Ten years ago, with the Descent series and Summoner under their belt, Volition Inc. unearthed Red Faction, a story of corporate brutality on Mars and the people’s fight for freedom. Showcasing their Geo-Mod tech, the player was able to create their own path through each level by blasting holes and leveling terrain. Now, the fight for Mars is more spectacular than ever as Mason-descendant Darius takes on crazed cultists and a buried Martian menace in the finest Red Faction title to date.
Armageddon doesn’t refer to prior events in the Red Faction continuum and it doesn’t really need to as gameplay innovation is the primary focus. Understanding the pedigree, however, is essential to developing an emotional connection to the struggles of Mason’s people. In 2070, fifty years before the events of Armageddon, a man named Parker comes to Mars seeking a better life than on Earth, but instead finds an enslaved populace, forced to work in the mines and suffering from a mysterious plague. After witnessing a guard killing a fellow prisoner, Parker takes up arms with the Red Faction against the Ultor Mining Corporation and ultimately welcomes the arrival of the Earth Defense Force (EDF). In the subsequent sequels, the EDF becomes the main protagonist and in Guerilla, Alec Mason becomes our hero as he scours the EDF from the face of Mars. This time around Volition have chosen to develop beyond the EDF/Red Faction history and introduce strange cultists and a menacing, long-buried alien horde that Darius unwittingly unleashes on the colony. Armageddon tells the story of how the cultists are defeated, the horde suppressed and the colony repatriated to a newly terraformed Martian surface.
Destruction has been the central tenet to Volition Inc.’s series, from rocket-blasting holes in the first game to Alec’s sledgehammer in Guerilla and Volition clearly understand the reason for their success. The tools and the playgrounds you can ruin them with are nothing short of spectacular. Your greatest tool will be the Magnet Gun, it’s a physics-fucker and works with two presses of the trigger. The first press is your magnet, the second shot is the attractor and whatever you shot first will immediately pull towards the second. You can smash aliens with other aliens, fuel tanks to aliens, aliens to walls, rubble to aliens… I could draw this out for hours and not get bored because getting shit to hit other shit and having an unlimited amount of shots means you can focus on the carnage without watching a cool-down or ammo counter. If you run out of fuel-tanks and walls you can employ your second new-toy, the nano-forge. Created from the artifact found in Guerilla, the nano-forge lets you re-create the entire environment around you. Broken pillars, moving engines, walls and more are drawn dramatically and speedily back into being, allowing you to magnet-gun them straight back into a creature’s face again. These two items represent the sum total of everything that is awesome about Armageddon. While the adventure itself is highly linear, Volition complicates the environment with a profusion of structures. Being able to tear these down, nano-forge them up and then tear them down again is a core facet of the gameplay and one that makes for a frenetic pace as you recreate cover while fending off hordes of glowing horrors.
You’ll have plenty of other weapons to wield throughout the 6 or 7 hours that the main storyline presents. The Black Hole weapon is particularly impressive with its deadly suction and expulsion mechanic and, aside from your standard weaponry, you’ll also have bio-grenades that leave structures intact and disintegration rays that destroy everything they hit. Adding to your arsenal are the upgraded nano-forge powers that allow you to blast through walls, stun nearby enemies and help generate the wonderful visual confusion that accompanies most battles. The ability to upgrade your abilities by spending salvage at upgrade stations adds some different flavors to existing powers and, by the end of the game, the adroit salvager will be heavily powered up, just in time to meet the end-game behemoths. The ability to start a ‘New Game Plus’ with your existing powers is a welcome one that again adds to replayability.
At first it can seem that your character is over-powered, but the underground fauna of Mars are varied and deadly. Shambling tanks that hurl explosive matter, wall-hugging electrical creatures and warping laser-beam crawlers are among the masses of creatures thrown at you during the campaign. Apart from a distressingly easy and anti-climactic boss battle, the sheer weight of creatures is extremely well balanced against the player’s destructive capability and the intended outcome of such battles seems to be more about the coruscating insanity of color and effect. While the gameplay is challenging, I found that even on Insane mode, death rarely came.
It’s this explosion of effects that really sets Armageddon up to be a possible medical tool for weeding out latent epileptics. The hot blue of the nano-forge, the brilliant palette of alien colors and the scintillating particle effects make Armageddon a pretty as hell game. Unlike Guerilla, which arrived just as ‘next-gen brown’ was at its peak, this is an exciting game to watch. Whether the pulses of light were exciting my nerve centres or I was in a trance state, large battle scenes were amphetamine-like in their affect. And, like a drug, this had its own side-effect as some of the longer travel scenes between the set pieces were a bit of a drudge. The pacing is mostly excellent, however there were areas where the smaller number of creatures (or in later levels the sparse numbers of cultists) made proceedings a little too sedate. I would have liked to see Volition throw endless streams of hostiles and use the relatively easy vehicle sections to pace out the gameplay. On that, the vehicle sections (a lumbering mech, a platform ride and a ship that throws back to Volition’s Descent beginnings) were a thoroughly enjoyable change of pace with each bringing their own challenges and effects into play.
Once the main campaign has been completed there is a little more life left in the online co-operative play. There’s no multiplayer deathmatch for Armageddon, but given the lackluster representation in Guerilla, nobody’s going to miss it. Infestation mode is the now-standard Horde-style match. You’ll team up with three other players to fight off waves of increasingly stronger enemies. The difficulty increases exponentially past the tenth level and this will offer a real challenge to most gamers. A well-coordinated team is a must as some of the later-stage enemy combinations will encroach on defensive positions and split players up, leading to some seriously frantic action. Unfortunately my unlock key for Ruin mode has not worked so I was unable to try it out, but from what I’ve seen it’s an arena mode that is essentially there for the player to destroy. Connectivity with other players via Xbox LIVE was straightforward and lag-free. Co-op is good fun but I found that the crashing visual effects couldn’t make up for the lack of reason behind each battle. You are given only a bit of exposition at the start of Infestation and my engagement suffered because of this.
Aside from its somewhat un-engaging storyline and shallow characters, Red Faction: Armageddon delivers an injection of fun to the series that I haven’t felt since I first experimented with blowing shit up in Red Faction. While treading a linear path, the ride through it is a spectacle and, thanks to the excellent variety and combinations of weapons, it’s a path that you truly can take again and again. Volition has paved a new path for the series, stripping away the traditional shooter elements of past titles and focusing on maximizing the player’s ability to interact ruinously with the environment. I look forward to the next generation of the Mason family, but in the meantime, I’m heading back to get all Newtonian on some Martian ass.
Here’s the rundown:
+Incredibly fast-paced gameplay
-Storyline and character development needs to be repaired with the nano-forge
-Some slow-paced moments needed more crash-bang
-Don’t purchase for Co-Op which, while fun, is under-done