One of the great tragedies of the last console generation was the demise of the Red Faction series. Red Faction: Guerrilla, from 2009, put the environmental destruction of its first-person-shooter predecessors to astounding use in a third-person open world. It was a brilliant new direction for Red Faction, and one that Guerrilla’s immediate sequel, 2011’s Red Faction: Armageddon, didn’t continue as then-publisher THQ tried to parlay the property into an ill-advised cross-media franchise, complete with a TV movie. The game took a more traditional (and prospectively more commercial) approach by retreating to linear corridors filled with aliens. When it didn’t sell, THQ announced that they were shuttering the series for good.
Following the bizarre shuffle of company names and intellectual property in the wake of THQ’s liquidation, the Guerrilla remaster from THQ Nordic jolts the Red Faction franchise back to life. Though the remaster—or re-Mars-ter, if you can stomach the title pun—doesn’t fix the grave injustice that the game never had a true sequel, it’s a compelling reminder of what made it a minor classic. Where modern open-world games try to impress with their ballooning scale and number of side activities, there’s an intriguing economy to Guerrilla’s design. It’s a game built on the assumption that its hook, a robust destruction model that lets you demolish entire buildings piece by piece, is good enough for players to overlook the barebones aspects of the mission design and storytelling. And it’s a correct assumption.
The story, for example, is basic stuff. After his rebel brother is murdered by the fascist Earth Defense Force, a miner on Mars named Alec Mason joins the worker uprising, the Red Faction. What saves this tossed-off narrative is the way it, like every other aspect of the game, interacts with the destruction: it colors your exploits with an overtly political edge. Though it may be common practice these days for games and the people who sell them to downplay any such themes in hopes of placating asinine cries for apolitical art, the Red Faction isn’t just red because it’s based on the planet Mars; after all, Mason’s primary weapon in the proletariat rebellion is a hammer.
What saves this tossed-off narrative is the way it, like every other aspect of the game, interacts with the destruction.
And Guerrilla’s sledgehammer is an all-timer—a simple tool that immediately cements the tactile pleasure of dismantling EDF structures. Buildings buckle inward as they recoil from violent, mechanically enhanced hammer blows that turn every swing into an explosion of metal and concrete. Though you get remote-detonated bombs, vehicles, mechs, and more, the hammer remains one of your best, most satisfying options—and definitive proof of just how finely the game has honed its central, destructive conceit.
The Red Faction’s goal is to liberate Martian sectors, which means turning you loose on the various EDF buildings and side activities marked on the map. You might rescue prisoners, destroy convoys, or send aid to union rallies about to be violently suppressed. There’s a fairly basic template to many of these missions, and the fact that they’re necessary to progress might sink a lesser game, but Guerrilla’s destruction is downright transformative. Otherwise rote objectives take on a new dimension when you can cave in walls to make a new path or, say, drive a dump truck into a smokestack and then hit the detonator on the bombs piled in the back. Unlike so many other open worlds that peddle some pretense of freedom by serving as little more than a glorified hub for inane distractions, Guerrilla’s Mars supplements its freedom to destroy with a single-minded focus on freedom of approach, feeding you a variety of angles and weapons and vehicles for use in your revolutionary work.
But like any open world, mayhem prompts a response from the authorities, and it’s here that the game stumbles. EDF efforts to thwart your uprising quickly grow overwhelming; the soldiers have great aim, and they arrive in droves either by armored transport vehicles or by spawning out of thin air. They keep coming until you either die or flee no matter how many roadblocks you set up, and while it’s true that this imbalance is apt to that “guerilla” in its title, the game struggles to accommodate the pressure. Gunplay is too basic for any sort of tactical consideration, and stealth is so limited that sneak attacks devolve almost immediately into full-scale shootouts.
Guerrilla plays best on the lowest of its three difficulty modes, which offers some measure of challenge while letting you withstand enough of the EDF gunfire so that it can’t keep you from the game’s great strength. Its world was a bit lean in 2009 and in 2018 it can seem downright quaint, but since that original release, no game has equaled Guerilla’s incredible destruction mechanics. Though the remaster occasionally gets bogged down in long load times and glitches, what it does most of all is re-establish the game’s place at the head of the open-world genre, with a take on working-class rebellion that’s just as revelatory now as it was nine years ago.