Open world games have a certain flow of combat to them. We can’t just hide behind cover since the enemy can always circle around behind us. Instead, players must always be aware of their surroundings. But we can’t just “push ahead” to the end of the level either because there is no end of the level. Open world combat is defined by movement: moving around enemies, moving between obstacles, always making sure to keep something between you and the bad guys. Despite all the space in any open world, combat plays out in smaller arenas defined by the location of enemies; the arena is only as big as the farthest enemy. Red Faction: Armageddon mimics this combat structure of an open world game in an attempt to make up for its lack of a real open world, but in doing so, it misses the real reason why open world combat can be so fun.
Linear games like Call of Duty always make sure to put the enemy in front of you. Since the enemy is always ahead, you’re always moving forward to overtake them, and there’s very little reason to ever turn around. That’s what makes these games such a linear experience. Armageddon doesn’t follow that kind of strict linearity. Even though its levels are fairly narrow and straight, the movement of enemies allows it to capture the feel of open world combat in tight quarters.
Enemies spawn all around you, forcing you to constantly move in the same way that you’d move in an open world game. The levels may be linear, but the combat is not. However, the appeal of an open world game is not that we can be surrounded or flanked. There’s actually nothing inherent in the combat itself that makes it any more or less fun than a linear fight. It’s what happens before the fight that matters. In an open world game, we can approach a combat situation from any direction. We can scout ahead, make a plan of attack, or charge in purposely without a plan and just make something up as we go along.
This is where Armageddon fails. There’s always only one entrance and exit from an arena. In addition, these open areas are usually empty until we enter—at which point the aliens will spawn from all directions. Since we can’t see them before entering, we can’t plan out an attack. Even when we can see the aliens ahead, the developers only give us a single path of approach. We never have a choice regarding how to approach a combat situation. It’s always run in, get surrounded, and shoot our way out.
Even though the game captures the arena-like combat structure of an open world game, it ends up feeling linear to a fault because it never lets players think or plan for themselves, as all open worlds do. Perhaps if the game had multiple paths leading into an arena it could get away with having linear levels and open combat, but as it is now, Armageddon is an interesting bit of genre-mixing that just doesn’t understand the genres that it’s trying to mix.
You can follow the Moving Pixels blog on Twitter.