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Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered Review — Polished to Pulverise

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Red Faction: Guerrilla

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.

Reviewed on PC.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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198X Review — A Nostalgia Trip Without a Destination

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198X

Some short stories feel more like chapters—snipped out of a larger work—that struggle to make sense on their own. 198X represents a translation of that ethos to video game form. As a result, the game feels unfulfilling, though that does not detract from the overall quality on offer. Ultimately, the player’s appraisal of 198X will depend on whether they place more stock in story or gameplay because while the former leaves much to be desired, the latter will be a hit for anyone with fond memories of the 8- and 16-bit classics.

In the framing and overall structure, 198X is decidedly modern, but everything else pulses with a retro vibe. At its core, the game is a compilation, weaving together five distinct experiences under the auspice of a story of personal development. From the Double Dragon-infused ‘Beating Heart’ to the turn-based dungeon RPG ‘Kill Screen’, each title feels slick, if a little undercooked. Those old-school originals could only dream of being as smooth as these throwbacks. However, the two-button input methodology results in the games feeling just a touch too simple, though their brevity—each clocking in at a maximum of 15 minutes (depending on the player’s skill level and muscle memory)—makes that less of an issue than it might have been. If more depth is present, it is hidden well, as the game lacks any sort of tutorial to guide players. Nevertheless, the stellar presentation goes a long way towards papering over the cracks.

The pixel art aesthetic of 198X is staggering. Each of the worlds that players make their way through is pitched perfectly to fit the mood it evokes. From the grungy brawler of the first game to the more melancholic mood of the open-road racer, the screen is drenched in lavish colour and far more detail than one might expect from such a seemingly simple art style.

Easily a match for the visuals is the audio. The in-game sounds of a car engine or bone-crunching strike are low-key, which allows the music to come to the fore. Those tunes are all from the electronic genre, simple, yet layered with enough depth to not feel tedious or tiring. Easily overshadowing all the rest though is Maya Tuttle’s voice-over narration as The Kid. Her tone is one of pervasive resignation that works to reinforce the same mood within the script.

That melancholia will surely strike a chord with anyone who has grown up on the fringes. The Kid speaks of once loving and now hating the Suburbia of their childhood, where memories of happiness collide with a contemporary feeling of entrapment. The words and lines are powerfully evocative—made even more so by the connection between the gameworlds and the prevailing emotion at that point. The problem is that they amount to nothing. The story comprises of these snippets—these freestanding scenes of life lived lonely—that never coalesce into anything. The Kid may find an arcade and speak of finding some sort of home and a source of strength, but it goes nowhere. The game ends just as things start to get interesting. Setting up for a sequel is no sin. Plenty of other games and media products—from Dante’s Inferno to Harry Potter—have done just that. However, to be effective, such first parts need to offer a story in and of themselves, not just the promise of a story to come, and that is where 198X falls apart.

With each game in the compilation being a straightforward, one-and-done affair and the overarching narrative feeling like a prologue at best, 198X is wafer-thin. The presentation is simply remarkable, and the package has enough variety to be worth a look, but the unmistakable impression is that something is missing.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Coming soon to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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