The GoodRed Faction: Guerrilla is based on one gimmick: the ability to destroy every structure in the game. In its relentless pursuit of chaos it is comparable to Mercenaries; however, rather than catering to pyromaniacs and those obsessed with firearms, tanks, and big explosions, it appeals to the same instinct on a more basic, prehistoric level: it puts a hammer in your hands and tells you to beat the crap out of everything you see.
This concept is executed flawlessly and with admirable meticulousness. Throughout the entire game, you methodically reduce buildings of all sizes to giant heaps of rubble. The ad blurbs didn't lie: you can destroy pretty much every man-made construction you see. With maniacal gusto you can just walk around the vast map and hit things with a hammer until your hands get sore. Naturally, you can also put the hammer aside and organize more swift and effective methods of destruction. Detonators are used liberally to make huge structures collapse spectacularly. Should the bad guys try to stop you, simple third-person shooter mechanics can help you to get rid of them. Bulky military drivable vehicles complement the picture.
For the first couple of hours, I enjoyed unleashing my destructive urges. I didn't care much for large-scale demolitions; but persistently hammering at a tower base, seeing how it gets closer to its imminent collapse with each blow, was strangely satisfying.
The BadUnfortunately, the designers of the game forgot that one impressive gimmick is hardly enough to make a great game. The problem with Red Faction: Guerrilla is that the discrepancy between efforts and care invested into destruction mechanics and those applied to every other aspect of game design is too noticeable. The developers' determination to deliver hours of virtual havoc sharply contrasts with their clear lack of interest in providing anything else.
On paper all the elements are there, but they are executed so rigidly and soullessly that none of them is even remotely attractive. The story isn't better or worse than in many other action-heavy games; but it is told with such indifference that it utterly fails to motivate. Granted, Mercenaries also wasn't an epitome of sophisticated narrative; but that game had nonchalant humor and charisma that is absolutely absent from Red Faction: Guerrilla. In fact, I have rarely seen a modern story-driven game with such depressingly dry, emotionless, and humorless writing.
Lack of inspiration is evident in other aspects as well. The game has a dreadfully formulaic structure. Later in the story there are some plot twists that could have rehabilitated it if they didn't come too late; but for the most part, you'll be subjected to excruciatingly similar missions that allow only two basic variations: demolish structure A or free person B. With a grim determination of a fanatic, you'll drive your vehicle again and again to get off near an outpost and demolish it, while fending off endlessly respawning enemy soldiers. To add insult to injury, you'll be forced to complete considerable amounts of unabashed story-unrelated filler material: rescue captives from X number of outposts, blow Y army structures, etc., before you can proceed to the final mission of the chapter. Each chapter involves a gradual liberation of an area; you'll be working for the same faceless, featureless faction, killing (mostly) the same enemies, unable to decide anything on your own. This is what you will be doing for the duration of the entire game - and believe me, this ceases to be fun very quickly.
This uncompromising lack of any variety in mission design comes together with an equally uninspired, hollow game world. One of the reasons I love sandbox games is the joy I experience when exploring vast, immersive, detailed virtual environments. However, only the first adjective can be applied to the world of Red Faction: Guerrilla. The entire playground is an exercise in schematic and careless location design. The horribly repetitive landscapes testify to an obvious lack of talent and effort: Red Faction: Guerrilla is the Halo of sandbox games. One could argue that a mining colony on Mars would probably look like this in reality; to this I can only say that I don't play games in order to be trapped in a realistically boring and empty place.
The Bottom LineRed Faction: Guerrilla is a characteristic example of game design that exhibits one successful principle and neglects all others. It is a technically competent demonstration of a physics engine and little else. Bleak, formulaic, and monotonous, the game can only suit die-hard addicts of virtual destruction. Everyone else with similar tendencies but higher expectations should turn to Mercenaries instead.