Red Faction: Armageddon: They Blew It Up!
I’ll admit it. I was angry at Volition. I was angry that they had taken Red Faction: Guerrilla, a game that I considered brilliant, if flawed, and they turned it into a generic story driven corridor shooter. You may have been angry at them too, and you know what? That’s OK. You can be angry. However, half way in to Red Faction: Armageddon, I realized something that made me feel a lot better: Red Faction: Armageddon is NOT a sequel to Red Faction: Guerrilla.
Oh sure, it takes place in the same universe, on the same planet even, and it follows the events of Red Faction: Guerrilla into the further future. It even features some of the same gameplay elements, such as physics driven destructible environments. Even so, this is not a sequel. Rather, it is another game in the Red Faction franchise. As Red Faction Guerrilla was to Red Faction 1 and 2, so Armageddon is to Guerrilla. As such, I am not going to review this game for what it isn’t. Rather, I am going to review it for what it is: a different, if also flawed, direction to take the Red Faction franchise.
First and foremost, let’s address the story. You play as Darius Mason, the grandson of the hero of Red Faction: Guerrilla. Ole’ Darius is just hanging out on Mars, serving in the Red Faction military, when all of a sudden cultists attack the terraformer. Well, don’t you know it, you fuck up, and the entire population of Mars goes underground. But wait, there’s more. A few missions later, you fuck up again and release a plague of bug-like aliens on the already bedraggled populous. Darius just can’t do anything right.
So there’s your set up. Mars, cultists, terraformer, tunnels, aliens, shooting. Not exactly high-brow narrative, but then again this is a Syfy Games production. Frankly, the Syfy branding is appropriate, as the story itself and in particular the dialogue is pretty awful. We are talking obvious, trite and cringe-worthy awful. A Saturday morning cartoon in the early 1990’s awful. Case in point: man says to computerized companion “This guy is a real pain in my ass.” Computer companion says “I detect no damage in the glutial region.” This is what we are dealing with folks.
The story itself goes next to nowhere. Oh sure, Darius himself is propelled all over Mars, but the reasons are never really given much thought, other than his little arm-computer tells him that’s where to go next to either save the world, or not die. There is a big bad, but that aspect of the story, like many others, peters out without much explanation, and the game just keeps on going.
Man, does that story keep going. Red Faction: Armageddon has two beginnings, and at least three sequential endings, much like Return of the King, but not at all like Return of the King.
Of course, let’s be fair. Red Faction: Guerrilla wasn’t exactly winning any awards for it’s compelling and thoughtful narrative. What made that game great was it’s gameplay. So, how does Armageddon fare?
The answer, dear reader, is “Generally, pretty good.” The game retains the high level of environmental destructibility that Red Faction: Guerrilla introduced, and marries it to a much more refined combat system.
Let’s be clear about this: the minute to minute gameplay in Red Faction: Armageddon is far superior to Guerrilla. The game controls well, shooting and aiming feel good, everything plays at it should. The game looks great (I played it on PC, so your mileage may vary on PS3 and 360), and not once in the entire 9 hour experience did I find anything broken. There aren’t many games these days that I can say that about. While the dialogue is laughably derivative, the voice-overs are well acted, and the music was inoffensive. I am not going to be getting a Red Faction: Armageddon sound track or anything, but I didn’t turn the music off either, so I figure it’s a net positive.
The general style of the game (both in terms of the look of the thing and the gameplay itself) has changed between Guerrilla and Armageddon. In short, Armageddon feels like the Red Faction team tried to make Dead Space. You travel down dark and moody corridors, a radio buzzing in your ear, and then all of a sudden you are swamped by a variety of horrific aliens, many of whom look like they have knives for arms. You use a variety of weapons, as well as your pseudo-science-meets-magic nano-forge to fight them off. While Armageddon cannot hold a candle to Dead Space in many respects, it distinguishes itself as you would expect a Red Faction game to: in the destructibility.
The destructibility, frankly, is a lot of fun. While Guerilla allowed you to approach broader situations in a variety of ways, Armageddon brings that macro-level strategic thinking down to Mars, and finds good and creative ways to make environmental destruction a strategic part of the combat.
There are problems, however. The game starts off slow. Very slow. You will play through the same sorts of environments, shooting at largely the same sorts of things with the same guns for about the first 3-4 hours of the game. After this point, the game picks up nicely and treats you to a variety of fun vehicle sequences, and generally varies up the gameplay to keep the player engaged. The player will find himself in several mechs, giant robot walkers, and even a Descent-style aircraft. These portions of the game are fun, but a bit too easy. They feel as if the developer wanted to reward the player for playing with a big of god-mode destruction. Mostly you will just point at the thing you want to blow up, and pull a trigger, without much thought of dodging enemy fire or prioritizing. Even so, they are fun, so a lack of difficulty in these vehicle segments is not at all a deal breaker.
However, nothing gold can stay: towards the end, the game largely abandons the entire premise of creative destructibility and just throws hordes of aliens at you. This wouldn’t be so bad, if it were not for the aforementioned length of the game. You spend most of the game either in the slow beginning, or the tedious-too long end, and only get about 3 hours of real quality gameplay in between. For a 9 hour game, that’s a significant problem.
Also, for a game that trades on the concept of destructibility, the guns just never felt right to me. Even at the highest level, with all the relevant upgrades, it took too many hits to bring down buildings, and FAR too many hits to bring down some of the later-game enemies. The game also introduces you to a variety of new weapons as you play through it, but frankly, most of them are worthless. If you are anything like me, you will end up sticking with your four mainstays for pretty much all of the game.
Final Thoughts: So, at the end of the day, what are we left with? Red Faction: Armageddon is a structurally competent shooter with a few neat gameplay hooks and some significant problems. As such, it makes it difficult to recommend the game to the general gaming public. If you don’t mind a bad story, aren’t expecting the “physics playground for terrorists” that was Red Faction: Guerrilla, and just want to mindlessly blast bugs and blow up platforms for nine hours, then Armageddon may be just the game for you. If this accurately describes your tastes, may I also suggest the new Transformers movie? You go ahead and enjoy that. I’ll just be here silently hoping for a Red Faction Guerrilla 2.