Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered Review (Switch) — A Recipe for Destruction
While ten years later it's not a shining example of open-world design, Red Faction: Guerrilla on Nintendo Switch is still a blast to play.
Having arrived just over ten years ago, Red Faction: Guerrilla represents a curious look at how much (and possibly how little) open-world games have progressed in the past decade. While titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild have challenged and pushed the boundaries of the genre in terms of immersion, there’s something to be said for Red Faction: Guerrilla‘s dedication to creating a world that’s just plain fun, especially when that’s combined with the game’s signature feature: fully-destructible objects and environments.
While a few titles in the years since its release have toyed around with the idea–notably Crackdown 3 overpromising and underdelivering on its “cloud-computing” powered destruction–Red Faction: Guerrilla still remains one of the best examples of destruction done right in a game. From when I originally played the game on Xbox 360, there’s no denying that by today’s standards, Guerrilla is wildly uneven in virtually every other aspect of its design. But after taking the recently-released Nintendo Switch version for a spin, it’s hard not to appreciate the risks that Guerrilla took and how much fun it still is to play today, especially in a gaming landscape that’s sorely missing the type of AA-level thrills that it manages to offer.
For those unfamiliar with the game, Red Faction: Guerrilla is the third installment in the cult classic Red Faction series and takes players to the year 2126, in a future where humanity has successfully colonized on a newly-inhabitable Mars. The player takes control of the engineer Alec Mason who, after losing his brother, gets wrapped up in the burgeoning war against the Earth Defense Force, the oppressive force that governs the miners and other working class members of the Mars colonies. By becoming an unexpected leader of Mars’ Red Faction, Mason helps lead the charge with the rest of the Red Faction to drive off the EDF in an effort to push back against their oppressive practices and regain control of their newfound home and lives.
Looking back at the game a decade later, Red Faction: Guerrilla certainly looks and plays the part of a last-generation open-world game, from its Mars landscape that largely consists of burnt reds and vast sandy landscapes, to a player character (in Alec Mason) that has about as much personality as a Martian rock. The story itself is also sure to be a reminder of the constraints of last-gen open-world games, as the story is mostly a thin narrative thread to guide players between different locations across Mars, without much more beyond that.
But despite the game’s glaring shortcomings in terms of its world and characters, what Red Faction: Guerrilla lacks in depth it more than makes up for with pure fun thanks to its destructibility and a world that is completely yours to wreak havoc in. With the infamous sledgehammer, remote charges, and a wealth of other weapons and tools that you unlock throughout the game’s single-player campaign, the sheer joy of Red Faction: Guerrilla shines through in figuring out the best ways to demolish environments and urging the player to get creative with how they approach each mission.
While so many other open-world games in the past decade have focused on giving players a sheer quantity of activities and things to do, Red Faction: Guerrilla‘s dedication to really letting players run wild with its destructibility mechanics taps into a whole other side of open-world game design that still feels like it has potential. When faced with a mission where you have to go in guns blazing, why not just demolish a building with a few remote charges that can take down all the bad guys challenging you at once?
Though it mostly comes across as silly and over-the-top, there’s something to be said for the secret brilliance of Red Faction: Guerrilla‘s destructibility after so many years, and playing the Switch version reminded me that it still feels liberating. In each of the game’s missions, I still felt the rush of deciding how to finish a mission most effectively, such as looking for the weak points on an enemy building to make it come crashing down, or figuring out the best way to take down an approaching enemy convoy. There was also the sheer satisfaction of coming up with a completely batsh*t plan (like loading up a vehicle with remote charges and careening it into the side of a building), only to smile afterwards that my harebrained scheme actually managed to work; in those instances, Guerrilla has (almost) lost none of its charm and is still a blast to play.
That being said, my biggest concern going into the review for Red Faction: Guerrilla‘s Switch version was the game’s technical performance. Even as a last-generation title, I wasn’t sure how capable the Switch would be of handling the game’s destructible environments, on top of how it would render a fairly large open-world. After switching up my time between playing Guerrilla docked and undocked, it’s with a relief that I can say that the game not only manages to run sufficiently on Switch, but happens to run surprisingly well.
Aside from being able to play the game either handheld or docked, Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered (a title that I still can’t bring myself to type without a chuckle) also allows players to switch between two options in the game’s graphics settings to prioritize resolution (“Quality”) or framerate (“Performance”). From my experience with the Re-Mars-tered edition on Switch, playing the game in handheld mode with the Performance setting seems to offer the most stable experience in terms of framerate and visuals. While the textures and resolution gain a notable bump by playing Red Faction: Guerrilla docked, it seems to be at the cost of the framerate being choppier by comparison, where the portable mode seems to offer a finer-tuned experience by scaling down the resolution.
Granted, Red Faction: Guerrilla isn’t exactly the prettiest game to begin with. While the Re-Mars-tered edition of the game (which first debuted last year on consoles and PC) brings some notable visual enhancements and updates, its world is mostly a vast brown-and-red expanse (leading to some rough, muddy-looking textures) that feels a bit sparse compared to more varied open-world titles.
Despite these instances where obvious compromises had to be made to bring the game over to Switch, Red Faction: Guerrilla, by and large, is a stable experience on the platform with only a few instances of performance issues when things on-screen would get crazy. Given that the game offers such a wide variety of activities to complete between its main story, missions to help out members of the Red Faction, and a wealth of EDF buildings and compounds to destroy across Mars, Red Faction: Guerrilla is surprisingly well-suited to the Switch for shorter play sessions where you can take down a building or two on your commute, or for spending longer amounts of time dedicated to liberating Mars.
While the visuals are the main difference that sets apart Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered on Switch from its previous releases, the only other issue that pertains to the Switch version, in particular, are the controls. Specifically, when playing the game in portable mode, the Joy-Con controllers can feel like a bit of a struggle to work with when trying to use the game’s ranged weapons and firearms, especially when it comes to precision and aiming. Thankfully, you can get away with this lack of precision in Red Faction: Guerrilla by focusing more on the sledgehammer (which is never not fun to use) and explosives to compensate, but the shooting by comparison feels far more rough around the edges if you’re not using a Switch Pro Controller. Combined with a bit of an odd control scheme for using firearms, Red Faction: Guerrilla is far from unplayable on the Switch, but you can feel the moments where it definitely feels like a last-gen game.
Despite its control issues and visual compromises made to bring it to a portable setting, Red Faction: Guerrilla is still the wacky, high octane dose of fun that I remember sinking many hours into last-gen, and the Switch version (mostly) plays to its strengths. While it isn’t a terribly deep or innovative game by today’s standards (especially when it comes to the open-world genre), there is still something to be said for how Guerrilla‘s dedication to letting players loose inside a world of their own unmaking is still a thrilling experience ten years later, especially when you have the capabilities of so much destruction in the palm of your hands.