Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Red Faction: Guerrilla

Clean and Righteous!

If Battlefield: Bad Company taught me one thing, it’s that blowing stuff up is awesome. I’m not just talking about your standard video game explosions where only vehicles and infantry are damaged like a Halo game; I’m talking deforming terrain, destroying buildings, all that good stuff. Volition, makers of Saint’s Row 2, seems to have taken a page from Bad Company (and their earlier Red Faction games), and realized that you can have some minor deficiencies with the game as long as the core mechanic is solid.

Well, they nailed it. The destructible environments in Red Faction: Guerrilla, powered by the GeoMod 2.0 engine, are really entertaining, and being able to take down a huge building with nothing but a sledgehammer and some perseverance is nothing short of extremely cathartic. Sure, the controls are floaty, and the story is nothing to write home about, but the main element of the game is so much fun that you won’t really care.

The jist of the story is that you’re playing a recent immigrant to the red planet named Alec Mason, who arrives only to find that the Earth Defense Force, the good guys in the first two games, have basically become space Nazis, and have forced the entire population of Mars to perform slave labor to bump up the struggling Earth economy. Nobody is really happy about that, and the mantle of the Red Faction has been taken up again, and your brother is a member. Of course, the EDF knows this, so they whack him, and set out to arrest you before a guerrilla strike team shows up and rescues you. Naturally, you’re pissed off, so you hook up with the Red Faction, and set out to make life miserable for a number of cookie-cutter military types. There’s some sort of intelligent Tusken Raider faction, and a nano-machine forge, but you’ll find all that out by playing through the story.

To push the EDF off of Mars, you’re given a bunch of ways to become a thorn in their side. You can do raids, free wrongfully-arrested civilians, ride shot-gun in a Marauder vehicle and destroy EDF property, or just take down high-value targets. When you complete any of these “Guerrilla Actions”, the population’s morale is raised in that sector, which gives you more allies and additional ammo in supply caches around the world. If a civilian is killed during your rampages, morale takes a hit, but it’s quite easy to raise it back up.

To really make an impact on the EDF, you’ll need to lower their control of a certain sector through Guerrilla Actions until you unlock a story mission. The number of story missions differ for each sector, but the main goal is to cause enough trouble to make the EDF pull up stakes.

Single player has a lot going for it, but you’ll also find yourself spending a good chunk of time in multiplayer. The GeoMod engine makes for some really dynamic games, even if they removed sprinting and the cover mechanic. Besides your basic Death Match and CTF games, you also have the Siege game type, where you defend your structures against the other team, and then rotate to see who can get the highest score. To help you out in multiplayer, you also get access to some pretty interesting backpacks that are not available in single player. These backpacks will make you a medic, a juggernaut, and many things in between. You can also use a Reconstructor, which serves to make those valuable Siege buildings last a bit longer.

It feels as if Volition weren’t quite sure that they packed enough content into their game, so they decided to go overboard on everything. You have enough distractions in single player to keep you romping around Mars for what seems like forever, and the multiplayer has enough unlocks to rival Call of Duty 4. Red Faction: Guerrilla is the surprise hit of the summer, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t at least rent it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Transformers: Renege of the Fanatic

Does anyone know where I can get some crow pie, because I apparently need to eat a whole lot of it for defending Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen both on my blog and elsewhere.

I’ll admit that I got caught up in the pre-release hype for TF, and got legitimately upset at some of the reviews. While some of the reviews are incredibly inflammatory towards the perceived audience for this cinematic travesty, the vitriol being spouted by critics are absolutely spot on.

Having had a good night (week) to sleep on the celluloid cudgel that is Michael Bay’s latest robo-opus, I can say with certainty that the movie is bad. Whether it’s the dog-humping, the drug humor, the racist stereotypes, the misogyny or the giant clanging robot balls, Michael Bay has proved that if he doesn’t have an adult with him to keep him in check, his movies can go terribly awry.

To the film’s defence, it does deliver on one thing, which is that giant robots kick the shit out of each other and they do so with gusto. The action scenes are beautifully choreographed, and Bay has taken the camera out of the robot’s tailpipes and put it where the action can actually be seen. Whenever time slows down and we’re treated to Optimus Prime flipping Starscream into the air and kicking him in the face while he’s upside down, it’s a genuine treat. The forest battle stands out as the crown moment of the film, even topping the final battle in a random Egyptian ruin town. Optimus single-handily takes on three Decepticons, and even manages to kill one of them before he’s brutally beaten down. It’s a great scene, and for one brief shining moment in the film, you’re actually rooting for somebody. The Optimus Prime people fell in love with from the cartoon series finally comes out, and he gives his life in a gallant, heroic moment to protect Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf).

But that’s it. For the rest of the film, all the robots are treated as dispensable, whether it’s the faceless legions of Decepticons or the Autobots, who show up, shoot something, and then disappear. Even though the Transformers have more screen time in this film, and there’s some actual Megatron/Starscream bickering this time around, the robots are just as cheap as before, brought in only when there’s something huge that needs to be blown up, or some random exposition is needed.

The main bad-guy of the film, the Fallen, is sort of a letdown as well. He spends most of the movie in a creepy throne, hooked up to millions of embryonic sacs filled with fledgling Decepticons on some random planet. And what exactly is his reason for being a giant wuss? He can only be killed by a Prime, which is a pretty flimsy excuse given that Optimus got beat down by Megatron and company. Once the Fallen shows up on the actual battlefield, he spends about two minutes being terrifying until Optimus gets a jetpack and tears his face off. A good fight, but considering the titular character isn’t all that frightening it sort of leaves the climax feeling a bit empty.

All grumblings about the robots aside, the human cast of Transformers performs admirably given the ham-handedness of the script. John Turturro’s character is less grating this time around, and Shia LaBeouf has some actual funny moments outside of the forced humor that permeates the script. Series newcomer Ramon Rodriguez is the biggest let down, and his form of comic relief is even more awkward than Mudflap and Skids, the aforementioned stereotyped robots.

All in all, I suppose I’m being too harsh on the movie. It’s simply the first Transformers writ large, taking everything that was awesome about the first one and expanding it while simultaneously taking the weaker parts and transforming them into huge glaring flaws. By the time TF3 rolls around, hopefully Spielberg will be back with a firmer guiding hand, because lord knows that I’ve seen enough leg humping and pot jokes to last me a lifetime.