Red Faction: Armageddon is the follow-up to 2009's game Red Faction: Guerrilla, an open-world game situated on Mars that allowed the player to level whole buildings to realistic degrees with revolutionary Geo-Mod technology. Armageddon is the fourth game in the Red Faction franchise and it brings the series back to underground caverns, doing away with the Ultor Corporation that was the main antagonistic force in the other games. Instead, the game chooses to bring aliens into the mix.
Red Faction: Armageddon follows the mishaps of Darius Mason – the grandson of Alec Mason from the previous title – as he attempts to make a living mining on Mars fifty years after the conclusion of Guerrilla. During the prologue, Mason and the Red Faction attempt to protect the Terraformer, a machine that makes the surface of Mars habitable for humans. Naturally, things don’t go as planned, and the Terraformer is damaged beyond repair. Also, a Mr. Adam Hale escapes, but is assumed to be dead.
So we pick up with Mason three years later as he and the rest of the colonists live underground in a ramshackle community, when Darius is tasked to destroy an old marauder seal, that unbeknownst to the survivors, brims with an alien race hellbent on the destruction of society on Mars. Mason opens the seal and releases the extraterrestrials, which was all part of a plan by Hale, who has Mason act his budding scapegoat.
Mason returns to Bastion to rally the colony, but he reaches an impasse when some people find out that it was him who doomed them, and try to kill him. After going on the run, Mason and his “love interest” Kara escape the mines to the surface, where they and the Red Faction meet up to take down the source of the aliens.
You are a braver man than I to smell the breath of a bi-horned demon.
The remaining mundane story is extremely thin, and the characterization makes no concessions to connect the players with the apathetic protagonists. While the narrative may seem like a decent foundation for an average length film, it lacks motivation in this eight-hour game. The story only exists to drive the action forward and makes a weak excuse for why Mason barrels through all these different locations, padding playtime with unneeded alien lifeforms.
Speaking of which, the introduction of aliens into the series was a bad idea. Their genius thinking of murdering everything on two legs defeats the whole purpose behind the previous Red Faction games. Ultor was a company that wanted to mine Mars for its resources and force the colonists into slavery. The Red Faction was formed to put a stop to the tyranny, but now these rebels prevail solely as a band of miscreants that have taken over as the planet's dominating force, which was never the intention.
However, story never was the big moneymaker in Red Faction games. No, the real seller was the gameplay. The highly destructible environments and the myriad of weapons coalesced into explosive euphoria. Thankfully, Volition kept these aspects, but changed them in some good ways and some not-so-good ways.
The weapons in the game are probably the greatest aspect. Guns range from the good old sledgehammer to the black hole-inducing Singularity Cannon. Of course, there is the standard fare of weapons, such as the assault rifle and the pistol, but there are also some extremely creative and useful firearms like the Magnet Gun. The Magnet Gun (as it suggests) shoots two magnets. One attaches itself to the object/enemy while the other attracts the target to it. It’s a versatile weapon, whether you're knocking down a tower by ripping apart the supports or flinging aliens into a wall.
Here, Darius demonstrates that ignorance really is bliss.
Reinforcing Armageddon's special brand of alien-removing weaponry is a new utility called the Nano Forge. Darius uses the Nano Forge to rebuild structures that were previously destroyed, a major problem in prior Red Faction titles when player became stuck or buried under a mountain of brick and metal. The Nano Forge can also be upgraded to repel enemies, shatter walls, or create a shield for temporary protection.
Vehicle sections, which let you control anything from a nimble, mining walker to a giant, lumbering death machine from the likes of Wild Wild West, round out rather average on-foot shootouts. These sequences empower the player with a sense of invulnerability, except for the last section when your shields fail you.
Sadly, the environments do not indulge the same power fantasies. This is not to say that they aren’t there, but they aren’t important anymore. The previous Red Faction outing, Guerrilla, had a multitude of machinery, bridges, and explosive barrels to sabotage. Unfortunately, since Armageddon takes place underground, the number of fragile man-made structures is surprisingly limited. There is a distinct lack of tactical demolishing here, such as crushing soldiers with a collapsing tower.
Not only is the setting limited, but it’s extremely repetitive. Once you’ve played the game for an hour or so, be prepared to slog through identical bleak interiors for the next three or four hours until you breach the surface. In general, the linear construction and needless backtracking make for an overtly shallow gameplay experience.
While the destruction may look as good as ever, the developers still skimped on the terrain deformation.
In addition to the story, there is Ruin, a timed mode where the player is instructed to cause as much destruction as possible. While this is a fun afternoon killer, it won’t keep you for long, and the lack of competitive multiplayer is disappointing. Instead we get another wave-based survival game that will disinterest you almost immediately due to its lack of anything that makes Red Faction unique.
The presentation of Red Faction: Armageddon is, again, that of a fairly standard game. The graphics are nothing to gawk at, but they are also nothing to scoff at. They’re appropriate for the grimy hopelessness that comes with living beneath the ground, and I will admit that the reconstruction of buildings looks cool, with the particle effects and outlining seamlessly recreating the object.
On the plus side, the facial animations capture more emotion than the bland voice acting. Coming from just playing L.A. Noire a few weeks ago, that’s not bad. One problem I experienced on the PC version is that the actual in-game cutscenes looked crisper and prettier than the pre-rendered cinematics, even though I played on the highest settings. Also, the game’s frame rate boasts a constant 60 FPS, except for some key parts when the action gets very helter-skelter near the end.
Red Faction: Armageddon is a bleak romp through the caves of Mars bolstered by its imaginative weapons and engaging vehicle sections, but the gameplay trips on its own creativity due to a limited and linear campaign. Even though the Ruin mode can provide some fun, it’s not enough to salvage this average third-person shooter. In a shower of raining shrapnel, the only thing Armageddon destroys are expectations.
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-4 (Cooperative)
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3