Red Faction: Guerrilla was a game about breaking stuff. One could argue its open world systems were surprisingly well built and the gunplay wasn't half bad, but the star of the show was the myriad of possibilities in which Alec Mason could demolish EDF property. Watching a building crumble under stress from a nano rifle or well placed remote mine was a pleasure previously unrealized, and Volition's Geo-Mod 2.0 engine absolutely sold the sight of systematic destruction. Guerrilla wasn't perfect, but minor failings were incidental next to a clever physics playground.
Red Faction: Armageddon is not Red Faction: Guerrilla. The development team at Volition chose to jettison the open world interface in favor of an extremely linear experience, which is to say Armageddon's structure has more in common with Dead Space than its predecessor. It's not without precedent, Volition was bold enough to take the series out of first person view with Guerrilla, but it was cause for concern; fond memories in Guerrilla were created not from scripted sequences but rather the amusing antics that went along with obliterating everything on the open surface of Mars. Theoretically Armageddon might not suffer in transition, as long as players received plenty of opportunities to, you know, break stuff.
Armageddon's narrative is earnest but ultimately tame and silly. Adam Hale, a Quan Chi-looking cultist leader, has significant issues with Darius Mason. Apparently Hale's father was murdered by Mason's grandfather (and Guerrilla protagonist, Alec) which was cause for Hale to destroy the Terraformer and ruin surface life on Mars. The human population was forced underground and thus the stage is set; take back Mars and dispose of cultists along the way.
Honestly I had hoped Armageddon's linear structure would have lead to a more focused and involving narrative. While Darius Mason is a likeable fellow and the setting is undoubtedly unique, too much of Armageddon's plot was sterile and predictable. The pieces are set up reasonably well, but then it jumps the shark by throwing eight flavors of subterranean aliens into the mix. Rounding out odds and ends with audio logs also failed to add much substance. Furthermore, Mason seemed to spend most of the game worrying about switches, water pumps, and other busywork in preparation for an unclear goal too far on the horizon. Armageddon's story isn't boring, but it fails to engage beyond a casual interest. In the pantheon of Mars fiction, Armageddon falls somewhere between Ghosts of Mars (the film) and Red Planet.
Volition seemed to have more confidence in basic combat for Armageddon, as it’s often at the center of Mason's activities. Opposition in the form of aliens comes in a variety of familiar styles. Among others, there are the small disposable crawlers, the agile wall climbing snipers, and, for good measure, the occasionally invisible laser shooting demons. They're supported by an enclave of larger enemies that do well to absorb bullets and wreak havoc on Mason's focus. Furthermore, each set is often augmented with infinite-alien-spawning portals that must be destroyed and giant yellow claw...things that, unless removed, power-up the normal enemies. If Armageddon is good at one thing, it's spamming seemingly endless amount of alien creatures at every possible moment.
Initially I found Armageddon's penchant for monster closets and constant waves to be boring and tedious, but I started warming up to it after an hour or two. Mason's dodge roll and general movement are pretty good, and the weapon load out is fairly substantial. An assault rifle and shotgun are standard measure, but plasma cannons, singularity cannons, and (yes!) the return of the nano rifle can make combat quite entertaining. The best new weapon in Mason's arsenal is definitely the Magnet Gun, which is exactly what you're imagining; shoot it at something, and the next object you fire it at will draw the two objects together. It's perfect for things like ramming a giant crystal shard into some of the larger aliens. Combat might have been better with a more thoughtful approach to enemy placement, too often it seems like Volition was content to just dump out hoards of bad guys without care or concern for strategy, but it's hard not to have fun with all of the weapons.
Oh, and Mason has magic this time around too. Not literally, of course, but his Nano Forge fits the bill. Chiefly the Nano Forge is used to restore man-made objects that Mason or his aggressors may have destroyed. Practically this implies restoring walkways or bridges, but more creative use features Mason rebuilding cover or, with some practice, building cover in front of enemies before they fire something explosive at Mason (which feels great when it blows up in their face). Other abilities include a Force-push, an antigravity shockwave, a defensive shield, and a temporary berserk mode. The Nano Forge adds another needed layer of depth to combat, as it can be challenging to effectively manage its limited use in between flipping to different weapons.
The best parts of Armageddon, as one might expect, deal in Mason's ability to obliterate everything in sight. Part of this arrives with combat, most times its certainly more economical (and fun) to destroy your enemy’s surroundings rather than fill them with bullets, but plenty of more utilitarian opportunities work their way into Armageddon's fabric. Objectives that would otherwise seem inane are veritable playgrounds thanks, mostly, to the Magnet Gun and other explosive weapons. Organic targets aren't as fun and there is never any structure reminiscent of the size and scale of those in Guerrilla, but Armageddon's campaign still provides ample opportunity to obliterate everything in sight. Special mention goes to the few inspired sections where Mason has to constantly go back and forth between engaging the enemy and blowing up a landmark; it’s a good balance, and Armageddon might have been better with more thoughtful sequences along the same lines.
The most surprising facet of Armageddon lies with its vehicles. I don't know about you but whenever I have to control a mech or jet in a game that's not explicitly about controlling mechs or jets it usually comes off feelings clumsy and undercooked(for example, piloting a Metal Gear in Guns of the Patriots was contextually cool but mechanically stupid). This isn't the case in Armageddon. While vehicles are mostly back loaded toward the later half of the game, each of Armageddon's mechs (and other similar contraptions) feel amazing. Volition really nailed the spirit of old school mech sequences with each dramatically empowering the player, especially when contrasted with usually fragile on-foot Mason. Volition's lineage is also on great display, as a brief flight segment could have easily served as a tease for Descent 4.
Volition seems to have been working with a limited visual pallet when building Armageddon's world. 80% of the game seems to take place in slightly reworked versions of familiar brown caves or industrial platforms, and beyond a few unique assets here and there everything kind of feels the same. There is a moderate attention to detail, I can't recall another game where the main character starts out bald and sports a noticeable amount of growth at the conclusion, but beyond the prerequisite awesome explosions Armageddon's look is rather pedestrian and sluggish (and the screenshots that appear in this review, taken from THQ’s press site, aren’t indicative of what gameplay realistically looks like). The music, on the other hand, is consistently impressive. Volition didn't succumb to generic butt-rock and instead went for a lighter, almost ethereal mix of guitars and electronica that seems to aim higher than other aspects of the presentation. I do wish it filled in more gaps of pure silence, but when it's there the music is always great.
Ruin Mode looks to cover ground left behind by the absence of an open world. In theory it should succeed; giving Mason a heap of weapons, a goal for destruction, and a timer seems like a great recipe for open-ended mayhem, but Ruin doesn't seem to lend itself to creativity as much as it should. Perhaps I was spoiled by all of Guerrilla's abstract optional challenges, but an objective-less free-for-all is great while it lasts but not apt for the long term (unless one desires to keep up with leader boards).
Infestation is Armageddon's label for a cooperative mode. It's a bit puzzling that Volition would ditch a competitive mode (Guerrilla's stab at it was a lot of fun), but their take on waves of enemies looks decent on paper. Unfortunately I did not get to play Infestation. It was impossible for me to attend to the sole multiplayer session for the press and, with Armageddon releasing the week of E3, I am unable post a timely review that includes the multiplayer. It was either post it early, or wait until mid June, and I decided to cut my losses and post my review while the game would be relevant.
Want to hear more about Red Faction: Armageddon? Check out the latest episode of Flap Jaw Space: The Digital Chumps podcast coming your way Saturday, June 4th.