'Red Faction: Guerrilla' consistently good fun

The open-world game lets players wreak havoc on Mars.

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There’s something exciting about the prospect of a virtual world that people can affect and interact with directly. With “Red Faction: Guerrilla,” developer Volition has gone back to the fundamentals of what makes open-world games so fun -- the interactivity. Instead of saying, "Here’s a massive world -- go build relationships and do chores to make a living," “Guerrilla” says, "Here’s a massive world, now blow it to pieces."

You’d never guess by looking at “Guerrilla,” but the “Red Faction” games used to be corridor-heavy first-person shooters. They all take place on Mars, but “Guerrilla” is the first game in the series that places players outside on the dusty surface of red planet. It’s a superb re-boot for a middling and oft-forgotten franchise.

The plot stays mostly down to earth (pun intended) despite taking place on Mars in 2033. No beady-eyed aliens or mysterious monsters to be found. Even the wild-card faction the Marauders consists entirely of humans, just of the more primitive and tribal variety. This game would have been just as great had it taken place in the Sahara Desert, but it definitely could have taken advantage of its Mars setting more creatively.

The hallmark of a great open-world game is the desire to roam and explore it, and the prospect of smashing things to bits with your trusty sledgehammer is more than enough incentive to search for secrets. Treading into Marauder territory gives you a great “I’m not supposed to be here. I wonder what’s hiding around here” feeling. And 15 minutes later, about 20 Marauders will randomly appear to surround and ambush you. For an open-world game, where predicting the player’s behavior is next to impossible, “Guerrilla” feels surprisingly well-paced.

The mundane point-to-point driving missions notwithstanding, none of the missions felt like chores to complete for the sake of earning more money. Some provide instant gratification by dropping a giant mechanical walker or rocket-mounted roadster at your feet and just asking you to go nuts. My personal favorites were the deviously challenging destruction puzzles. Knocking down a silo with one propane tank and three bullets seems impossible until you find just the right weak spot.

Finding the weak spot actually requires some practical knowledge of physics, which is one of the game’s more fascinating mechanics. Every structure in the world is governed by a physics engine that constantly calculates the force and stress placed upon each piece of geometry. So instead of destroying every inch of a structure piece by piece, you can save time and ammo by taking it out at the legs and destroy the bare essentials.

The versatile weaponry brings plenty of flavor to the competitive multiplayer modes, but what makes the multiplayer exciting and unpredictable every time are the backpacks. Jetpacks are just the tip of the iceberg: One creates a personal invisibility cloak, another gives players x-ray vision and my personal favorite, the rhino pack, makes players charge forward a few feet, demolishing anything in their path. With 10 different types, the backpacks bring an important level of unpredictability to the action and give players a chance to get more creative with their kills.

The “Geomod 2.0” destruction engine is the biggest selling point, but this alone does not make the game exceptional. “Guerrilla” is a consistently fun experience simply because it does lots of things right. Plus, it throws in a rich and dynamic multiplayer mode for good measure. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a sucker for open-world games or just love basking in the glory of explosions and collapsing buildings; “Guerrilla” will satisfy just about anybody.

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