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Communists, even today, are still considered the bad guys. Not as bad as the Nazis but still pretty bad. So it was kind of strange when ten years ago Volition released Red Faction: Guerrilla. This was the same year Infinity Ward released Modern Warfare 2, a game that had you slaughter Russian Communist insurgents by the truckload. Shooting Communists was all the rage. Playing as one? Not so much.
It’s 2125 and Alec Mason has left Earth to join his brother Dan on Mars as a miner. Upon arrival Dan is killed by an Earth Defense Force (EDF) gunship leaving Alec alone, jobless and a fugitive. So he joins up with the Red Faction, a rebel group compromised of disenfranchised miners and farmers. Alec takes the fight to the EDF by destroying government property, EDF bases and causing general mayhem with his trusty sledgehammer.
Red Faction: Guerrilla is a game about destruction. The game doesn’t really care how or what you destroy just as long as you’re taking a hammer or explosive charge to something. You could spend the game being an evil prick and just blowing up people’s houses and Red Faction: Guerrilla wouldn’t care as long as something was rubble at the end of it.
Volition was eager to make this destruction feel like it had a real weight to it. Knock out the support struts on a cliff side watchtower and watch that thing slide down the slope, crumbling as it goes. Mechanical walkers could walk through entire buildings and only have to worry about scratched paintwork. Mars’ low gravity allowed Alec to launch his car or dump truck over a ramp and into the third storey of an EDF lieutenant’s house. It was a wonderful feeling being that one man wrecking crew. Even battering away at the steel walls of a bunker would eventually yield results. It’s a wonder Mason didn’t have more head injuries.
The rebellion of Red Faction: Guerrilla is not as much of a grey area as that of all the leftist revolutions that took place throughout the 20th Century. As Alec you’re not executing royal families or packing subversives off to gulags or reeducation camps. As Alec you’re the one man vanguard of the Red Faction. A nigh unstoppable Golem of destruction Alec plows through Mars’ six districts tearing down anything even remotely associated with the EDF. Of course the question of what comes after is not for us or Alec to worry about.
For all its claims about building a better life for the downtrodden on Mars Red Faction: Guerrilla is only about one thing: blowing shit up. It doesn’t care about building that promised life only tearing down the old one. It doesn’t even concern itself with rebuilding the areas Alec Mason has spun through like a sledgehammer-wielding dervish. That’s for another game. Admittedly it takes a great deal of processing power to build a game world and then allow the player to tear nearly every piece of it apart – brick by brick if they so choose. Rebuilding those destroyed areas would take even more processing power so it’s no wonder Volition let shattered communities lie.
The politics of Red Faction: Guerrilla are pretty clear cut. There are the rebels of the Red Faction with a vast knowledge of explosives. There are the civilians who are all just waiting to throw off the yoke of the EDF. Of course there are the EDF themselves comprised of an endless army of faceless soldiers led by regal, imperialist snobs a lá Grand Moff Tarkin.
Red Faction = Good.
EDF = Bad.
Of course politics in games, much like those in life, are complicated. In Red Faction they are complicated by the Marauders. Though human the Marauders are the closest thing Mars has to ‘natives’. The design of the Marauders is a native, pseudo-spiritualist tribe of warriors by way of the Mad Max aesthetic. They are distrusted by the Red Faction and openly despised by the EDF. Wow wonder what they could be an allegory for? Native Americans on Mars, c’mon guys Futurama did it first and at least they had a sense of humour about it. In fairness to Volition the Marauders are just there. There’s only one Avatar after all and, frankly, one is enough.
Red Faction: Guerrilla doesn’t aim for an emotional story or even a story with emotions. It’s story beats are predictable but that’s only because Red Faction: Guerrilla is an engine of destruction. The only emotion players are supposed to feel is the thrill of satisfaction as their mining charges go off in sequence and reduce an EDF garage to so much rubble. And to be honest that’s all it needed to do. When Red Faction: Guerrilla came out I was 14 and I was hyped beyond words. I still am now. The game never claimed to be anything more than what it was.
Sure the only thing impressive graphically was the way those buildings fell down in a realistic way. Most everything else looked kind of hazy or muddy. The story was nothing to write home about but anything more than what it was would have taken away from the delirious rush of watching eight massive gas tanks go up in pillars of fire. By the time you were fully kitted out you were no longer Alec Mason you were the hammer-wielding God Hand of the Red Faction. A Communist Blitzkrieg made flesh. A Bolshevik ubermensch not even Stalin’s famines or purges could kill.
The hammer and sickle symbol was no more. The sickle was moot. The hammer used instead for breaking the chains and the pillars of oppression. And if the hammer didn’t work there was the remote charge or the rocket launcher or the nano rifle. Communism had made it into the future and embraced it.
Certain corners of the internet these days argue that communism or at least hardcore socialism should replace the capitalist systems so many of us live under. They have their points but the truth of these theoretical rebellions can’t really compare to the fiction presented by Red Faction: Guerrilla. After all blowing up Nelson’s Column was definitely a lot more fun than building it.