Mark my words, the day will come when every single game will be available for the Nintendo Switch. Well, it probably won’t, but a lot of publishers are sure trying to make that happen. Enter Red Faction Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered, the remaster of a game just past its tenth birthday. Does the original artistic vision hold up, two generations over? How about the gameplay aspects? Did I get tired of blowing up everything in sight? Let’s find out!
Red Faction Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered is actually the name of the game, I would never dare touch a pun so foul. Now that we’ve got this out of the way the game itself is a third person shooter with open world elements and a heavy focus on destructible buildings, whereas the first two aspects were huge departures for the series back at the time.
As a new arrival on Mars our protagonist Alec Mason has high hopes for the terraformed red planet, but his brother Dan quickly reveals that after making Mars habitable the EDF became tyrannical oppressors, enslaving the work force and proclaiming a state of martial law. Karl Marx would be spinning in his grave. After a quick and painless tutorial, in which Dan tells you the basics of gameplay, he unfortunately bites the red dust and Alec decides to become a revolutionary fighter and join the titular Red Faction. If you feel like the storytelling is a bit rushed, that might be because it is. Don’t expect any Tolkien material here.
At its core Red Faction Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered is a perfectly fine open world shooter by the standards of the late 2000’s. I’ve played it on PC back in those days as well and it has certainly aged better than some of the other genre entries from that time, but it just oozes that particular clumsiness of gameplay. Saving and loading plops you back at the last safe house, not right where you stood and the road to the next story mission might be a long one, you are limited to four weapons and the cover mechanics could be a lot snappier.
Still the formula of freeing a sector through side activities and also unlocking the main missions before moving on to another sector is pretty fun. Through progression you also constantly unlock new stuff to upgrade and spend your salvage on, whereas collecting salvage through missions and destroyable objects becomes a great motivational mechanic, even though the upgrades don’t feel that significant.
Completing some of the side missions might be mandatory to unlock the next story mission, but luckily there are a couple of different types to keep it kind of fresh. Among these guerilla actions you have to steal a vehicle and return it to a safehouse in a certain timeframe, raid an EDF base with AI companions or ride shotgun with Jenkins in an on-rails rocket launcher mayhem trying to blow up anything owned by the oppressors. None of this is really the peak of innovation, even for the time of Red Faction Guerrilla’s original release, but I had fun and it didn’t feel like doing chores even though it might sound like exactly that.
Should you ever fail one of these missions you are welcome to retry at the press of a button and this is where one huge caveat of the Nintendo Switch port comes into play. The load times are almost comically huge. My SD card is one of the best options for the console and the loading screens were around 45 seconds. You’ll get one of these bad boys each time you load the game or die. To add insult to injury even the menu and map screen were afflicted by this, where opening up any one of these during normal play took roughly upwards of a second. This doesn’t sound like much, but it gets really annoying if you just want to take a quick peek at the road ahead or set a custom waypoint and this was already in performance mode.
Speaking of which, you have the choice between quality and performance mode. I stuck to the latter really quickly, as the destruction of a tower in the first few minutes of gameplay already brought the framerate to its knees and the difference in graphical fidelity wasn’t really worth it or even that noticeable to me. In general, if you expect a pretty game with Red Faction Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered you should leave those expectations right at the door. Still, the original artistic vision holds up with consistent designs and distinct, if only few, different enemy varieties. As a fair warning the environments are rather barren, a result of technical limitations and the complex nature of the destruction features of the game’s engine at the time. Even in handheld mode I thought the performance and resolution was absolutely fine, keeping in mind what other age old ports bring to the table.
The gameplay also feels pretty okay, with manageable input lag and a couple of control schemes to choose from. Someone even thought of left handed players, which is also nice, though I personally can’t judge how good the southpaw option is in practice. A feature always near and dear to my heart in every Switch shooter port is gyro controls and luckily these are present here, with a wide variety of situational options and sensitivities, even though you can’t steer vehicles with motion controls. In general the feeling of the vehicles is one of the low points, but nothing game breaking. I used the gyro controls with low sensitivity for fine aiming, as I usually do on Switch, and for me it’s still the next best option to mouse and keyboard.
Of course I also need to talk about the destructible buildings for a bit. It’s obvious the developers Volotion poured a lot of care and effort into this feature and it’s clearly what sets the game appart from the rest of the third person open world fare, even today. Thankfully our protagonist was obviously a star in the Major Baseball League back on earth, at least judging from the swing of his hammer. Alec can tear through enemies, concrete and steel like it was nothing, he’s even able to demolish huge towers solely with his trusty sledgehammer. The environment is clearly designed around the fact that nothing except level geometry is an obstacle to you and all realism flies right out the window. And the game is that much more fun because of that.
The sound design isn’t particularly remarkable and it doesn’t seem like it was a focus to enhance the gameplay via sound. Luckily nothing sticks out like a sore thumb, it’s just okay, nothing more, nothing less. The voice acting is on a similar level, where Troy Baker’s characterization of Alec Mason is just a bored sounding version of Troy Baker, not too phased by all the carnage and generally bad times happening all around him. The other characters do a fine job of not standing out too much.
In the end playing Red Faction Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered almost feels like opening up a time capsule. The heavy focus on gameplay would be somewhat of an anomaly today, where at times fun and light-hearted mechanics take a backseat in favor of realism (I’m looking at you, RDR2!). I think for that fact alone, with the right mind set, the game is worth trying out, especially on sale. And if you’re worried about the Nintendo Switch version, don’t be. Lots of crumbling buildings, explosions and destruction await those who dare look to the past with Red Faction Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered. Who knows, with THQ Nordic bringing back all these dormant franchises maybe a new developer will let us take up the sledgehammer once more in a true sequel some day.