Red Faction: Armageddon: The First 30 Minutes Hands-On Preview

Mars is in upheaval. Adam Hale, cultist leader and general douche, is attacking the Terraformer, a giant industrial factory that keeps the atmosphere of Mars stable and the surface habitable for its colonists. Hale, in his infinite hate for the Martian colonists, wants to drive them from the planet and claim it for himself, and he intends to do it by destroying the Terraformer. It would be…(wait for it)…Armageddon.

Red Faction: Armageddon, in fact. While Volition’s latest entry into the Red Faction franchise won’t be hitting consoles or PCs for a couple weeks yet — June 7, to be precise — we got our hands on the game’s opening 30 minutes, care of OnLive’s free online demo for the game that actually just lets players start the game from the beginning. So we sat down with Armageddon’s first 30 to bring you the hands-on rundown of what to expect in your next trip to Mars.

The Prologue
The first level of Red Faction: Armageddon is actually a prologue to the larger story told in the rest of the game. You play Darius Mason, grandson Red Faction: Guerrilla protagonist Alec Mason, serving as an engineer in the Red Faction. As the game starts, you’ll learn just why Darius is necessary on this particular mission: a group of fanatical cultists led by all-around bad dude Adam Hale has taken the Terraformer, and you have to fix it.

To do that, you’ll be using some tools left to Darius by Granpappy Alec. Specifically, you’ve got the Nano Forge — a tool that’s handy for punching guys really hard and other such exploits, but which has been amped up by Darius’ dad to also repair any man-made machine or object found in Armageddon. Just by holding down a trigger button, you can fix anything you break in the game, and this is a game that’s all about breaking stuff.

As the cinematic draws to a close, artillery shells start to explode around the Red Faction convoy, one of which sends Darius spilling out of the vehicle and off a cliff. He awakens a few seconds later and activates S.A.M., his “Situation Awareness Module,” which hangs around with Darius for the remainder of our time with him, providing intelligence and information in every situation, as well as guiding him toward new objectives.

When Darius awakes, he finds himself with a Red Faction assault rifle and his Maul, a slight adaptation of the infamous sledgehammer. The Maul is handy for taking down enemies at close range and also for busting through things like steel or concrete, allowing Darius to make his way just about anywhere there’s a path. After a few seconds, he also stumbles on his first weapon pickup, the Plasma Rifle, which fires a charged-up burst of destruction. It’s best used on buildings, as the plasma dissipates across objects and blows them apart, making it good for leveling structures.

Almost immediately, we come into contact with some of Hale’s Marauder fanatics. These guys are referred to as Cultists — a lot — but they’re much more like Hale’s private military force. They also carry assault rifles, and as Darius heads into his first battle as he follows the road toward the Terraformer in the distance, it becomes apparent that this isn’t a game where shooting things is really your goal.

Just about every combat situation you can get into in the Armageddon demo features some sort of nearby structure or explosive. As Darius works toward the Terraformer, he’ll find cultists entrenched in buildings and using turrets to take him out, but he can almost always trigger a huge explosion or knock out the support beams beneath a building and watch it collapse. Obviously, Volition’s Red Faction games run on the GeoMod engine –they’re supposed to be about breaking stuff — and it seems that in Armageddon, if you look around for a second, you’ll always find a smarter way of ruining your enemy’s day. It can be like Bulletstorm in this respect, because the most fun course of action in most situations isn’t to just use your guns, but to use your environment.

A few more groups of cultists and leveled buildings later, Darius meets up with some of the remaining Red Faction troops, who are getting their asses kicked. After helping them repel some cultist reinforcements and getting some fresh intel and orders from Frank Winters, Darius’ CO on the mission, the Nano Forge kicks back online and Darius can start using it. Its first task: repair a bridge leading into the Terraformer. Just by holding down a trigger button, the Nano Forge can use nanites to repair just about anything, and this equates to the bridge more or less magically appearing in front of Darius as he crosses it.

Across the bridge, there are a few more bad guys to fight before Darius gets inside the building proper. Here he gets a short breather and access to a couple of weapon and ammo drops, before venturing into the cargo bay — where we encounter our first boss, a huge spider-crab-like mechanical Scout Walker. This thing is a beast and carries two attacks: a life-draining electric current that looks a big like lightning and can be blocked by objects, and a convergence beam that annihilates anything in front of it.

Armageddon is nice enough to present us with the walker’s health bar at the top of the screen, which quickly makes it apparent that the assault rifle isn’t going to do the trick against this armored monster. Instead, we pull out the Plasma Rifle and start running.

The walker’s convergence beam is basically a cover-crusher, and while the cargo bay is littered with boxes to hind behind, the beam makes short work of them. Fortunately, we have the Nano Forge, and this is where it gets its first true test. Hiding behind cover is key to Darius recovering health, but we need cover to get clear of the walker’s attacks before that can happen. Darius can quickly repair cover with the Nano Forge, however, which gives him a second or two to breathe.

Repeating the process of sprinting from cover position to cover position, or repairing the ones the walker destroys, takes a few minutes, but repeatedly hammering the walker with the plasma rifle eventually drops it and ends the first section of the prologue. A second later, the game loads up with Darius inside the Terraformer proper, and now it’s a sprint to find Hale and stop him.

The interior of the Terraformer is a stark contrast to the Martian surface, primarily because there are a whole lot more things to blow up in here. Working through the Terraformer is a fairly simple affair at this point — Darius keeps driving forward, encountering cultists and blasting them. The Nano Forge is key to moving forward because there are explosives everywhere and using them to blow up enemies is extremely satisfying as well as very efficient.

Darius’ first goal as he moves through the Terraformer is to keep it running. That means repairing its turbines, which cultists are laying waste to as Darius enters the room. It’s a battle in which avoiding destruction is actually part of the goal — the two-story room is a lot tougher to surmount if the floor gives way beneath you, forcing you to find and repair a way back up while the cultists get in better positions to take you out.

After clearing a couple waves from the Turbine Room, Darius is free to repair them to keep the Terraformer going. Then it’s off to track down Hale. As Darius continues forward, he passes a wounded Red Faction rifleman who tells him that Hale is just up ahead. There’s another hard-fought, explodey battle, and after clearing out the last few cultists, Darius meets up with Winters who asks for an update on Hale.

Darius explains that he was told by a wounded soldier that Hale had come this way — and Winters explains that there were no other Red Faction troops in the area. It was Hale, who slipped past Darius and finished enacting the destruction of the Terraformer.

The demo ends there (or maybe slightly sooner if you looked around a little more), but it definitely gives a taste of the rampant destruction players will get to cause in Red Faction: Armageddon. Treating every combat situation like a chance to utterly destroy everything in the area in order to take out enemies is highly satisfying.

Look for our full Red Faction: Armageddon review on Wednesday, June 1.

Stumped? Stuck? Situation you can’t Nano Forge or Magnet gun your way out of? Check out our Red Faction Armageddon Walkthrough.

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