Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Red Faction- Monkey Wrench Gang on Mars

Last year I wandered into a local video game store in a bad mood, and was looking for a game that would help me vent my frustrations with the modern world.  Yes, I understand the irony of using a video game for that, but bear with me.  In a rare case of judging a book by its cover, I was struck by the image on game box: a shadowy figure in a duster, carrying a rifle and a sledgehammer, on a stark desert background.  The game description, about a revolution by Martian miners against the Earth Defense Force, who had gone from liberators in a previous installment of the series to brutal occupiers, certainly looked intriguing.  I took the box to the front counter and asked about the game.  “Awesome”, I was told.  “You can blow up ANYTHING.”  I was sold.

Red Faction Guerilla was not at all what I expected.  First off, there were the moral challenges.  I tend to play role-playing games, which present many solutions to obstacles in the game, often with a “good” solution and an “evil” solution (or light side / dark side of the Force, Renegade / Paragon, Open Palm / Closed Fist, etc).  Red Faction made no such distinctions.  There are a lot of things that need to be smashed when destroying the occupiers, and you have to find your own way through the game.  For example, I took it upon myself to blow up a refueling station for the EDF vehicles that looked suspiciously like Hum-Vs.  Charging the gate wasn’t going to work.  I found canisters of explosives in an abandoned shack nearby, but I couldn’t carry them in.  Eventually it occurred to me to put as much explosive as I could into the back of a truck, attached a small bomb with a remote detonator to it all, then ram it through the front gate into the fuel tanks.  That’s when the moral challenges set in.  This game was more about car bombs, EIDs, booby traps, and sniper rifles than it was about big machine guns and the BFG-9000.  There was no scale to show how evil my character was becoming, nor where I fit on the line between freedom fighter and outright terrorist (although it did track the number of civilian bystanders who were casualties to my exploits); it was for me to remember faces of friends and co-workers in harms way in our various wars while I was drawn further into the game.

A soldier in Iraq playing an insurgent in Red Faction.  Too much irony.
And I was drawn further into the game, particularly the Red Faction’s motivations for the revolution.  There was a lot of ending the occupation, liberating Mars, etc, etc.  One crazy voice, however, decided that Mars needed to be purged of all outside influence.  This was Jenkins, or as I thought of him, Edward Abbey in Space.  Under Jenkins guidance, I found myself destroying construction equipment, demolishing bridges, going on rampages against billboards (thanks, Doc Sarvis!), and listening to Jenkins’ long, drawn out rants and philosophies about Mars.  It was, quite frankly, like listening to an audiobook of Desert Solitaire with explosions and gunfire in the background.  I found myself regularly blowing something up, running into the desert being chased by gunhands and flying gunships, and being reminded of Hayduke’s flight from the Search and Rescue Committee in The Monkey Wrench Gang.  After a few hours in the game, it became clear that Red Faction Guerilla was as close as I was going to get to Monkey Wrench Gang- The Game.  If you don't know what The Monkey Wrench Gang is, shame on you, and read this blog.
Doc Sarvis destroying a billboard.  He would love Mars.

Not as cathartic as a long run or a mountain hike, but sometimes you just want to play Hayduke and start smashing.  Mars First!



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