Red Faction: Armageddon
Back in 2001, a much talked about video game released with some incredible new technology under the hood. That was Red Faction - a PS2 exclusive first-person shooter, which gave its players the opportunity to create their own doorways by blowing up the world around them. Though it was limited to certain areas (mainly rock walls,) it was very impressive at the time, and the game was no slouch either. Being able to make your mark on the game world was something that was still in its infancy during that time and, it's now hard to imagine gaming without it. When destructible environments are implemented into a shooter or some sort of an action game, it adds a lot more immersion, realism and overall detail to the game and it's world.
Fast-forward ten years and THQ is getting ready to unleash Red Faction: Armageddon – the third full retail sequel to its 2001 gem. Set fifty years after the events in Red Faction: Guerilla, gamers get to fight against a terrorist-created apocalypse that is threatening the red planet and all of its mining residents. The generator powering the planet’s clean air and keeping it habitable has been disabled, allowing for a combination of deadly storms and terrible air quality, which have made the human race leave the surface for the darker confines of a network of underground caverns.
Our protagonist is a macho man who runs a company out of the underground’s largest town – Bastion. For a fee, he’ll go to the surface to get materials, help you mine, or complete a bevy of related tasks. It’s during one of these excursions that Darius is tricked into opening a sealed grate in a Marauder temple, unaware that he’s about to unleash a deadly concoction of different martian insects. Now, our machismo hero must fight those that he has let loose, in order to save his fellow citizens of Mars, and hopefully make the gassy planet habitable once again.
Its storyline does a good job of tying in with the last release in the series, but it may be confusing to those who are new to the series. Sometimes it can be a bit hard to follow, especially considering one of the main antagonists' background/goals was revealed in a Sci-Fi Channel movie that aired on June 4, 2011. The movie bridged the gap between the two games, but there's no synopsis of its events in the game, which could've helped. Having played the last game and going in understanding a bit of this game's premise made it easier to follow, but its development can be questioned for sure. Since Armageddon is all about its explosive gameplay and action sequences, the storyline is there for cause. It's not there to win awards or anything. With that being said, once you understand what is going on, it's decent.
Since its inception, the Red Faction series has undergone some major structural changes. Beginning with a relatively traditional first-person shooter design, it morphed into an open-world third-person action title, while managing to keep its core values intact. With Armageddon, the franchise once again alters its form by giving up the large sandbox world for a mission-based structure. Gone are the radio calls that would beckon you to lend a hand to different towns and, in its place are 22 missions that are filled to the brim with variety, intrigue and best of all, fun. This is a game that doesn’t feel very repetitive at all, which is quite an impressive feat.
At its core, the game still retains most of the elements that made its predecessor so popular two years ago. It’s still an action-packed third-person action game with a grandiose scope. Players have an insanely creative arsenal at their disposal, with the option to use bullets, explosives or weapons that disintegrate their alien foes. Each weapon has its own cause and effect, and can be detrimental to your survival if used incorrectly. This includes the magnet gun, which allows you to put one charge on an enemy and the other on a piece of the environment (or another foe) to create enemy soup. Luckily, you have a lot of health and the occasional use of some powerful mechs, walkers and flying contraptions, to get you through some of the tougher moments. Blowing the world up with a mech has never felt so awesome.
Wanton destruction is still at your fingertips, though the world’s scale is much more confined than it was before. You’d think it’d feel restricting, but it really doesn’t because the game’s caverns are so large that there’s tons of room to explore in each mission (which rewards you with valuable ore deposits.) In fact, the destruction is improved in terms of realism and jaw-dropping effect, making it even more impressive here.
This time around though, there’s a new element added into the GeoMod technology – the ability to repair what you’ve destroyed. Using a S.A.M. device that is attached to Darius’ wrist like a gauntlet, players can press a shoulder button to recreate buildings, cover objects and walkways that they may have destroyed while in combat. The ability to recreate things around you comes in handy during many sections of the game – especially boss battles and intense gunfights, where you may need to recreate cover so that you can catch a breath and heal yourself.
The device also gives our main man several new (unlockable) powers, such as the ability to create a Halo-inspired bubble shield around himself for protection, or the option to propel enemies away with the push of a button. This small device and its artificial intelligence/computer (which briefs our hero throughout his journey,) make a huge difference in a very positive manner. Instead of just having your guns, you’re now able to give yourself the extra boost that shells and explosives just can’t do.
One of the only major issues with the game is its lack of individuality. While its predecessors felt fresh and creative, this iteration borrows a bit much from other games – namely Dead Space. Though it’s a very fun, engaging and interesting experience, it was hard not to think of the popular third-person horror game as Darius blew up hundreds of alien bugs. This game is much faster and less methodical in its combat, so there’s no saying that it’s a direct clone or copy. It’s just that there were some obvious inspirations taken from that tried and true video game behemoth; incorporated into this digital science fiction.
Generally speaking, its eight-hour campaign is a treat to play. It’s fun, challenging and features more variety than most titles of its ilk. Character movement can be a bit of an issue at times, but it’s tough to get stuck on things when you’re able to shoot or punch them (yes, Darius can destroy steel by using his new melee move,) to free yourself. For its next outing, it would be nice to see Volition implement a more robust movement engine into the game, allowing the hero to jump up and perhaps climb a railing, instead of having to go to its lowest point to hop over. That mechanic is starting to feel dated.
Guerilla’s underrated and fun competitive multiplayer has been removed, in favour of a team survival/defense mode (Infestation) that is quite similar to Horde mode in the Gears of War titles. Teams of four must fight off up to thirty waves of deadly martian enemies as they try to survive with a limited pool of respawns and a scarce amount of weapons/abilities to choose from. Many maps are available for this attempt, and come in standard survival and defense (asking you to defend/repair buildings in your base,) designs. It’s relatively fun, but becomes repetitive after a while because the mode generally lacks an identity. Some gamers will find it to be a lot of fun, but it needs an infusion of creativity to make it stand out from the pack.
One other mode known as Ruin, rounds out the entire package, but it’s currently only available through a redeemable code inserted into new copies of the game. In this score-based challenge mode (complete with online leaderboards,) you must meet a par destruction score in a certain amount of time. It’s challenging and chaotic, but also doesn’t set itself apart from the pack. You’ll get a bit of fun out of Ruin, but you most-likely won’t keep coming back to play it.
Due to the use of a powerful and very visually appealing graphics engine, Volition’s action-packed shooter is a treat to play and watch. Gameplay boils down to a visceral symphony of destruction, with colourful and well animated explosions popping all of the time. Buildings and towers crumble realistically, allowing you to use the environment to take out your foes in a manner that feels similar to our real-life physics.
Though it’s not just the explosions that look great. Darius Mason and his allies/foes are all designed and animated extremely well, with the humans in the pack featuring some incredibly nice looking facial animations, which add a sense of realism to their struggles. Enemy insects come in several distinctly different variations with uniquely creative designs. They all animate well in a darker world than we’re used to, which has some very impressive lighting effects and tends to look quite detailed despite its prevalent shadows.
Composed by Brian Reitzell, the game’s orchestral score does a great job of setting the mood for the game and its main set pieces. It’s a top-notch video game score which fuses loud synthesized sounds with some nice guitar work, to create an eerie sound. It, along with the bevy of sound effects you’ll hear as you squash your martian foes, all sound excellent. As does the game’s voice cast, who play their parts extremely well, making you forget at times that it’s just a video game. The audio department at Volition deserves commendation on this one.
Though Red Faction: Armageddon isn’t the most creative game on the market, it’s one of the most entertaining action games to hit it in a while. Fans of previous virtual mining expeditions (scratch that; uprisings) on the red planet will feel at home with the game’s easy to grasp control scheme and incredibly exciting mechanics. There are some bumps along the way and a restrictive movement physics engine, but those detractions are nowhere near game breaking. Despite a mediocre offering of additional modes and a complete removal of its predecessor’s underrated competitive multiplayer mode, Red Faction: Armageddon is a hit. Give it a shot for a great campaign that will make you fear what lurks in the dark, as well as large insects. This piece of ore is well-worth collecting, though there are a few nicks and scratches that keep it from achieving classic status.