Red Faction: Armageddon
US: 7 Jun 2011
Red Faction: Armageddon is a very different game from its predecessor, Red Faction: Guerilla. The later was an open world game in which you could destroy any building you saw. While this open-ended destruction was fun, other elements of the open world hampered the experience. Armageddon is a more linear game with a tighter focus on what’s fun, but that tighter focus also makes the game indistinguishable from other third-person shooters.
A token amount of plot: cultists destroy a terraformer on Mars, messing up the atmosphere and forcing humanity underground where we unleash a long dormant alien species.
Since humanity is now living underground, many levels take place in cave tunnels (though you do go up to surface in the latter half of the game), and developer Volition takes advantage of this new environment. Structures hang from the ceiling and can be dropped onto enemies, and the aliens themselves jump from wall to floor to ceiling to pillar. They act like they belong in this type of environment; this is clearly their world. One can forgive the clichéd insect design of the aliens since it looks natural for a species that lives underground. Their agility also makes them fun to fight. They constantly jump behind you, surrounding you, which makes the levels feel less linear: You can’t always retreat, and the enemy isn’t always going to be in front of you. The game captures the feel of open world combat in a confined space.
Of course, it helps that not all combat takes place in confined spaces. Narrow corridors lead to large caverns filled with various buildings, and this is where the big battles take place. You’ll fight monstrous creatures eager to smash everything in sight. It’s quite fun to play matador, baiting the monster into a building then bringing it down on top of him. These are the moments when Armageddon shines, when battles become playgrounds of destruction that can just as easily kill both you and the alien if you’re not careful. Because of the game’s linearity, Volition is able to create set pieces for specific purposes: all hanging structures, explosive barrels, and load-bearing bricks are there for a reason.
The best part of Red Faction: Armageddon is the new tools given to you, specifically the nano forge and the magnet gun. With the magnet gun you shoot a target, and then shoot a second time to create an anchor point, and the target will get sucked to the anchor like two magnets no matter how big or heavy the target may be. You can make walls crash into each other, toss an alien onto a spiked rock, or bring down an entire tower with a single pair of shots. It’s a fun gun, and so effective that you can easily spend the first half of the game using just the magnet gun. Red Faction’s iconic sledgehammer pales in comparison.
The nano forge is an entirely different kind of tool. With it you can rebuild most structures, erasing any damage that you or the aliens have caused. There are battles where you’ll have to rebuild cover that’s been previously destroyed, and later on you’ll fight on thin bridges over magma and have to find a balance between repairing and shooting. For a game that sells itself on destruction, Armageddon involves a fair amount of construction as well.
However, since your path through the world doesn’t change, there’s little reason to go back to it. There aren’t enough open arenas to make a second playthrough interesting. Too much is repeated, set pieces aren’t as shocking a second time through so a lot of the surprise and intensity from a scripted explosion is lost. The single-player campaign is also far shorter than any open world game, which is sure to anger some fans of the series. There are multiple vehicle sections, and you almost never play in the same vehicle twice. The weapons on these machines are more devastating than anything else in the game, and there’s a giddy joy in going on an unstoppable rampage in a giant suit of armor but, again, much of that fun is lost when doing it a second time.
Oddly, there’s no competitive multiplayer, which was a major selling point of the previous game, and Armageddon never fully recovers from that egregious omission. The wave-based cooperative multiplayer, Infestation, isn’t a suitable replacement. Fighting against other people will always offer more variety than fighting against AI monsters.
Armageddon evokes a primitive joy, one of watching things blow up and fall apart. It prides itself on overpowering the player and letting you run wild. Unlike its predecessor, the ability to rebuild after a battle makes the wanton destruction more meaningful. These are people’s homes after all, and after every big fight, you can be charitable and rebuild as if nothing happened. There’s no reward for doing so, but the mere ability suggests a more responsible approach to the kind of wanton destruction that video games thrive on; it’s like you’re cleaning up after yourself. But despite all its fun, it still feels small. The removal of a major multiplayer component is never properly justified, and as an overall package, Armageddon simply doesn’t offer as much as Guerilla did two years ago. It’s a weekend diversion at best: fun but forgettable.