In terms of gameplay experiences, the Red Faction series has had an interesting run. It started out on the PS2 and PC as a fairly engaging first-person shooter in which you could destroy anything and everything you see, allowing you to progress through levels and kill enemies in creative ways. Red Faction II went away from its Martian setting and took the action back to Earth. While pure destruction was still part of its DNA, the lone adventurer experience was transformed into more of a squad shooter and has now gone multiplatform. Red Faction: Guerrilla changed things again, and while it went back to the Martian setting, it became more of an open-world, third-person shooter with a high emphasis on destruction. Two years later, THQ and Volition have come together for a sequel that changes things once more. Those coming into Red Faction: Armageddon will be very surprised with what they see.
Unlike the previous games in the series, Armageddon is more of a direct sequel to its predecessor. Generations have passed since the Red Faction fought against the Earth Defense Force, but war still ravages the planet. You play the role of Darius Mason, grandson of the famous miner-turned-activist, Alec Mason. On a mission to stop a cult from destroying the planet's terraformer, he fails, sending all of Mars' inhabitants underground due to the surface's harsh conditions. Years later, on a mining expedition, he gets duped by the same disguised cultists into unleashing an ancient alien force from its tomb. Feeling responsible for the whole mess, you make it your mission to stop the cultists, stop the aliens and save whoever is left in the caverns and surface of Mars.
The plot and how it plays out is quite generic. You've seen it several times before, and you've also seen the character types before. The only thing that's changed is the setting, and even then, you could mistake it for a completely different planet if it weren't for everyone else reminding you that you're on Mars. The Red Faction series has never really been big on huge, intricate plots, mind you, but it is worth noting when you consider this game's direction.
Those expecting the gameplay experience to be similar to that of Red Faction: Guerrilla will find that there are some pretty big changes. The focus goes away from a third-person, open-world shooter to a third-person linear shooter. You're not exactly going from room to room blasting everything you see, but the natural roadblocks, like giant chasms or elevators that stop working, hinder you from going backward when you're meant to go forward. On occasion, there's even a warning that appears on-screen when you've retreated too far from a hot zone. Seemingly open areas also follow this rule of thumb, so leaving the caverns and going to the surface doesn't suddenly change things. There's less freedom of movement as a result, but the developers seem to have tried to balance this by placing more structures in each area.
Destruction remains the key selling point of the title, and it's just as strong as ever. Like its predecessors, just about everything can be blown to bits, and while that usually means that rock formations and solid ground are practically indestructible while people and aliens can't go limbless, everything else is fair game. Aside from incidental damage done by explosions and enemy attacks, you have an arsenal of weapons that can dole out some nice environmental damage. Your standard set of weapons — pistols, rocket launchers and shotguns — is here, as is your trusty sledgehammer, which is strong enough to break down walls with one swing. New to the game are some more inventive weapons, like a singularity gun, which creates mini black holes, and a magnet gun, which lets you force two objects to collide into each other. While players of the previous game will miss things like the modified arc welder, they've been replaced with the ability to pilot several different vehicles in a few levels, so the trade-off isn't really that bad.
The concept of rebuilding is now included and makes for some immersive gameplay scenarios. Before, once an object like a steel floor or an entire building was gone, it was gone for good, except for the rubble it left behind. Now, anything within range (or at a good distance once you get the ability) can be repaired on demand. It makes for some good defense on the fly as you rebuild broken walls or crates, and it also makes for some good offensive capabilities since you can essentially break something, toss the debris at the enemy, rebuild the same object, and start the process all over again.
It's the key concepts of destroying and rebuilding everything in sight, along with the included weaponry and vehicles, that make the campaign feel just right. The constant planning for how you want to kill the enemy opens up the title to more than just the basic tactic of "shooting enemies until they die and take cover" mechanic seen in countless other shooters on the market. Do you want the enemy to die from falling at great heights? Do you want him tossed to a waiting radio tower? Do you want to destroy the infected building by taking it apart instead of throwing rockets at it?
Your strategy is limited to only your imagination, and it's good to see the hook preserved by the series. The pacing also helps since you have the ability to power up along the way with new abilities but are drip-fed new weapons every level or so. You may favor that pair of pistols, for example, but the plasma beam rifle might look enticing later. It's the pacing that keeps the eight-hour campaign feeling just right, and the ability to carry your upgrades and guns into multiplayer (and vice versa) and into a new campaign, complete with the absurd rainbow-shooting unicorn, make you keep playing after the credits roll the first time.
There is one other single-player mode you can partake in, should you tire of repeatedly going through the campaign. Ruin mode, which is available for free for those who bought the game new, sends you out into one of five areas, with four weapons of your choice and unlimited ammo. In one minute, you have to cause as much destruction as possible to reach the target score and unlock the other levels for the mode. The time limit and destructible nature of the environment are the sources of fun for the mode, and they help the player overlook some issues. Points aren't doled out for the amount of destruction you cause but for what gets blown up. The act of placing different values on targets is good, but because you can never figure out which item yields which amount of points, you're simply playing a guessing game until you find out the values. Also, unlike its predecessor, there's no hint of online multiplayer to be found. You have worldwide leaderboards against which you can compete, but without friends to help destroy stuff, it can only be fun for so long. Finally, with only five levels to compete in, the amount of stuff that can be destroyed can feel limiting, especially since you'll always start out in the same area every time you play a level.
The multiplayer for Armageddon is much different from the previous game and most third-person shooters on the market today. There's only one mode, Infestation, that mimics the Horde mode from Gears of War 2. You and three other players, via online or LAN, team up to survive 30 waves of alien forces. As expected, enemy forces grow in strength and number as rounds go on, and each round gives you the ability to equip desired weapons before going out into a fight. The cooperative combat system is inherently fun because of the available weaponry and the fragile environments, but the team has put in some improvements to the now-classic formula. First, each round can be continued at any time, so those worrying that they won't have enough time to go through a required number of levels to reach a checkpoint can know that any session can be as long or as short as they want. Also, like the single-player mode, all Infestation maps feature a gradual weapon increase as the rounds go on. You may start out with just a basic arsenal of pistols and magnet guns, but plasma launchers and singularity guns soon come into play in later rounds, preventing the experience from getting boring if players are given the powerful weapons early on.
The lack of other multiplayer modes is what will disappoint those who still love to hunt down others via unconventional means. Unlike the previous game, Infestation is the only multiplayer mode here, and even that can be played alone offline if so desired. If the basic deathmatch and capture the flag varieties of the previous game were lackluster, then it would make perfect sense for this game to omit them from the lineup. However, the inherent nature of the destruction system makes combat feel unique, and even with the absence of weaponry and augmentations from the previous title, having some basic adversarial multiplayer modes wouldn't have hurt, especially with some of the new vehicles and guns.
Graphically, not much has changed between this game and the previous one. Human characters still look just as you would expect them to by this generation, and they animate nicely. Ther'es some attention to minor details, like the rope attached to Darius' pack swinging on its own when you move. The environments look dark because of most of the game's location, but at least things vary as you progress through the game. Not everything is an extreme change, but being able to step on the Martian surface makes things seem fresh. Every destroyable item still looks realistic when blown apart, with individual items getting torn asunder in believable ways. The aliens are the only new thing to look at, and their designs and animations are fine. The designs aren't anything new, but it also doesn't feel like they went overboard with the various spikes and blades for limbs. The glow they constantly emit is nice, though after a while, it becomes the only way to differentiate between aliens since the designs tend to meld together after a while.
The sound is still just as good as before. The music goes for an epic sci-fi feeling but doesn't overstay its welcome by being too over the top or bombastic. It also doesn't play too often, so you can appreciate its presence when it breaks up those frequent quiet moments. The voicework is above average, with the main character sounding almost like Nolan North at times. The overall performances are quite good, and there are some funny lines to be heard. The only performance that can be seen as bad would be the speech you hear the cultist leader repeat in the first level of the game; it makes him sound bored instead of sinister.
Red Faction: Armageddon both satisfies and disappoints, depending on your camp. The single-player campaign may feel too restrictive for some because of the lack of open-world areas to play with, but the weaponry and mass destruction you can inflict still make the somewhat-lengthy experience fun. While co-op multiplayer is great, the lack of competitive modes will turn off those who have come to expect a more refined multiplayer experience. Still, the game is enjoyable enough that fans will not be terribly disappointed in the final product, especially those who prefer single-player over multiplayer games.
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