To be honest, probably I would never bought this game myself, because I'm not really a game collector and I purchase only those games which I'm planning to play for sure. But good friend of mine, a great RPG lover, gifted it to me, so I gave it a try. Nice, it also has achievements. Well, let's load this thing up, and roll it on the hardest of difficulties (because achievement demands it!!!).
First thing you'll notice - lots of orange and brown. Lots and lots of orange and brown. Good God! I know its a game on Mars, but orange and brown coloring is so intensive that after this Red Faction Guerrilla looks like an old black and white movie. It gets tiresome for your eyes sometimes, making occasional grey interiors relaxing... Its not that the graphics is bad, though. Its not perfect, but everything looks very detailed, although facial animation isn't that great. Movement and combat animations are very nice, and my personal favorite is how characters are bouncing of when they strike someone protected with the energy shield.
The game starts with "Innocence" Smith (who, for the difference, looks like his name, unlike many others in the game), narrating on his way to the prison, like the other cannon fodder from the clan wars. Skiny guy, with a soft voice... Well, since this is a RPG game, I guess experience will make him manly and muscular soon, since the war isn't already... Upon arival, big, fat and ugly welcoming comitee is so happy to see some fresh meat, since he's "grow tired of drillin' same old arses." Enter Roy "Temperance", who saves Innocence's innocence just in time, and he is the character you'll controll, which makes better sense. Roy is also tired of something, tired of being in prison, and with Innocence's help his plan to escape is set in motion.
Similar to Witcher 2, the game contains 3 large(ish) areas, through which you can explore mostly freely (some small gaps are locked until you get a side quest which leads throught them), but once you finish with the final task in them you can't go back. Besides story driven missions, you also have a bunch of optional tasks, given by the various folks in the world. If you are aiming for the 100% completion you have to chose dialog options carefully, and sometimes actions within those missions.
Completion of these quests gives you XP points (just like fighting), and every time you level up you'll get 2 skill points and 1 character point. Character points are invested into unlockable perks, which you are unlocking by accomplishing certain tasks during your playthrough (they are unlocking better crafting items, giving you more XP from the defeated opponents, etc), while skill points are invested into one of the 3 skill trees: renegade tree is mostly about sneaking and some dirty fighting techniques; combat tree upgrades your armour and makes you better in melee; and the 3rd tree will be unlocked at the end of the 1st chapter, after you defeat a Technomancer and obtain a power glowe from him. I would advice you to not waste any points into sneaking perks, because stealth in this game is useless, and you'll be able to sneak successfully maybe in the whole 2 places in the game.
Combat is mostly melee focused, although you'll get a gun as well (it can't be equiped, its usable like an ability by mashing a hotkey) plus technomancing powers later on. Pressing "Q" key slows down the action and brings the combat menu, from which you can select your abilities, and you can also tie them to the numerical keys on your keyboard. Over it you can also give the orders to your current follower. Besides blocking, there's also, imo more efficient, dodge roll (and you'll better be upgrading it to the max becase you'll be doing it a lot...). You can break your opponents guard in a couple of ways, including throwing a sand in their faces, and the game even takes in consideration if someone is wearing goggles or a riot helmet (needless to say that this ability is completelly useless vs mutaded creatures with no eyes).
Defeated opponents aren't dead, they are just incapacitated and will get up soon after you pass through that area several times. Near the end of the chapter 1, you'll get a hold of the serum extractor, which will give you the option to finish them off and get some serum (which is a curency in here), but it will lower your reputation which may influence how the enviroment is reacting to you.
Some armour and equipement pieces are having slots (up to 3), which you can upgrade by crafting upgrades on them. Each type of upgrades requires certain amount of resources, which you can scavenge around, including from killed/incapacitated opponents. Via upgrades you can give various bonuses to your equipment, having better protection but with a trade off in another area, getting more damage to your weapons but being more susceptible to attacks, getting better chances to cause various crits like bleeding, stun, etc.
Now regarding its difficulty. To say that this game is super-cheap is an understatement. On the easiest difficulty level you can run through it in just 5 hours, with completing all of the side quests (it also includes considerable amount of the backtracking), and its probably the only level on which your follower is semi-useful. On harder levels - its a nightmare. Except in the couple of side quests, where you'll be combating a single opponent, on every other occasion you'll be outnumbered and outgunned. Vastly. The best you can hope from your companion is that he will attract 2 or 3 opponents, while you are trying to deal with the rest of the gang. Once he is down you'll end up with a tail of 5-6+ thugs chasing you around, while you are rolling and dodging their attacks, desperately trying to make sucker punches with hit and run tactics...
Like that isn't hard enough, the game is also glitchy, with devastating Technomancer shock attacks heat-seaking you through the walls. Also, you get hit if you don't dodge early. Even if you can clearly see that the model isn't touching you, somehow their claws/teeth/bats end up on your face. The game is so unforgivingly hard sometimes, it will really make you to think about your tactics and equipment. You'll be often changing your armour upgrades to suit the curent situation, trading damage sponge enforced metalic plates which are useless vs Technomancer's electrical attacks, to more shock resistant upgrades but they are offering less protection against physical attacks (at very least those cannot reach you through the wall...). Not to mention that happens when you load a quicksave where you were sneaking pass sleeping guards they end up awaken...
Overall, its cheap but not that bad. It offers two endings, interesting dialogs, and I had some 10 hours of fun in my overall playtime, but the rest was a chore. For its price (especially on the sale) it may offer you your moneys worth, if you don't have anything better to play. But, as I said, I would never buy it myself, and I gave a thumbs down to some far better produced games than this (Crysis 2), so taking these things in consideration I think it would be a little bit unfair to say that I'm recommending it. Which is really a shame, because you can't get rid of the feeling like its overambitious, and a huge wasted opportunity.
Besides somewhat interesting main theme, the rest of the soundtrack is generic and repeatable. I would recommend "Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine" album in the background while playing this. Accidentally, friend of mine linked this album to me while I was playing, and for some reason it went nicely with the game.