Volition's Red Faction series has always been known for its GeoMod technology, but 2009's Red Faction: Guerrilla took destruction to a whole new level. Now the developer is once again trying to kick things up a notch with Red Faction: Armageddon, which is due for release early next month.
Red Faction: Armageddon is set 50 years after the events of Red Faction: Guerrilla, and a lot has happened over the intervening years. Red Faction evolved from a resistance movement into a respected military force, but even it couldn't prevent the ravages of Mother Nature. When a stray meteor destroyed the terraforming facilities on Mars, the colonists were driven to find refuge within the old underground tunnels. Having built a life of relative safety in the tunnels, Martian society was doing well until Darius Mason, grandson of Alec Mason, was tricked into opening an old Martian temple and unleashing an alien fury on the world.
While the story may have changed from one of resisting oppression to something more along the lines of "Aliens" meets "Starship Troopers," what seems to be intact is the extreme level of destruction that fans of the franchise have come to love. In short, unless it's solid bedrock, chances are good that you can blow it up.
The recently released Xbox 360 demo does a good job of highlighting this fact as well as giving players a chance to check out some of the key weapons in the game.
Playing as Darius, the demo focuses on a segment of gameplay that occurs within the underground tunnels. Though the demo level shows off a great deal of distance vertically, it is actually rather constrained in terms of movement. The path through the tunnels is often narrow, contributing to a general sense of claustrophobia. When firefights do break out, you are forced to dodge as well as look for natural cover. There usually isn't anywhere to run.
This close-in feeling is a sharp contrast from the open world environment that was seen in Red Faction: Guerrilla. Although it has a different feel, it does have the distinct advantage of making the world feel more alive. The prior game may have excelled at giving players a sandbox in which to wreak havoc, but you had to suspend disbelief while travelling between populated areas, even within the same town. Rather than feeling like a fully populated world, the Mars in Red Faction: Guerrilla was more like a collection of neatly defined areas with little civilization in between.
Weapons-wise, the demo offers up four primary weapons with which you can experiment: assault rifle, charge launcher, magnet gun and singularity cannon. The assault rifle … shoots bullets. It's kind of anti-climatic, really. The charge launcher is like a grenade launcher that fire sticky grenades. You fire to tag the charges onto an enemy or object, and then tap a button to detonate. Cluster a few for bigger booms. The magnet gun doesn't use ammo per se; instead, you tag any item (or creature) in the immediate area and quickly tag a second. The first item shoots directly toward the second, regardless of what may be in its path. The singularity cannon is much like the singularity bomb in Red Faction: Guerrilla, with the difference being that these charges aren't placed — they're fired like bullets.
In addition to the standard weapons, Darius also has control of the nano forge. Whereas in the previous game, the nano forge was used for destruction, here it is used for reconstruction. Anything destroyed can be instantly rebuilt. This allows players to have at it while in combat (or really just for fun) without worry of stranding yourself. Accidentally destroy the only path forward? No worries; just rebuild it and move on. The nano forge also offers two secondary abilities in the demo: impact and shockwave. Impact is a forceful punch of energy that smashes forward, while shockwave is a charge attack that has an area of effect.
Cool as the weapons are, the coup de grace of the demo is the mech suit. Hop into this bad boy, and you're a one-man wrecking machine. Sure, the missiles and machine gun are nice, but when it comes right down to it, sometimes the fastest way forward is simply smashing your way straight through a wall. Doors are so overrated.
Providing a tantalizing taste of the destruction in store, the demo does a good job of showing off the engine powering Red Faction: Armageddon. What it can't do is show off how the narrative plays out or how varied the level design is across the different sections. A single confined tunnel is fun to play through, but a whole game of confined tunnels might just get a bit repetitive. As for the story line, the whole "fight the oppressors" and "down with the man" revolution ideals were always a big part of the new game. With the apparent shift toward "evil alien dude wants to kill you all" in the plot, we have to wonder if the story can hold the same impact as before.
In the end, it's going to be the gameplay that matters, and if the demo is to be believed, Volition is on track to deliver. With a ship date in early June, we'll soon know if Red Faction: Armageddon is a blast or a bust.
Editor's Note: For more on the Red Faction franchise, be sure to check out our exclusive "Red Faction: Origins" interview with actor Brian J. Smith.
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