June 13, 2011
The game starts off quick enough by tossing the players into the shoes of Darius Mason, an descendent of the Mason family that has been the general protagonists of the Red Faction series from the very beginning. Players take control of Darius as he's en-route to stop all-around terrorist Adam Hale from blowing up Mars' terraforming device, which would naturally mean bad things for its inhabitants. Considering how short the story is, it will be a shame to ruin much more beyond what's already known, but suffice to say that Darius is more or less fooled into releasing a race of creatures bent on wiping out humanity from the face of the planet. It's got all the core elements of a typical science fiction game and again takes full advantage of imagining what exactly a colonized Mars may look like, both inside and out.
The first thing you feel from starting the game is the absolutely incredible sense of power that Geo-Mod 2.0 bestows upon the player; any veterans to the series will feel right at home with the level of destruction that's possible right from the start, but new players may find that Armageddon provides them with a smooth transition into what Darius is capable of.
The first few weapons players get access to are fairly standard and using the Sledgehammer to knock down a couple of walls ought to give a rough idea of how structure and building design plays a big role structural integrity. Pistols and rifles will do minimal damage to a building where weapons that fire explosive rounds, or general plasma weapons will cause great damage to the enemy and their surrounding area. Learning what weapon is the right one for the job is fairly important as players will find that different aliens are handled better by various types of weaponry.
Thankfully, there's no shortage of weapons in Red Faction Armageddon as a large complaint with the previous game was for as open as the game world was, the tools in which to get the job done were fairly limited. It would appear that Volition listened, as there are a multitude of killer weapons to tear apart both scenery and enemy depending on the mood. Need to kill an enemy up close? Why not use one of the many standard military weapons throughout the game, like the shotgun, dual pistols, or simple - but effective - assault rifle?
For those long range enemies, feel free to explore explosive options like the timed grenade launcher or just use the magnet gun to tear opponents off of objects. If they're hiding behind something, the rail gun acts as a long range sniper rifle that can fire rounds through walls or, alternatively, just stick with the classic nanite rifle to dissolve buildings, walls, or enemies entirely.
The singularity cannon also works itself into one of the best ways to get rid of any enemy: by firing a miniature black hole to suck in all enemies and then explode violently upon disappearing. It's also worth noting that beating the game gives you access to Mr. Toots, a unicorn that farts a destructive rainbow out of his butt, which is about all that needs to be said on that subject.
Despite the advances in weaponry, Armageddon does disappoint on a few points. First and foremost is the overall plot of the game. While prior titles focused on making the series more of an open world experience with each iteration, Red Faction Armageddon instead takes a more linear approach. Players are constantly bottle-necked from objective to objective for the sake of storytelling, which wouldn't be a problem if the level design was more expansive as a result.
Much of the game takes place underground in various caves or shanty towns that can be blasted apart with relative ease and absolutely no reason to care about what surroundings you're evaporating in a wave of weapon fire. Surrounding buildings that once meant cover, or potential bunkers for enemy soldiers are now absolutely meaningless as enemies spend most of their time jumping around walls (which can rarely be destroyed) or aliens that charge through buildings and level cover anyway. Geo-Mod 2.0 goes from being an absolute intrinsic part of gameplay to being a neat background effect in the span of a few hours, which is disappointing to say the least.
What's more disappointing is the addition of tools like the Nano Forge, which is seriously held back by the games linear design. The Forge itself can be used for a pretty wide range of things, such as knocking down walls, creating a protective field or causing a minor quake around the player which throw back nearby enemies.
These abilities by themselves are neat and provide a mixup from the typical gunplay, but the coolest feature of the Forge is almost completely ignored in single player. Holding down the repair button will allow players to piece back together buildings that have been blasted apart, which is introduced as a feature to rebuild bridges and essential quest objectives that may get obliterated in standard combat. It's an amazing feature, and one that really shines in multiplayer, but as a whole really isn't all that necessary during the course of the game's campaign. It's also a feature that one might imagine can be put to use so well in a sandbox environment, which is all the more disappointing on retrospect.
On the topic of multiplayer, anyone who even mildly enjoyed the campaign will find that the online modes are actually a massive treat Two online modes, Infestation and Ruin respectively, offer a lot for gamers looking to have a blast with the in-game destruction system and even more to players who are interested in Horde style co-op. Infestation pits players against increasingly difficult waves of enemies and as they progress through each successful round, weapons are unlocked to help deal with the dramatic ramp in wave difficulty. It's here that four players can effectively work together against some pretty ridiculous odds.
This is also where features like the Geo-Mod and Nano Forge truly shine. Buildings that start as a hindrance to aiming can be easily blown aside, but as more enemies begin to flood tightly crowded corridors those same buildings become valuable assets that can help from being overwhelmed. Knowing what parts to rebuild can provide some much needed cover, or even escape routes, making Infestation an absolute blast to play.
Ruin on the other hand, is fairly self-explanatory, it allows players to simply destroy as much as possible in an attempt to rack up the highest point score. It's not nearly as enjoyable as Infestation, but the mode does have its own merits for anyone who really loves to watch things fall apart. Destruction has a scaling point value and depending on the size and damage inflicted on buildings it'll naturally be affected by how well the player knows how to take out structures. Anyone who is able to understand exactly how to exploit Volition's physics engine will do well here, but it's also a nice way to just relax and see the kind of damage and destruction you can cause.
It goes without saying that visually the game is an absolute treat, watching buildings fall apart is so complex that it's hard not to have a level of admiration for the amount of programming detail that must be involved. Pieced together with some decent lighting effects and some dramatic music, Armageddon sets the mood well as there are very few moments where the game doesn't hold your attention. If anything, players will find themselves spending most of their time paying close attention to the little details in the environment, searching for something else to destroy.
Ultimately Red Faction Armageddon is held back by a few key flaws, one of which being it just isn't as fun as Guerrilla was when it comes to engaging the player in making the most of the physics engine. The second point being that the game is almost criminally short, which leaves you feeling as though you've been cheated a little bit because everything else about the game is just so damn awesome. The weapons are a joy to use, the controls are solid, and the multiplayer modes are very well defined and hold quite a bit of replay value. Any fans of the series are bound to be satisfied, but it's extremely difficult not to be let down a little bit. Perhaps Armageddon has set some solid groundwork and new mechanics for future titles in the series, which, if that's the case, shouldn't be too hard to absolutely love the direction things are moving toward. It just feels like there's so much you want to destroy, but there's so very little time and so few levels to do it.
Red Faction: Armageddon was reviewed on the PS3. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.