Red Faction: Armageddon takes place several decades after the events seen in Red Faction: Guerrilla, after Alec Mason successfully liberated Mars, and pushed the EDF off the planet. As Alec’s grandson, Darius Mason, players are thrown into another Martian meltdown, and are tasked with fighting both evil fanatics bent on destroying the Red Faction, and a horde of Martian creatures, released from the depths of the planet.
The prologue of the story reveals a disaster that effectively destroys the surface atmosphere of Mars and forces the inhabitants underground into the old Ultor mines and various caverns. Battling for survival, the colonists haven’t done too badly for themselves, building undergrounds towns and settlements. That is, until the indigenous species of Mars decide to pay them a visit and all Hell breaks loose.
Soon Darius and the rest of the Red Faction (well, mainly Darius) are forced to engage the enemy in an effort to save themselves from annihilation. Of course, this means plenty of carnage and is a prime excuse to blow the crap out of the environment in the process, a Red Faction staple.
Narrow closed spaces
Unlike the previous Red Faction: Guerrilla, Armageddon isn’t an open world title. This time the game has been developed as a more focused and linear action adventure. The game’s level-based approach means a more directed story and controlled combat, particularly when it comes to mission structures and set pieces.
For much of the time you’ll be romping through underground caverns and settlements, although you do get to see the surface, too, at times. You’ll be sheep herded through tunnels and caves and there’s no possibly way to get lost, thanks to a GPS tracking system that literally paints a path for you to follow.
These expeditions are broken up with many pitched battles and some set piece events, such as defending tunnelling machines or riding gondolas through massive caverns, and you’re often tasked with repairing various installations.
Of course, battles in Red Faction: Armageddon are more than simple firefights. Here combat is one part bullet-slinging and two parts total destruction.
As is to be expected, Armageddon once more ups the ante when it comes to the use of the patented GeoMod destruction engine. Using the latest iteration of the engine, the game is arguably the best demonstration yet for Volition’s environmental carnage.
Although the game takes place in a linear, often enclosed environment, there’s never any shortage of things to blow up and tear down, and this time there’s even more reason to do so.
Whilst Guerrilla had some genuine reasons to destroy the environment, and offered tactical destructibility options, Armageddon focuses this mechanic far more and channels it into combat almost constantly. In each battle you can always find ways to use the environment to your advantage, be it by blowing a hole in a structure to make a quick getaway, or by collapsing a bridge, bringing your foes crashing down to the ground.
In fact, thanks to some additional weapons and features, this integration is made all the more essential. There are two particularly notable new additions that enforce this, the magnet gun and the new Nano Forge.
The magnet gun is surely going to become a firm favourite, and can be used to launch magnetic tethers to two points in the world. Once connected, whatever is tethered to the first magnetic bolt is then ripped up and sent flying towards the other end of the tether. This makes for some truly impressive bouts of environmental destruction, and not only can you tear down structures by ripping their supports out from under them, but you can throw chunks of the environment at your foes, with satisfying results.
The other new addition is the Nano Forge. A core plot device of Guerrilla, it’s now been refined, not only into some weapons, such as the returning Nano rifle, but also as a wrist-mounted computer and construction device. This device, activated by holding LB, can be used to instantly rebuild the environment.
So, if you blew up a bridge or stairway in a frantic battle, and now need to use them to continue, you can quickly rebuild either. Stuck in the middle of a battle with no cover? Rebuild some in a flash.
This ability to effectively shape the world by blowing it up and then rebuilding it adds a whole new layer to the GeoMod functionality here, and helps to bring a lot of great gameplay to the mix.
The Nano Forge also lets you fire off waves of energy, letting you smash through walls and send foes splattering into surfaces. It has a slow recharge, but it’s a real tide turner at times, and if nothing else, let’s you smash the world apart if you’re out of ammo. There’s always the trusty hammer, too, of course.
The actual GeoMod engine is also tweaked and refined, and structures now collapse and fall more convincingly, even if there are still a few instances of thin sticks of metal holding up whole buildings.
The most important thing to note, though, is, as I mentioned earlier, that destruction is integral to the combat, and it’s by no means a gimmick. It works brilliantly and makes each confrontation enjoyable as you use a combination of destructive weapons such as mine and rocket launchers and the environment to lay waste to armies of foes.
And, as foes such as the nimble aliens jump around and stick to walls and other structures, begging to be blown to bits along their perch, it’s all the better for it.
The rest of the game’s core mechanics are far more traditional, though, and this is where the game starts to show some flaws. The third person controls and standard combat are as you’d expect, with little in the way of innovation. Given that Armageddon would benefit greatly from some form of cover system, it’s surprising that there’s no such thing here, aside from standing behind walls and the like. As Red Faction: Guerrilla had a cover system, it’s even more surprising that the feature has been omitted here.
The overly linear missions leave little in the way of individual flair, and you’re always ushered along, and even penalised if you dare to leave a battle scene, with an onscreen timer telling you to return to the predefined area. It’s annoying, and unnecessary, as you can’t exactly wander off somewhere else as you could in Guerrilla, with its open world.
Still, although the standard third person action doesn’t innovate, and is often a little restrictive, it hits all the right core notes, and controlling Darius and using his array of weapons is simple and fluid enough. Some other mechanics return, too, such as exosuits that can be worn in order to cause all sorts of destruction.
There are also light RPG elements. As you collect salvage, you can spend this to power up Daruis and his weapons. You can increase health, reload speed, ammo capacity, and can learn other new moves, such as a shockwave move that can knock foes back in a 360 degree arc and gain the ability to see foes’ health.
Enemies are interesting, and do much more than simply run towards you or stand out in the open. They’ll find cover, destroy the environment you’re hiding behind, and aliens will hunt you down, often flanking you with great effect. That said, I managed to survive more than one boss encounter rather easily, as the bosses in question managed to kill themselves with splash damage by firing into solid walls. Not exactly the sharpest tools in the box.
The single player campaign is good, if a little short, but that’s not where the fun ends. Armageddon has a couple of interesting modes that aim to extend the life of the game. The first is Infestation, which is a 2-4 player co-op Horde-style mode, with the added benefit of environmental destruction. It’s a great addition, and although these Horde modes are fast becoming trite, here it’s a genuine fit, and it’s a mode that suits Red Faction‘s style.
The other mode is Ruin. More of a throwaway feature than a bona fide mode, Ruin simply lets you run lose, able to destroy the world as you see fit. It’s a simple sandbox diversion, but not one that has any real use.
Life on Mars
After the open world sandbox of Guerrilla, I have to admit that I feel Volition has taken a step back with Armageddon, and has played it very safe with an often predictable, linear action shooter. Whilst the GeoMod 2.0 destruction engine is as impressive as ever, perhaps more so, thanks to the ability to quickly rebuild what you destroy, the move to confined corridors and caverns isn’t quite as appealing as having a whole open world to rampage around in. However, you can’t ignore the far better integration of destruction into combat, which is one of the best features here.
Sadly, though, if you strip out the destructive environments, Red Faction: Armageddon is a fairly average, if solid, third person shooter, with little in the way of real innovation. The GeoMod 2.0 features do a lot to elevate the game, and make for some hugely enjoyable battles, but if this particular destructive bent doesn’t rock your world, then you’ll probably find yourself wishing for something more.
You can rent or buy Red Faction: Armageddon at Blockbuster.co.uk.