Red Faction: Armageddon Review
It’s been half a century since the events of Red Faction: Guerilla, and while Mars is free of the tyranny of the EDF things are far from peaceful on the Red Planet. A maniacal self-styled messiah and his band of cultists have destroyed the terraformers that were keeping the surface inhabitable. Forced underground, the citizens of Mars are still far from safe. The grandson of Alec Mason, Darius, is hired to do some freelance demolition work, only to find that he’s really been tricked into unleashing an alien horde on the caverns the Mars colonists now call home. Darius must fight the alien multitudes and find a way to both end the menace and clear his name, and then there’s that megalomaniac and his army to deal with…
The move underground means a move away from the open world gameplay of Red Faction: Guerrilla, and as a big fan of Guerilla I wasn’t thrilled when I first learned that Armageddon would be a linear, event-driven game. I won’t let my pining for the open red skies of Mars and the thrill of raiding an EDF compound on a whim cloud my opinion of Armageddon, though. If you loved Guerilla and can’t get past the fact that Armageddon is not open world, then you’re not going to let yourself enjoy this game and should probably pass on it. I let go, and it would be a shame if you didn’t, because on its own Armageddon is an enjoyable shooter and a lot of fun.
The open world may be gone, but the destruction at the core of the previous Red Faction is still here. You can’t blow holes in the rock – the game’s linear nature can’t allow you to take shortcuts between the tunnels and caverns – but there are plenty of structures built within the caverns of Mars that can be leveled, as well as some destructible natural elements like crystals and stalactites. The great physics engine that drives all of this destruction is still firing on all cylinders, but your motivation for tearing down buildings is different this time around. Outside of the occasional objective that calls for the demolition of “infested buildings”, the destruction of buildings is more the result of collateral damage from your battle with the aliens. That and providing ammo for your magnet gun.
The magnet gun is one of those simple ideas that’s so much fun that you wonder why no one thought of it sooner. Fire the gun at something and then fire it again at something else, and that first something will go flying into the second. If the first is the wall of a building and the second a spot on the ground near a cluster of aliens, the debris will come crashing down on their little party. If the first is an alien and the second the ceiling of a vaulted cavern, well, if the impact into the rock doesn’t squish the alien, the fall back to the floor surely will. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that the magnet gun can be used to eradicate aliens in imaginative ways. Not only is it a lot of fun to use and play around with, the magnet gun is the gun that never runs out of ammo. I kept it in one of my four weapon slots the whole time I played the game, much in the same way as a I did with the hammer in Guerilla (which is now the maul and sadly is relatively useless in Armageddon).
So you’ve just gone wild with the magnet gun and destroyed a bridge crossing a chasm. Linear game, no alternate route, you’re out of luck, right? Wrong! Thanks to the Nano Forge anything that’s been destroyed can be rebuilt. The Nano Forge is a handy device strapped to your wrist that has a number of uses, one of which is a repair power. Face whatever it is you want rebuilt and press the left bumper and the Nano Forge will reconstruct the structure out of thin air. It’s not only useful for those times when you destroy the bridge or staircase that you needed to take; it can also be used as a magnet gun ammo generator. Send a wall flying at an alien, rebuild it, and then send it flying again at another alien. It’s also useful when you find your cover being blown to bits by alien plasma balls – quickly repair it between barrages and then get your head down again.
The Nano Forge has more tricks up its sleeve than repair. It comes equipped with a force field push that can clear a crowd of aliens trying to block your way, and it can be upgraded further during the course of the game to include a stasis field that will keep enemies helplessly suspended in the air for a short time and a shield dome that protects you from projectiles while attacking anything foolish enough to enter your dome with a nanite swarm. Basically it can make you a Jedi without the need to spend all of that time at an academy or backwater swamp planet.
The game has a whole arsenal of additional weapons in addition to these and the old standbys (assault rifle, dual pistols, rocket launcher,...). The nano rifle fires nanites into its target, eating it up from within. The plasma beam fires a beam of hot plasma that can burn through both structures and aliens. The singularity cannon hits its target with a small black hole that at first sucks everything around it into the singularity and then explodes. There's no shortage of interesting weapons in the game and you'll enjoy trying each new one out when you get your hands on it. Some are more for fun than practical when you're caught in a mob of aliens, and I eventually settled on a rotation of six that I'd swap out to suit the current mission. One of the four I always had on hand was the magnet gun, though.
There will be times in the campaign in which you'll have the chance to don a mech-like exoskeleton or drive a vehicle. The destructive powers of their weapons combined with the protection that they provide make them a blast to use, and I wish that there was more opportunity to do so during the game. Most of the vehicle segments are contained towards the end of the game, too, and it would have made things more enjoyable if they were spread out a bit more. The midsection of the campaign feels a little long since its constrained to the tunnels and caverns, which naturally begin to feel like more of the same after you've been trudging through them for a couple of hours. I had fun with the campaign overall, but I certainly did feel like the way out of the caverns was a little too long in coming.
Another way in which Armageddon departs from its predecessor is on the multiplayer side of things. There's no competitive multiplayer in the game, which is very disappointing because the multiplayer in Guerilla was so much fun. In its place there are two modes - Ruin and Infestation. Ruin mode is a sandbox mode of sorts in which you get to play around with the game's destruction engine. There are a number of levels filled with structures and devoid of enemies in which you can just go wild bringing everything down. Ruin mode can also be played in a timed version in which you're scored based on the amount of damage that you can unleash before a timer expires. Causing chain reactions and destroying things in quick succession will reward you with a bonus multiplier and a time extension. When the timer expires your final result is tallied up and uploaded to a leaderboard so that you can compare your destructive prowess to that of others. There's a certain amount of strategy required for Ruin mode in that your choice of weapons is important (rate of fire vs. destructive firepower) and in the order in which you attack the structures and where you hit them to achieve maximum destruction in minimum time. Ruin mode is fun, especially when you challenge yourself to move a few spots up the leaderboard, but it's the kind of thing that can only be taken in short doses and there will probably be a point where the novelty eventually wears off.
Infestation mode is the game's answer to all of those co-op zombie games and modes that have been cropping up in shooters the last few years. This one is zombie-free, though, and features hordes of aliens that must be kept at bay by a team of one to four players. Each level has a set number of aliens that are unleashed in waves, and killing them all without losing your entire team in the process unlocks the next, harder level. If a player dies, he or she will have to wait for another player for revival, and if no one shows up in time the player will bleed out and have to watch the rest of the level from the sidelines. In addition, if a player bleeds out three times, then he or she is out for the rest of the game. There's another variant in the mode which has the team protecting a structure from alien assault with the ability to repair it during battle. This variant keeps the players focused on a single area rather than giving them free reign to track down the current alien incursion. Infestation mode can be fun when the players are willing to work together - there's no quicker way to "game over" than to be stuck on a team with a bunch of lone wolves - but like Ruin mode it's not something that you can keep playing for hours on end. You're spending the whole time shooting aliens over and over again in rather claustrophobic levels. I think it would have helped the multiplayer's longevity to have at least one mode that combined the building destruction of Ruin mode with the teamwork and enemy hordes of Infestation mode, but as it stands you'll want to get the game primarily for the single player campaign knowing that you'll just be getting some short term diversion out of the other modes.
Final Rating: 87%. Armageddon is not quite as much fun as Guerilla, but its arsenal, particularly the magnet gun, and destructible environments make it an enjoyable game on its own.