Red Faction: Armageddon – The PS3 Attitude Review
If there’s one question that developers surely consider before making a sequel, it’s probably: rinse and repeat or start afresh? The number of identikit sequels around points to the former being the safest bet; however, isn’t that a bit boring?
All the same, Volition could’ve played it safe for Armageddon. They could’ve said, “let’s get a new Mason, explore a new section on Mars and rethink some of Guerrilla’s missions. It’ll be magic.” It probably would.
Nevertheless, we’re glad they’ve shaken things up, because there were fundamental issues with the old formula that we’re glad to be getting away from. For starters, Red Faction is set on Mars, therefore pretty sights are few and far between, unless you have a keen eye for various shades of red and brown. We didn’t want Armageddon to look the same.
Then there’s the hardware limitations; those huge vistas and open world environments come with a huge framerate cost, so it’s unlikely we would have seen a new built-up Mars — not unless they scaled back on the destruction (and that wasn’t going to happen). So more travelling across sparse terrain.
It makes sense, then, why Volition has decided to put destruction and action at the heart of everything — and not something that you work towards — even if it means giving up on some of the things we liked about Guerrilla.
To do this, they’ve mostly set Armageddon in underground caverns, where the spaces are enclosed and tight. In these claustrophobic tunnels, Volition funnel wave after wave of aliens at us, giving us plenty of reasons to cause damage (not that we need one).
So basically, Armageddon is now an intense, corridor shooter, in which the world around us has a tendency to fall apart as we fire ridiculously over-powered weapons at packs of sprightly extra terrestrials. It sounds fun, and it really is. Our first few hours passed by in no time, and we doubt our eyes ever left the screen (even for a quick browse on PS3 Attitude).
The first level and part of the second are all about learning the game, but from then on it’s a case of, “hey, take this overcharged weapon and go blow up some crap.” The good weapons come early, too, including a Plasma Cannon that fires blasts so powerful they can topple multi-story buildings with ease. Neither do you have to wait long before receiving the Magnet Gun (Volition’s signature weapon).
The Magnet Gun fires two magnets, one to a target and one to a receiver. When the second lands, the first is drawn to the second. How does it work in action? Well, picture this: you fire a magnet at a tower and then another at an alien (preferably the one who’s spitting green mucus at you); this triggers a wonderful event, which sees the tower go flying towards the alien, making it to go splat. Serves it right. Best of all, it’s all done in real-time. None of it is scripted.
If you are a believer of Bulletstorm’s ‘kill with skill’ revolution, you’ll be positively attracted to this piece of kit. However, it’s not the only great tool in Armageddon. The arsenal is full of real highlights, such as the Plasma Beam Rifle and Singularity Cannon. The former fires a beam so hot it slices through buildings as though they’re made of butter, and the latter creates a mini black hole, which sucks up and destroys everything nearby.
The famous Red Faction Maul hammer is back, too. It’s bigger and more powerful than ever. We positively approve.
As if such great weaponry wasn’t enough, Armageddon also has several vehicles to play around in (and we’re not talking about pickup trucks). Armageddon has Iron Man-style mech suits and huge Spider-like Walker machines. Enemies are easy to defeat with their powerful missile, laser and charge attacks, and they can also charge through walls with ease. These sections are generally an opportunity to feel super powerful.
In addition to the weapons and mechs, there is also a selection of powerful Nano Forge attacks, including: Shockwave (which puts enemies in a paralytic levitated state), Shell (a dome shield that protects your precious body), Impact (a powerful wave attack that knocks down enemies and walls) and Berserk (which increases your power and continues to increase with every kill you make). These abilities add an extra layer to the gameplay and are very useful.
Having such strength isn’t always a good thing, but it mostly works in Armageddon. It only seems fair that you are overpowered when the enemies are coming at you in such high numbers. Also, you hardly notice that you’re splatting bugs with ease because the intensity is so high. There’s nothing more distracting than mass bug killing.
It’s easy to get severely disorientated and overwhelmed by the intensity of the assaults. This is mostly down to the erratic attack patterns of the aliens. They’ll generally always spawn in front, within or not far out of vision, but they’ll then jump to the walls around you, in front and sometimes behind. The agile kinds are also supported by big, bruiser kinds who come straight at you, and then there are ones who sit in the distance and fire mucus at you.
Things become more desperate when a Monolith (read: giant tentically monster) sprouts from the ground. It fires more green mucus at you, while buffing the aliens making them harder to kill. If this isn’t frantic enough, a Berserker (Armageddon’s most powerful alien) will usually appear. It’ll go in a huff when it’s about to die, run at you and then explode.
Armageddon is simply relentless, but everything feels slick, so it’s a pleasure to play. The huge scope for destruction also adds a real sense of chaos to the proceedings, too. (It’s a good thing there’s a repair ability, which allows you to undo your mess. It’s one of the game’s best and smartest features.)
Yet, for all the enjoyment we got from blasting our way through Armageddon, it’s hard to escape that disappointing feeling that it only has one trick up its sleeve. You don’t notice it for the first few hours, but it hit us in a bad way in the second half.
Halfway through Armageddon, we stopped and thought: “Hey, haven’t I been in this cave many times before?” We’re not sure if Laura Ashley would have much joy styling a series of underground caves, but we expect more than what’s on offer here. Even the brief trips to Mars’ red surface don’t help much. Things pick up very late in the game when you discover the lava caves. However, much of the game blends into one.
Part of this is down to the set piece moments failing to hit the mark. Bosses are flat affairs and some of the other supposedly big moments are mostly just frustrating. There’s one particular section in which you have to stave off waves of aliens while on a harvester. Your foot space is limited so you have nowhere to hide, aside from a small metal wall. The enemies destroy this, so you have to repair it. At the same time they’re shooting at you and you can’t shoot back. You’ll most likely die (maybe a few times).
The story and its characters also prove to be a big let down. Darius Mason (grandson of Guerrilla’s hero, Alec) couldn’t be any more of a genero-bald space man. He’s dull, smug and thoroughly unlikeable. The supporting cast also fail to leave an impression.
Adam Hale, our arch enemy — the guy responsible for ruining Mars’ atmosphere, driving everyone underground, and for unleashing a plague of bugs — is possibly the most underused boss in recent memory. He makes fleeting appearances in the game, mostly to laugh demonically (comically?) and do bad things, before quickly disappearing.
Hale actually has a strong backstory and has reasons to hate the Masons (not that you’d know from Armageddon’s story). Instead, he’s just a part-time cartoon villain who appears occasionally with his merry band of Cultists to do something bad. He’s responsible for some pretty serious, almost-planet-ending stuff. You would expect him to be much more memorable than he is. It’s such a waste.
Armageddon is a dumb action game, and it really should be much more than that. The Red Faction series is built around warring factions, and it’s always had strong political ideologies woven throughout its various narratives. It’s a genuinely interesting world, and it’s not being utilised in Armageddon.
Yet, for all its flaws, Armageddon is a compelling title that captured our attention for at least two thirds of its (relatively short) campaign. It has intuitive gameplay, unmatched destruction and some pretty awesome weapons. It can be pure unadulterated fun. We suspect some Guerrilla fans will despise it, but we’re confident some of them (as well as numerous newcomers) will have a blast.
One final note on the singleplayer campaign: despite thinking that the campaign had petered out by the end, the first thing we did was start a new campaign. This was partly to hoover up some trophies and acquire the last of the Nano Forge abilities, but it was also to take advantage of Mr. Toots, the rainbow unicorn, who farts, erm, rainbows when you squeeze him. We also played around using the A-Ha style Sketch Mode. It’s remarkable that such amusing gems are hidden underneath Armageddon’s serious (read: dreadfully dull) exterior.
Cause ruin, then survive the infestation
After completing Armageddon, and having your fill with Sketch mode, Mr Toots and the other “Cheats”, you still have Ruin and Infestation modes to keep you busy.
Ruin is an evolution of Guerrilla’s wrecking mode. In it, you get a short period of time to go out and cause as much destruction as possible. All the great weapons are available and there is a decent selection of maps available, so it’s a great sandbox to mess around in. Volition’s Geo-Mod engine is famous for its destruction, and Ruin is a great showcase for it. It’s unlikely anyone will return to it on a regular basis, but it’s great if you have a friend round. Pop on Ruin, cause some damage and watch your score rise as you land those multipliers; then pass your controller over and watch your friend try to beat it. Top fun.
If Ruin is casual, Infestation is hardcore. It’s a Horde Mode, in which you and three others survive waves of aliens. It begins very easy before getting very challenging. Going through all 30 waves is a hard slog but it certainly leaves you feeling satisfied when you get to the end. The best thing about Infestation is that there’s a lot of scope for teamwork. Players can only choose one Nano Forge ability, but a good team will ensure that they have a good spread of skills. Shell is especially important because the dome can cover everyone, keeping them safe fora period of time. Impact attacks are also great for pushing the enemy back, should they get too close. There’s also a dark mode, in which the lights are turned off. If you stick together your light sources (e.g. from gunfire) will be amplified if you’re near to each other, making it easier for everyone. Nice.