Sunday, 10 August 2008

Red Faction: Guerrilla Beta - Hands On

Today I was lucky enough to have a good sit down with the multiplayer Beta code of Red Faction: Guerrilla. Having not played any Red Faction games for any longer than 5 minutes previous, I can say that I was a little shocked at what I got. Unlike the first-person perspective of preceding titles in the saga, this new iteration takes its form in the third person. A growing trend in games as of late, this shift in camera also pulls the game play to a more vertical plane than in most FPSs, having a feel that is not too far from Lost Planet.

"Excuse me sir, but your rucksack appears to be on fire."

As this was a multiplayer beta, I got together some friends and started my first ranked match on the map Crash Site. A simple deathmatch game ensued where I had no earthly idea what was going on. This was mainly due to my lack of foresight to scan over the controls but I fear that even then I may have found myself in the same spot. Predictably, the right trigger is ‘fire’, with the ‘A’ button performing a weak little jump – so weak in fact, that I doubt your on-screen avatar could actually traverse a curb on the side of a road without much difficulty. After these two commands though, things get a little hazy. Holding the right bumper brings up your weapons and selecting them is a case of pressing the relevant face button. With your new weapon drawn, you can also melee with the left trigger. These unorthodox controls – as do most - soon become a little less clumsy from extended play, though.

Speaking of extended play, my initial impression of the game at the moment was not very good; playing team deathmatch on three different drab-looking, dusty arenas with clutter everywhere and controls that hate you. After the third match in however, the matchmaking spewed out the Radial map and gave all players a jetpack and a buzz saw-firing gun … thing to play with in addition to the default assault rifle. This suddenly woke up ‘The Fun’ in a sudden upwards jerky movement. Players were bounding up and over huge rocks spitting discs of death at each other. I however, found the remote mines and quickly began raining fiery death onto unsuspecting players below; leaping to the next stone pillar at the first sound of ‘whoosh’ as another buzz disc narrowly shaves my character’s sideburns.

The next game didn’t disappoint either, taking us for the first time out of the realms of team deathmatch and into the kingdom of Damage Control. The premise here is similar to territories game types on other shooters but with a twist that takes advantage of the games big selling point that I have purposely kept hushed about until now. For those not in ‘The Know’ – a metaphorical island of understanding surrounded by ‘The Sea of Ignorance’ – Red Faction games have been famous for incorporating a Geo-mod system into their environments (destructible scenery to me and you). Taking this mechanic, players must rebuild broken pieces of specific scenery using the Reconstructor – a weapon seemingly built by Ronseal, which does exactly what it says on the tin. This hut/shed/satellite dish that you just rebuilt is now under your control and you get points for each one you control over time. The enemy however, will try to destroy your captures and rebuild it themselves. While not a new idea, this take on the game type is imaginative and is actually quite fun to play, as some players station themselves inside the captured buildings only to find that an enemy has secretly placed explosives on each of its supporting pillars. There are few things quite as humorous in games as to see a player flattened by the roof of the building they were protecting. I am a man of the environment and being able to destroy it … well, it quite frankly gives me jollies.

In all game types, you have a sledgehammer as a secondary weapon, primarily used to aid in your destruction of scenery and slightly reminiscent of the Megaton Hammer from Zelda. When they said “fully destructible scenery” though, I imagined being able to tunnel into the ground and blow chunks out of cliff walls – something I have been informed is in the single player. What they seem to have meant was that all the buildings are fully destructible and the main geometry of the maps remains intact. This is not to say that destroying buildings isn’t impressive though. Every piece that you knock out of place falls to the ground as walls dismantle themselves into lego-esque pieces - unlike Battlefield: Bad Company where rubble seems to disappear into the ether. The game does all this without so much as a hint of slowdown in a hectic fire fight as debris litters the battle grounds. Nonetheless, all this on-screen action comes at a graphical price. All the maps I played seemed to look a browner shade of turd and didn’t even attempt to boogie in front of my eyes. In addition to this, the character models are very ‘last generation’, much like shoulder pads and neon wristbands. While I imagine the developer Volition, Inc. will undoubtedly improve upon the graphics, I have this niggling imp of doubt that we shouldn’t exactly hold out for anything to rival Gears of War 2 in that department.

The multiplayer game, when left to walk alone without its best mate Geo-mod, is average at best, quivering at the knees and looking around to find some support. It’s the addition and satisfaction of the demolition aspects that help the game play into a little jog - and even sometimes a slow run - to Enjoymentville.