Red Faction Armageddon
Developer: Volition Inc.
Publisher: THQ/SyFy Games
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1-4, 2-4 online/system link co-op, DLC
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This is the fourth game in the Red Faction series, the first two of which were first person shooters with a focus on the game engine’s “Geo-Mod" technology, which provided previously unseen destructible environments. The series switched to a third person viewpoint and became an open world game set on Mars for the 2009 Red Faction Guerrilla (referred to as RFG from now on.) In Armageddon you play as Darius Mason, the grandson of Alex and Samanya from RFG.

Within moments of the game starting it all goes a bit Total Recall as Darius’s Red Faction unit fails in its mission to save Mars’s Terraformer (the thing that generates the atmosphere) after he is tricked by Adam Hale, the uber-loony leader of a group of cultists (a splinter faction of the Marauders from RFG). The consequent violently changing weather drives the civilian population underground into a matrix of disused mines (as for some unexplained reason that’s the only place they can survive and where there’s air-doesn’t make much sense to me.)

The game cuts to 5 years later when the survivors have set up a subterranean safe haven called Bastion, and that’s where the story starts. Darius, now a mercenary, is once again tricked by Hale (he’s so sneaky! Or is Darius just dumb as a cave full of rocks?) into releasing a previously undiscovered species of creatures called ‘The Plague,’ and now must find a way of stopping the “Armageddon” of the title.

This underground world consists of a matrix of passageways leading to and from Bastion, that open out into vast caverns here and there, and although the designers tried to make the settings feel bigger than they are by modelling inaccessible areas in the background, the game, unsurprisingly, feels very claustrophobic, almost throughout the entire story.

Darius has a “Situational Awareness Module” (SAM) who acts like “Cortana” (the smartass female AI from Halo) throughout the game. She gives you combat advice (usually too late) and will show you the way to go if you get lost, and yes, despite the game’s unceasing linearity, you will occasionally.

Movement and the animation of Darius is pretty much identical to RFG’s Alex, although there’s a new snap-to aiming ability (Left Trigger/L2) to combat the numerous, fast-moving enemies. Sprinting is achieved by pressing the L3 button. Darius seems to suffer from a similar lung disease to soldiers in CoD and the recent Operation Flashpoint sequel, as he can only sprint for about 30 yards before he runs out of puff and needs a rest-but maybe it’s the thinning Martian air, at least he has an excuse for this chronic gaming annoyance.

Armageddon throws a veritable arsenal of varied and powerful weapons your way very quickly; the Maul (huge mining hammer), Magnet Gun (magnetises first target then when fired a second time attracts the first to the second), pistols, shotgun, Charge Launcher (fires sticky grenades that are triggered remotely), assault rifle, plasma cannon (very powerful but slow to charge up), Banshees (more dual-wielded pistols), Nano Rifle (an updated version of the disintegrator-type weapon from RFG), rocket launcher, plasma beam (powerful but slow to fire & aim), pulse grenade (only damages organic material), Rail Driver (sniper weapon) and Singularity cannon (creates a black hole!)

In complete reverse to the Nano rifle that disintegrates anything manmade and most of the aliens, the Nano Forge hold ‘LB’ (L1) is an ever-present extra gadget in the form of a bracelet. The Nano Forge has massive, almost magical powers. It can rebuild almost anything manmade that gets destroyed, so broken walkways, ladders and stairs can be fixed to access higher areas. Eventually you can also fire a ‘Nano grenade’ to repair things at long distances (tap ‘LB’ (L1)). Impact boost is a sort of Nano-powered Jedi force push, that blasts anything in front of you with a tap of ‘RB’ (R1). The only problem I had with this incredibly handy gadget was that it made Armageddon feel less like the sci-fi shooter that all its prequels have been and more like some sort of awful sci-fi/magic spell-casting RPG hybrid.

If the Magnet gun sounds fun then yes it is, and it could have been as inventive a weapon as Half Life 2’s Gravity gun or Just Cause 2’s grapple line, but despite producing some spectacular moments as you hurl enemies around or fire explosive objects at enemies, by the end of the game I felt that it was a hugely wasted opportunity for something greater.

Now while I think that witty banter is always welcome in combat-based games and movies (if only to relieve the tension), RFA overloaded me with its inane wisecracks and jokes within the first couple of hours. At times Darius sounds more like he’s doing an audition to be a lunchtime radio DJ than a tough mercenary struggling to stay alive against a previously unknown alien enemy. His patter with the love interest, the boobylicious Kara, is positively embarrassing at times. But the poor script and rather daft, incredibly predictable story are only partially to blame for Armageddon’s failures.

Apart from the hemmed-in underground settings and thus unsurprisingly linear gameplay being very different, fans of RFG will also mourn the virtual disappearance of vehicles from the game, maybe they used them all in the waste of time and money that was Red Faction Battlegrounds. There are no driveable wheeled ones at all! And even when the story allows for a driving section on the super-tornado and lightning-ravaged surface of Mars it’s all done in cut scene! Another of RFG’s favourite toys, the jet pack has gone too, presumably because you’d forever be banging your head on the cave ceilings! This dearth of vehicles is a huge change in gameplay styles and for me at least, a huge loss. The linear story and tunnel setting means there’s also a lack of freedom or side missions, like the excellent “Demolitions Master” ones that have been forgotten, which were, for want of a better term, dead clever and quite possibly my favourite part of RFG.

You’ll still need to explore if you’re to find all of the Audio logs that are scattered around the tunnels, these form both a collectible element and fill in some bits of back story. The main collectible though is the “salvage” (valuable bits of debris collected from destroyed objects), which as in RFG is the currency with which you buy new upgrades (such as increased accuracy, ammo, health and other enhancements) and can be collected here and there in ready-packed capsules, or gathered from destroyed structures.

A few levels in which you stomp around in exoskeletons, crawl around in spidery walking tanks and ride along on a lava barge as gunner are fun and add a bit of variety, and you also get to pilot an Inferno GX air support vehicle, although this is obviously very restricted and very reminiscent of a host of other tunnel-based shooters of yore, and probably owes a lot to Volition’s cancelled project Descent 4. The almost constant underground settings make for some very samey scenery (and when I say ‘samey’, I mean the early levels look exactly like the later ones), none of which will trouble the BAFTA nominations for ‘most inventive level design of the year.’

If the level design sounds bad then you may not want to hear about the new enemy; a strange collection of seemingly unrelated creatures, some of which look like toothy lizards with insect-like appendages, a variation of which hugs walls and snipes you with their laser beam eyes (I kid you not.) Other larger monsters are completely nondescript umm.. gorilla lizard-things and can inexplicably fire powerful sparkly projectiles at you (monster spit perhaps?) Many of these pop from nests that can be destroyed to eradicate the infestation, some pop out from black holes and others seem to constantly spawn behind you to keep you on your toes, but in fact just get tiresome. When enemies are numerous, the snap-to aiming comes into its own, and combined with this, the powerful weapon set makes them more of a nuisance than anything else. If the enemies sound “a bit crap” then that’s because they are possibly the weakest, least convincing, non-scary looking and most unnecessary bunch of creatures I’ve seen since Naughty Dog inexplicably decided that Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune needed “scary monsters” half way though.

RFA inexplicably does away with the adversarial multiplayer from RFG (which I thought was really good, but proved to be about as popular as a Gary Glitter T-shirt) and instead goes down the Gears of War Horde mode route with a 2-4 player co-op survival mode. In this you’ll have to kill the ever-increasingly difficult waves of aliens while healing your downed buddies and mending broken structures with the Nano Forge. This plays well enough, but before long the tight locations, the flashy weapon effects and the fast-moving enemy that gets quite numerous makes it all start to feel a bit like you’re staging WWE’s Royal Rumble in your bedroom, and losing.

There’s also an additional single-player sub game called Ruin Mode in which you have to cause a certain Dollar value of damage before the clock runs out. This is harder than it sounds, and a lot of (admittedly mindless) fun that demonstrates the Geo Mod game engine and Havok physics at their best, and it’s basically the same as the Wrecking Crew sub-game from RFG. You’ll also have to enter a code that comes printed on the back of the instruction manual if you want to play more than one level of Ruin Mode, so bear that in mind if you’re renting or buying second hand.

When you finally get a glimpse of the sun you’ll be glad, but the game is over then, and I reckon you’ll be glad of that too. RFA just seems like a huge step backwards from RFG, the game engine is certainly impressive in terms of how much action there is on-screen, and at times it looks really nice-the cut scenes in particular are very good with superb character models (especially Kara!) But sadly, in the end Armageddon leaves you feeling like you've watched a low-budget B-movie filmed on an old Star Trek sound stage and using the same scenery over and over again, whereas despite a storyline that was just about as weak, RFG felt like a Michael Bay blockbuster. All most fans of RFG wanted was more of the same, possibly new terrain styles and the ability to fly above the Martian surface too. From a thrilling, epic and wide open Guerrilla war to an all-new potholing (spelunking for our US readers) adventure, Volition has seemingly tried to bury the Red Faction in more ways than one.

Best Bits

- Geo Mod engine generally pleases with its amazing destructibility.
- Loads of on-screen action with no slowdown.
- The Magnet Gun.
Worst Bits

- Repetitive gameplay and scenery.
- Wasted opportunities with weak level design.
- Mostly underground settings make the game feel claustrophobic.
- Feel like a prequel to Guerrilla rather than a sequel.
- Feeble story that could have been written by a 12-year old.
- Did we really need the stupid Martian monsters?
- Mr Toots says it all really.

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2011