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Red Faction: Armageddon Review

by on June 22, 2011
 

When Red Faction: Guerrilla released back in 2009, Volition Games had finally struck some sort of gold with their franchise.  The game featured a fun mixture of a sandbox world that contained highly destructible playgrounds to indulge yourself with.  Unfortunately, the team returned to the drawing board to create an entirely different sort of sequel, Red Faction: Armageddon, a game that shuns many of its predecessor’s greatest strengths by condensing the open world of Mars into a third person hallway shooter.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Armageddon casts the player as Darius Mason, descendant of the Mason family from previous Red Faction titles and an engineer/gun-for-hire for the titular resistance group on Mars.  The game opens with one of Mars’ terraformers, which are needed to sustain human life on the red planet, under attack by a psychotic cult led by a man named Adam Hale.  The terraformer is destroyed by the cultists, plunging Mars into a series of violent tornadoes and weather conditions which renders the planet uninhabitable.  The survivors build a city underground, called Bastion, where various Colonists begin anew.

After the initial mission that sets up the mentioned events, the game takes an unexpected (and fairly unsatisfying) turn.  Darius is tricked by the cultists into opening a seal which releases The Plague, a race of alien insects that have been dormant underground.  Mason spends the rest of the game fighting bugs and attempting to correct the problem that he unknowingly created in the first place.

While the premise of the game is interesting, the gameplay unfortunately falls short of its potential.  The previous entry in the series, Guerrilla, had a large focus on destructibility and physics with the Hammer.  Armageddon retains the iconic weapon and also adds a Magnet Gun, allowing players to attach a node to a first target, a node to a second target, and then observing as the first target (enemy, building, wall, etc.) comes crashing into the second.  It’s incredibly unique and creative, but players aren’t given much freedom to use it until almost halfway through the campaign (which lasts roughly 10 hours altogether.)  Instead, you are forced to equip pistols, assault rifles, grenade launchers and more to kill swarms of enemy insects for a large majority of the game, which loses its appeal very quickly.  The game pushes you into long stretches of underground tunnels where these weapons are completely ineffective, turning the game in to a completely generic third person shooter.  Why would I want to use guns if I have a hammer or magnet gun that can destroy the world around me?  It also doesn’t help that the Plague swarms lack any sort of personality and simply charge and bounce along the walls around you, making it aggravating to target them at times even with the game’s lock-on targeting system.

Armageddon also employs a few different types of vehicles to vary the gameplay, which on the whole works very well.  However, these sections also tend to overstay their welcome and become tedious after long monotonous stretches of blowing up the same bugs over and over again.  I applaud the developers for creating machines that feel delightfully destructive with a unique aesthetic, but like most chunks of the overarching narrative, these sections drag on for far too long at a time and lose their initial charm.

One other mechanic that tries to set Armageddon apart from other shooters is the Nano-Forge, a device that allows Mason to repair damaged pieces of the environment like upgrade stations, stairs, catwalks, etc.  Again, the concept is sound, but the execution is a bit sloppy.  The destructible nature of the game means that most man-made surfaces can be wiped out by either you or enemy forces.  This will happen often, sometimes involving a player falling down sections he or she has already traversed.  They must then retrace their steps and use the Nano-Forge to rebuild the damaged or missing surfaces.  Again, it’s a neat idea but these situations usually lead to frustration rather than enthusiasm.

Graphically, Red Faction: Armageddon is decent enough.  Character models aren’t an eye-sore to behold and the atmosphere of Mars is well realized.  The sheer destructibility of the game is the real winner, as pummeling buildings into heaping piles of rubble looks absolutely fantastic.  The physics, while not always perfect, create the illusion of weight to large and small objects alike, which makes it ultimately satisfying to send half of a research station flying into the face of an incoming cultist soldier, or vice versa.  It’s just a shame that it takes so long to get this level of enjoyment with the game’s engine.

The multiplayer mode included is called Infestion, a co-operative wave-based survival challenge similar to Horde Mode in Gears of War or Firefight in Halo.  It’s not particularly exciting and offers very little to set it apart from the aforementioned games.  However, the one upshot is that any currency earned in multiplayer games will carry over to your single player campaign to purchase additional upgrades.  This might provide a little incentive to dabble in Infestion, especially if you are Hellbent on acquiring any Achievements associated with the various upgrades, but that’s it.  The one other mode, Ruin, is only included with new copies of the game and is simply a timed challenge to destroy buildings as quickly as possible.  It’s a fun diversion, but again, it lacks any real depth to maintain interest.

It may sound like I completely hated Armageddon from this review.  This is definitely not the case.  Ultimately, I had some fun hammering through (pun intended) the main campaign for the most part.  The sheer number of weapons allows for multiple methods of disposing your enemies and the Hammer and Magnet Gun are an absolute blast to play with.  It’s simply a shame that all of this game’s best moments are wrapped around by a completely generic and uninspired third person shooter.  If it had kept Guerrilla’s open world sandbox and iterated upon its mechanics, Volition could have finally created a true gem in the franchise.  As it is, Red Faction: Armageddon is a merely “okay” shooter that occasionally reveals moments of brilliance under its tired veneer.

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