Red Faction: Armageddon
Developer: Volition Inc.
Platform: Xbox 360 (PS3, PC)
Released: 10th June, 7th June (US)
Since Red Faction: Guerrilla, the previous instalment of the Red Faction series, Volition Inc. have placed a firm focus on destructible environments, but where that game took a open-world sandbox approach, the problems that arose as a result of giving the player too much freedom last time round have lead to the boundaries that have been erected in Red Faction: Armageddon. The previous lack of structure meant players spent most of their time mucking around with the physics and not seeing what the story had to offer, so the developers have ensured to create a much more linear game world for Red Faction: Armageddon.
The destructive physics remain as pleasing as ever, with nearly everything destructible in some way, shape or form. And we’re not just talking about taking chunks out of the cover when you unload your clip on it – huge structures can be collapsed using the imaginatively fresh range of weaponry. Even with the decidedly linear story controlling where you can and can’t go, you’ll still invest plenty of time simply playing around with the physics engine by putting the inventive guns to use.
Over the course of the story you’ll be introduced to an armoury of brilliant guns including my personal favourite, the magnet gun, which uses powerful magnets to tear the environment apart, firing the first shot anchor, and then unleashing the second shot attractor and watching on as the first target hurtles towards the second. This can make for hugely effective attacks, producing devastating damage to buildings, but also hilarious degradation of enemy units, attaching the anchor to one of them and then either pinning him to the wall or to one of his buddies.
Other special weapons include the plasma gun, a charged beam which really packs a punch, the nano rifle which disintegrates objects into particles at the touch or the charge launcher which allows you to fire the first shot to stick to something and then detonate it when you choose. The weapons aren’t limited to these Red Faction: Armageddon brand of physics toys; standard weapons like the assault rifle, pistols and a pump-action shotgun exist, although all seem ineffective, dwarfed by the sheer power of the other weapons. Melee attacks come from the Maul, a powered sledgehammer, as well as melee attacks using the flat of your gun mapped onto the right stick click for convenient instantaneous punching.
Returning from the last game is the Nano Forge, a device on your wrist with futuristic abilities, useful if only for it’s repair tool which, complete with neat visual effects, restores structures to their non-broken state in seconds – handy if only to reconstruct that set of stairs you need to progress which just a minute before was flung across the room to squish an enemy. The Nano Forge is home to other abilities like melee attacks or waves to stun your enemies, which can be upgraded along with attributes like maximum health and ammo stores at the nearest upgrade station in exchange for your salvage, the currency of the game, that you have collected. The Nano Forge is also home to your CPU system, female-voiced S.A.M. who helps guide you through missions in the story mode by providing tips and intel.
The plot sees you fill the boots of Darius Mason, a space marine and grandson of Red Faction: Guerilla’s protagonist as he tries to stop the Cultists, a race who despise the human mining presence on Mars, from destroying the only thing that’s keeping the atmosphere stable: the Terraformer. But, with the prologue level witnessing the destruction of this, matters take a bleak turn and fast-forwarding several years shows Darius in one of the scavenger-like settlements that have come as a result of the unstable new conditions. But taking on a mining job reveals a whole new enemy dwelling underground, and the enemies of human shape are soon replaced by hordes of scuttling creepy crawlies.
The story mode itself starts out strongly and the cut scenes are top drawer, and although it is a relatively decent length with different difficulty settings to facilitate a variety of players. Unfortunately it doesn’t allow for much exploration thanks to its linearity. There’s always only one way to go, as emphasised by the fact that pressing the right button brings up your GPS, a set of holographic visual cues pointing the way to go, useful if you lose track of where you are but going to show the single path available. The campaign also starts flagging towards the end where it doesn’t feel as well though-out as the rest of the story, with a mish-mash of all enemy types coming together for an anti-climatic finish.
Interestingly, there is no competitive multiplayer element to Red Faction: Armageddon. Instead of competing and probably failing against Call of Duty’s domination of the head to head multiplayer scene, to avoid empty online lobbies Volition Inc. have opted to stick to purely co-op multiplayer through its ‘Infestation’ mode. Infestation mode provides a survival mode for up to 4 players, mimicking Gear of War 2’s horde mode in the way it pits you against progressively stronger waves of enemies in a number of campaign-inspired arenas. Infestation mode serves only as a Red Faction mimic of horde mode, and is nothing special really. The other alternative mode is ‘Ruin’ mode, essentially a destructible playground which sees how much damage you can rack up on your surroundings generally, or in the case of the challenge variant, with a 1 minute time constraint. It’s a bit of throwaway fun which quite rightly focuses on what sets Red Faction: Armageddon aside from other games on the market: the destructible environments which satisfy your undying urge to smash things.
Red Faction: Armageddon may have replaced the sandbox world of its father-game with a more story-driven adventure, but the linearity can be suffocating at times, and an unstructured end finishes the game off in foul stead. Still, you can almost disregard the story due to the entertainment value of the physics engine and the inventive arsenal of high-tech weaponry readily available to play around with, to an extent where the majority of your time is spent experimenting rather than progressing through the level. There’s essentially no multiplayer but destruction-based Ruin mode provides some more simple-minded demolition fun, so as a physics-based annihilation of the surrounding world, it’s at least worth a look.