August 11, 2011

Review – Red Faction: Armageddon

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Brad Johnson @ 12:17 am

Red Faction Armageddon
Red Faction: Armageddon—the latest in Volition’s series of destruction-centric shooters—picks up with Darius Mason, descendant of the previous entry’s protagonist, and the colonists of Mars trapped underneath the surface following the destruction of the planet’s terraformer.

To make matters worse, Darius has accidentally unleashed a horde of alien monsters that seek to… well, it’s not really clear what the aliens want. They do appear intelligent (intelligent enough to destroy machinery Darius is trying to use against them), but they possess no character or story to speak of, instead assuming the role of predictably mute monsters to turn into paste.

The story is soft and more than a little dumb at times, with a cast of bland characters that, though voice acted quite capably, don’t have a scrap of personality between them. One could argue that it’s refreshing not to be fighting yet another revolution in a Red Faction game, but I felt the title lost some of its identity by choosing to go the fairly standard alien invasion route.

Of course, the real cause for concern is the switch to the closed, scaled-down environments—moving away from what made Red Faction: Guerrilla such a success. With its new setting, Armageddon eschews the wide open expanses of Guerrilla for a series of tunnels and chambers. Darius will occasionally visit the surface, but always in closed environments.

Red Faction: Armageddon
Though a shooter at heart, where Guerrilla excelled was not shooting. In fact, the shooting mechanics were rather weak; the best way to engage enemies was always with destruction, with gun-play being a poor second. The strength of Guerrilla was playing as a guerrilla; raiding enemy compounds, hit and run tactics, and sniping down enemy structures from hills with the nano-rifle. It embodied its concept of the rebel fighter against an overwhelming superior force.

Armageddon is, in many ways, a complete inversion of the strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor. Immediately, it’s apparent that the environment of Armageddon has been reigned in; the bulk of the game takes place in subterranean chambers and tunnels, and large though they may be, they don’t compare to the expansive towns and bases of Guerrilla.

I initially felt that the destructive element to the game would be wasted in the tunnels of mars, but Volition cleverly shifted the impetus of the action in these new environments. Guerrilla was about destroying buildings—Armageddon is decidedly more traditional: Armageddon is about destroying enemies.

Where does destruction fit in that equation? Everywhere, actually. Early in the game, the player acquires the Magnet Gun, a device which can be used to designate an object to attract, and a point to attract it to. This means that dropping an attractor on, say, the wall, and an anchor on the enemy will cause the walls to be ripped free of its moorings and crash into the enemy, probably killing it.

Red Faction: Armageddon
Equally, explosives can be flung into enemies, objects can be attracted to other objects, and enemies can even be crashed into each other. Thus, the magnet gun immediately becomes the most powerful weapon in the arsenal, and one of the more unique offerings I’ve found in a modern shooter.

Is there a horde of enemies? Drop the ceiling on them. Need to bring down a tower? Rip out the foundations. The applications of the magnet gun are numerous, and endlessly entertaining. It never gets old, and as the player becomes accustomed to using the device, it is easily one of the more effective weapons.

For instance, if enemy numbers are overwhelming, it takes but a flick of the wrist to thin their numbers by sending them flying into the distance with the magnetic gun. One enemy type has a habit of charging the player and exploding, a situation that can easily be rectified by redirecting said enemy into, say, another group of enemies.

The magnet gun grants unparalleled control over the battlefield, and it’s only one half of the equation.

The other side of the destruction mechanic is the nano-forge, which can be used—without limitation—to repair any damaged areas of the world. Whether it’s a shattered staircase or a completely obliterated building, the nano-forge can repair it, good as new. This is, of course, necessary to ensure the player can always moved forward, regardless of what critical structures have been destroyed, but there are a few more intriguing applications.

Most obvious, is cover. When injured or overwhelmed, Darius can create separation between himself and the alien horde by repairing walls and buildings and taking cover behind them.

On the other hand, should a more offensive strategy be required, restoring structures can generate much needed materials to be flung at bad guys with the magnet gun.

The other strength of Armageddon is in pure, simple shooting, an area in which it surpasses its predecessor by leaps and bounds. Indeed, I found it as enjoyable to engage enemies in a firefight as it is to drop buildings on them. Monsters snap, crackle and pop satisfyingly, while weapons are comfortable, fun to use, and powerful. Combat includes a snap-to auto-aim, and there’s a wealth of ballistic, explosive, and energy weapons to put to use pasting alien monsters.

Red Faction: Armageddon
Additionally, Darius also employs a selection of nano-forge based powers, such as the ability to generate a destructive wave of force, suspend enemies in mid-air, or deploy a shield. These work in concert with the destruction and shooting mechanics—alongside the sheer number of enemies—to create a fast paced, hyper-kinetic action experience where the environmental control and interactivity are impeccable.

Much like its predecessor, Armageddon employs a salvage-based upgrade system, where wrecking things and hunting for salvage containers nets currency that can be employed to upgrade Darius and his equipment. There’s powerful stuff to be had here, such that players will be hunting down each and every scrap to unlock new abilities.

The system is not without its flaws, though. Darius is incredibly powerful before any upgrades—after all, he has to be able to survive the chaotic destruction that follows him everywhere he goes. As such, some may find the challenge lacking, even on higher difficulties, once Darius has been outfitted with a couple dozen enhancements.

Throughout the campaign, Darius will take control of a handful of powerful vehicles that add a few novelties to the destruction. The man-sized mech suit can charge directly through obstructions, while later vehicles employ powerful lasers and napalm to wipe out enemies and bring down structures.

Additionally, upon completion players are offered a wealth of cheats to purchase—including the option to acquire handheld versions of the powerful vehicle weapons. Oh, and there’s a unicorn that shoots laser rainbows from its… well, not its mouth.

Red Faction: Armageddon
On the online side, Armageddon makes the curious choice of dropping Guerrilla’s exciting, unique competitive multiplayer. Instead, it offers Infestation, a four player co-op mode that cashes in on the Horde-mode craze. Players face waves of increasingly difficult enemies, where progress through the waves may unlock more powerful weapons for that map.

Infestation doesn’t do much that’s strictly different from other horde-style offerings, but the inherent uniqueness of the combat and destruction mechanic makes the experience very much its own. Additionally, some maps require the team to protect particular structures, adding an interesting twist to the usual survival-oriented mode.

If one can manage to put together a four player team, Infestation is a great and exciting way to extend the life of the product.

Armageddon may have abandoned some of the unique aspects of Guerrilla in favor of a paint-by-numbers shooter approach, but despite the generic aliens and environments, it maintains its identity and even improves upon its concept of destruction and environmental interactivity. It takes a step back, but also two steps forward, and manages to retain and enhance those mechanics that make Red Faction unique in the gaming world.

Volition, Inc.

THQ, Syfy Games

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC (Xbox 360 Reviewed)

Singleplayer, Co-op Modes

Release Date
June 7, 2011

*A copy of this title was purchased by Gamesugar for review

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