The years have been relatively kind to Red Faction: Guerrilla compared to some games. Volition’s last foray to Mars may not have the strong narrative thread or visual variety that have since been injected into many open-world adventures, but simplicity in these areas lends the more advanced ideas strength. Notably, the destruction systems remain as engaging as ever, and the game feels far freer than much of its contemporary competition. These traits, coupled with the slathering of graphical polish stemming from KAIKO’s remaster effort, make revisiting the Red Planet a tantalising prospect.
Despite the quality of the package, the opening moments may be offputting to anyone expecting a premium offering. The first experience players will have with Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered is a pre-rendered cutscene that has not aged well. The washed-out visuals serve to introduce Alec Mason, a character whose personality is even less distinct than either his buzzcut, square-jawed appearance or the blurry graphics. Thankfully, the cinematic is short, ensuring players are soon able to glimpse the repainted Mars in all its glory. At times, the atmospheric lighting bathes the world in the warm red hues so familiar from dramatic portrayals of the Martian landscape, while the level of detail is almost enough to have this remaster pass for an entirely new game.
Nonetheless, KAIKO’s stellar work is hampered by the original design. Volition’s future Mars is sparsely populated, its hubs and hotspots connected by endless highways that cut through vast swathes of uninhabited wastelands. The opportunity to make exploration its own reward is squandered as, unlike the best open-world games, the environment is characterless. Hills and craters pepper the landscape, but it is void of any prominent natural features. As such, mines and other human-built structures are the most interesting characteristics—made doubly so by the destruction engine that allows even the sturdiest buildings to crumble and collapse in spectacular fashion. The chaos that often erupts when the player enters a restricted zone and starts bringing down buildings is a fine incentive, yet the vast nothingness of the landscapes means that traversal is too often a thankless chore, saved only by the satisfying, arcade-styled vehicle handling.
One of the most pertinent questions hanging over any remaster is whether the fundamentals of the game still hold up 5 or 10 years on, and much of Red Faction: Guerrilla does. Driving can feel slightly weightless, with even the heaviest vehicles liable to drift at the slightest tap of the handbrake, but this trait keeps point-to-point travel brisk and enjoyable. Meanwhile, Alec swings his signature sledgehammer with weight and purpose, levelling buildings and slaying foes with powerful blows. The feedback from melee attacks is so gratifying that the rarity with which the player can use them seems a shame. Instead, because of the often overwhelming numbers of enemies involved in encounters, the protagonist is forced to utilise the underpowered, imprecise firearms and bombs. While explosive weapons can destroy structures, either sending enemies tumbling to their deaths or crushing them beneath tons of masonry and steel, chances to take advantage of such methods are in short supply, meaning that combat is frequently frustrating and one-note. The situation is not aided by the lack of intelligence of the AI reinforcements that sometimes swarm to—and die at—the player’s side while showing solidarity in the mission to fight back against the totalitarian government.
While the goal is noble, Volition’s construction of the tale leaves much to be desired. After setting a distressing scene in the opening cinematic through wanton governmental violence, subjugation of the population, and stand-over tactics, the game seems to forget how villainous the Earth Defence Force (EDF) is supposed to be. Outside of missions, the EDF appears as little more than a police outfit. Checkpoints are dotted across the boroughs of Mars, but civilians are unmolested and the purported abuses never manifest. The absence of worldbuilding leaves the actions of Alec and the Red Faction resistance feeling meaningless. Furthermore, many of the questlines feel arbitrary, with the objectives being those expected from a tale about fighting back against an institutional adversary. Players will infiltrate bases, steal items, and destroy key facilities, and these actions are all exciting enough to justify the price of admission, but a much-needed sense of cohesion is lacking. However, story is not a primary concern for Red Faction: Guerrilla, and the narrative present is more than enough to keep players invested.
Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered is not the first time that THQ Nordic has commissioned the services of KAIKO, with the developer previously bringing the first two Darksiders games to current-generation consoles. The experience gained while updating those titles appears to have paid off, with this latest offering lending vivid life to the Martian landscape. Nevertheless, the game is the product of a different era, and its age shows through in a number of key areas, the most notable of which is the archaic and uninspired open world. Despite these drawbacks, the game remains as engaging, and a series revival with Volition once again at the helm would surely be welcomed by many.