Posted on June 1, 2011, Phil Hornshaw Red Faction: Armageddon Review
It’s hard to figure how just destroying everything in a given room might become a strategy in a shooter. Red Faction: Armageddon finds a way, though — it turns just about everything in a room into a weapon to use against enemies. Each man-made structure is potentially a bludgeon or an explosive; each slab of concrete or steel a massive fly swatter for squashing your adversaries.
Four games into its mechanic of creating highly destructible environments for players to blast their way through, developer Volition’s latest Red Faction title still manages to provide lots of satisfying explosions and collapses, and succeeds in making them useful to its shooter gameplay. The whole package isn’t quite 100 percent, but it does invite players to approach battles in ways that are new and fresh in an overcrowded genre. In Red Faction: Armageddon, if you’re just pulling a bunch of headshots, you’re doing it wrong.
Red Faction: Armageddon (PS3 [Reviewed], XBox360, PC)
Release Date: June 07, 2011
In Armageddon, things aren’t going so well on Mars. The Red Faction, freedom fighters turned de facto government, are in the midst of trying to help Mars govern itself when Adam Hale, a cultist leader with a private army of zealot followers, decides he wants to screw things up for everyone. The game’s opening campaign level introduces the protagonist, Darius Mason, a new member in the long-running Mason clan of Red Faction game heroes and the grandson of the protagonist from the previous Red Faction: Guerrilla, Alec Mason. Armageddon maintains the same engine as Guerrilla, so players will recognize the destruction mechanics the game employs — man-made items like paths, buildings and other objects can be ravaged by weaponry in the game, but not the surrounding Martian terrain. That will make some sense in a minute.
Hale and his followers are attacking a thing called the Terraformer, and while Darius is among the Red Faction troops sent to stop him, he succeeds in doing so. Suddenly the atmosphere and weather on the surface of Mars become highly volatile; it’s not impossible to spend time on the surface, but you wouldn’t want to live there. The Martian colony takes life underground, which is where the real story begins.
The plot continues and by the end of the second mission, the true threat has descended on the Martian colonists — about a billion man-sized (or larger) alien bugs. These things are the principle antagonists throughout the remainder of Armageddon, and they’re a murderous scourge that rips through Mars and threatens to destroy everyone on the planet. Darius takes it upon himself to do what he can; first in attempting to save the people of the underground Martian towns like his own, Bastion, and later in attempting to put an end to the aliens once and for all.
It’s all pretty standard fare when it comes to sci-fi action stories, but standard doesn’t mean bad in this case. Armageddon carries a derivative story, but its writing is intelligent enough to mix in some comedy with its melodrama. It might not be the sharpest script you’ll play this year, but it passes and the character of Darius stays interesting and easy to relate with throughout the course of the story.
What’s not standard, however, is the way the game plays. New to the gameplay of Red Faction are two tools in Darius arsenal: the Magnet Gun and the Nano Forge. Both substantially change gameplay and freshen it up to the point that Armageddon can stand up to other third-person shooters and compete on even ground, and all things being equal, often come out ahead.
The Magnet Gun is Armageddon’s crowning achievement. Because most of the action takes place underground (although the progression of levels occasionally breaks the Martian surface), Darius is just about always surrounded by things to blow up, collapse, drop and explode on enemies. The Magnet Gun makes this very possible; fire it once at an object to place an “anchor,” then fire it at something else to drop an “attractor.” Instantly, the thing with the anchor on it will be drawn to the attractor, ripping buildings apart and clapping enemies into one another.
This is really where level design and gameplay merge to make Armageddon something more than other games in the third-person shooter genre. Literally every structure in the vast tunnels of Mars becomes a handy weapon against the myriad alien bad guys that need to be dealt with along the way. Instead of just blowing buildings up, you can actually rip them apart and use them as weapons with the Magnet Gun. And Darius’ second item, the converted Nano Forge, allows players to repair any man-made objects they destroy just by holding down a trigger button — you can go nuts and utterly destroy a room, then rebuild the stairs and bridges necessary for you to move on to your next objective.
If there’s a complaint with all this mayhem, it’s that Armageddon struggles to find balance in actually making it useful for the player to execute these awesome destruction attacks. The alien enemies have a variety of attacks to be afraid of — they shoot from surface to surface in the caves, surrounding and attacking from all angles with a mixture of melee and projectile attacks. It makes it tough to keep track of enemies, to hit them with the Magnet Gun, and to effectively plan and execute your attacks while under fire. The Normal difficulty compensates by allowing Darius to take a lot of punishment, but there’s something off about this balance and he often seems to be pretty close to invincible. Certainly superhuman.
Even with its balance issues, Armageddon’s highly destructible nature makes it quite a bit of fun to play. Darius has several other abilities thanks to the Nano Forge, as well as additional weapons like rocket launchers and the returning singularity gun, so there are a lot of ways to make a mess. The Nano Forge’s repair abilities means you never have to take it easy or be careful about your explosives (except to keep yourself from getting squashed or falling through the floor).
Armageddon’s campaign takes about eight hours to complete, and it’s supplemented by other game modes. Infestation is Volition’s multiplayer offering for the game: it’s a four-player cooperative mode in the vein of Call of Duty: Black Ops’ Zombies mode or Gears of War’s Horde mode. Hop into an Infestation mode game and you’ll take on wave after wave of varying aliens, trying to survive or defend an objective for as long as you can hold out through teamwork.
Infestation feels fairly run-of-the-mill, except for two cool features. The first is that it’s a perfect venue for players to act in tandem in their destruction. Multiple Magnet Guns mean players can plan and execute using the environments to their advantages against enemies, or supplement each other’s abilities with different weapons. And “Salvage” points, the game’s currency, can be carried over from Infestation to the campaign mode and back again, allowing players to upgrade their characters through both game modes and get an edge in each for their investment in the game.
Unless you have some smart friends who really enjoy breaking things, Infestation probably won’t be your go-to multiplayer experience. It’s fun, but it’s not really something that isn’t replicated in several other games at this point, and even in Armageddon’s single-player campaign. Infestation can be a good time, but there’s not a lot that’s fresh on offer here.
The other game mode, Ruin, is a single-player high-scoring affair in which you’ll attempt to cause as much destruction as you can in as little time as possible. Ruin comes with a free-play mode, allowing players to just destroy everything without structure, and a challenge mode that demands a certain score on each map at the completion of a time limit. Ruin packs leaderboards as well, and it’s a nice supplement to the rest of the game that makes great use of items like the Magnet Gun and Volition’s GeoMod 2.5 game engine. Ruin is fun, although it, too, isn’t extremely deep.
There’s a lot to like about Red Faction: Armageddon, and Volition has really played to the strengths of its GeoMod 2.5 engine in level design and in creating the game’s various modes. It’s really the enemies that get a little stale as you run from room to room, clearing it of bug-like aliens just to push on again. Volition’s decisions here are better than going with an open world like in Guerrilla, but it’s hard to want to finish up the single-player campaign of bug-squashing just to jump back in with some friends and squash more bugs in Infestation.
Armageddon supplies a lot of fun to fans of Red Faction’s brand of destruction and shooter gameplay, and it packs a fair amount of replay value to boot. There are definitely some good, if somewhat familiar, times to be had here.
- Destruction mechanics coupled with Magnet Gun and other new additions change up shooter gameplay
- Great graphics and solid shooter gameplay
- Decent, if somewhat unremarkable, story
- Lots of opportunities for vehicle combat that can be pretty fun, without dragging on
- Fun-to-chase achievements will get players using Darius’ various abilities and weapons
- New Game Plus feature and purchasable cheats will draw players back to the campaign
- Somewhat repetitive cave environments
- Alien enemies aren’t really all that much fun to fight
- Destruction mechanics aren’t really balanced with shooter mechanics — you get blasted a lot
- While carries some great fresh ideas, still very similar to other offerings in the genre
Final Score: 75/100
Stumped? Stuck? Situation you can’t Nano Forge or Magnet gun your way out of? Check out our Red Faction Armageddon Walkthrough.