until you get to around 7 vehicles. Then they start showing up in clusters, attacking from all sides, and there's not a ton you can do to protect yourself. It quickly turns into a situation where you are simply swinging your turret and shooting blindly. Enemy vehicles aren't trying to shoot at you in a controlled, strategic manner either. Apparently the AI's thing is kamikaze-style fighting, because I suddenly found myself being attacked not only by vehicle gunfire, but also by vehicles simply hurling themselves at my tank. Obviously if you destroy a vehicle that happens to be sitting right underneath your own, you may succeed in destroying it but you take some damage yourself. I tried to actually move the tank away from exploding vehicles to prevent damage, and suddenly failed the mission because I had "left the area". There was no indication that there was an "area", but apparently there was. Super.

The bottom line is that much like Prototype, another infuriating game that I actually managed to finish, Red Faction: Guerilla suffers from game play that demands the "mashing buttons" approach instead of any kind of strategic method. Too often I found myself facing overwhelming odds for even the smallest mission, and it just got to feel like there was no way to win. Video games have to walk a fine line between being challenging enough to maintain your attention while being attainable enough to keep you playing. Red Faction: Guerilla failed at this balance.

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