Red Faction: Armageddon Review

Andy Rose | 7 Jun 2011 17:20
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The Red Faction series is known primarily for its destruction technology: the early games allowed the player to burrow holes into the landscape, and the more recent titles allow the player to dynamically bring any structure to its knees by destroying its supports. It's a fun mechanic, and Volition has built the series around it. The problem with Red Faction: Armageddon, however, is that they didn't build the game around it.

Fans of the previous game will quickly notice that the open world of Red Faction: Guerrilla has been replaced with a more linear, structured experience. This has a few ramifications, but their intention was to deliver a more consistent stream of action and have more control over the presentation of the story. They succeeded on both counts, though the latter may have been a wasted effort.

You, as Darius Mason, were tricked by the nefarious cultist/terrorist Adam Hale into unleashing an alien scourge on the unsuspecting populace of Mars, and now it's up to you to save them. There are some other bits to it - Hale has also blown up the Terraformer, forcing everyone into tunnels underground - but they're lost in a sea of mediocre cutscenes and unpleasant characters. While not offensively bad, the story exists mostly as a vessel to justify your back-talking supersoldier's genocide. Volition, however, considered it important enough to liberally place cutscenes throughout the game which are, thankfully, skippable. Additionally, they've released an accompanying film, Red Faction: Origins, which supposedly bridges the story between the previous title and Armageddon, but it's easy to follow the plotline of Armageddon even if you've never played the previous games. Overall, the story is on par with the rest of the genre, which isn't saying much, but it does a serviceable job of setting up the action.

Before I can discuss the action, though, it's important to note that Armageddon features aliens as the predominant enemy - a first for the series. These bug-like monstrosities have crawled from the bowels of Mars to attack the upstanding human citizens (never mind that the majority of your encounters with other humans involve being shot at, deceived, or arrested) who now occupy the planet, and it's clear that they must be destroyed - after all, we were here first they started it we don't like they way they look. There are a few different types of these chitinous buggers, and each one has a different attack pattern: leaping aliens, jumping wall-sticking aliens, teleporting aliens, charging aliens, and so on. Almost all of them have some form of quick, agile movement to make shooting them more challenging. The attack patterns are recognizably different from one another, each alien type is easily identifiable, and the combination of different alien types prevents combat from becoming stale. The enemy design, considered alone, is skillfully done.

Red Faction series is always about its Geo-Mod technology, which allows most structures to be destroyed dynamically by blowing their supporting components apart. It's impressive to see in action, and it holds the same primal satisfaction that comes from knocking down an intricate Lego construction without the accompanying guilt of making a child cry. It has tactical implications, too: buildings can be denied to the enemy, chasms can be made impassible by the destruction of their bridges, new entrances can be made in fortified enemy bunkers, and so forth. Volition has equipped the player with a number of weapons to facilitate the destruction, some new to the series and some classic holdovers, all of which are distinct and entertaining to use.

Armageddon has all the pieces necessary to make a great game - so why isn't it one?

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