Review by SSpectre
"Short, brainless entertainment is all this confused game is good for."
Red Faction: Armageddon
+ Controls and difficulty have been significantly improved
+ New weapons and destruction physics are consistently fun
+ Respectable production values all-around
- No competitive multiplayer, or offline multiplayer of any sort
- Gameplay isn't exactly revolutionary
- Plot is completely idiotic
To say Red Faction: Armageddon has taken some steps forward and some steps back is a little misleading. More accurately, it took a step in a random direction, and then just started sprinting. I say this because Armageddon makes great strides in improving the shortcomings of its predecessor, Red Faction: Guerrilla, but then makes several perplexing design choices, creating a game whose quality, high or low, feels like it came about completely by accident.
Now, I'm not the biggest Red Faction: Guerrilla fan in the world; the game had absurd enemy AI that required you be in a vehicle at all times or suffer immediate death, and the main character's tendency to get knocked around or crushed by flying debris didn't help matters. But I'll be the first to praise that game's highlights: the fully destructible buildings were a huge step forward for physics engines, and its sandbox design, while not entirely necessary, at least provided plenty of opportunity to use its demolition capabilities in interesting ways. Also, I loved its online multiplayer to death.
Armageddon, on the other hand, is a linear shooter with alien antagonists, and the focus has shifted from awesome destruction physics to...being a linear shooter with alien antagonists. And maybe some destruction physics as an afterthought. To its credit, it's better at being a shooter than Guerrilla was; the horrendous overreliance on vehicles has been trimmed down to just a handful of mechs that are actually pretty fun to operate (if a little overpowered), your character can now be reliably controlled without being tripped up on terrain or debris every thirty feet, and the myriad of weapons are pretty entertaining. However, since the whole game can now be summarized with, Here are some aliens to shoot, it is definitely not an ambitious game, and that criticism pulls double duty for both story and gameplay. Also, where the **** did the online multiplayer go?
Guerrilla's multiplayer was full of innovative game modes that used the destruction physics to their full extent. Even the traditional modes like Deathmatch and Capture the Flag were livened up with cool ability-granting packs and the fact that the flag could slam through concrete walls like a sledgehammer. Instead, Armageddon gives us a lame co-op survival mode that adds **** all to the gameplay, because apparently Horde, Nazi Zombies, Firefight, and their dozens of copycats weren't bland and repetitive enough already. Armageddon also ignores local multiplayer completely, something I hate when developers do, in part because it's lazy, but mostly because if I have friends, siblings, etc. nearby, I just want to sit down and play games with them. I don't want to say, Buy your own copy of this game, then go somewhere else, and then we can play multiplayer.
Irritated as I am with this situation, I do believe a decent shooter can stand up on its single-player alone, and Armageddon almost does this. Like I said, there are plenty of really entertaining weapons in this game's arsenal. In addition to conventional guns and returning classics like the Nano Rifle for local disintegration, or the black-hole-in-a-bullet Singularity Cannon, Armageddon packs a few newcomers. These include Pulse Grenades, which damage organic matter but avoid hurting structures (useful for situations where you don't want a platform or cover to be destroyed), and the best of the bunch, the Magnet Gun, which allows you to send one object hurtling towards another regardless of how much it weighs or whether or not it's alive. The game also makes heavy use of the Nano Forge, which has seen a slight upgrade from its use in Guerrilla, which was basically instant creation of materials at a small scale, to all-purpose alien killer and plot advancer.
The Nano Forge's primary use in gameplay is to repair broken structures back to their original form. It's neat how it can be used to recreate lost cover or forge a path over lava from a pile of debris, but it's never really used to full effect, especially since the remade cover will just be destroyed 2 seconds later. It also grants four other abilities over the course of the campaign: a forward blast of energy, a shockwave that stuns enemies, a large protective shell, and increased damage and attack speed, for...some reason. It also sets the stage for some of the largest plot holes of any game I've ever seen.
If you've played Guerrilla, you've probably noticed that the main function of the Nano Forge is identical to the Reconstructor, an old multiplayer-only weapon whose completely nonsensical ability was excused because it was multiplayer-only. Now that it's been worked into canon, Armageddon's story operates on some bizarre moon logic (er...Martian logic) where no one realizes how useful something that instantly repairs anything up to and including a ****ing skyscraper would be. First, why is this thing being carried around by a random engineer? Second, you know that machine that was destroyed at the very beginning of the game, forcing everyone to live underground for years? Why are you not just pointing the Nano Forge at it? I can already hear people saying how the story is just an excuse to hurl debris at aliens, but for once, I don't buy that. I think Volition actually wants us to take the plot seriously.
You see, Armageddon doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. The omission of decent multiplayer would make you think they wanted to focus on single-player. But if that's true, why is the story so unapologetically bad? The constant darkness and use of alien designs clearly ripped out of Dead Space makes me think the game had pretentions of being a horror title, but if that's true, why is everything so explosive and void of tension? And why am I able to slam two aliens' skulls together from across a room, before hopping in a mechanical exoskeleton and obliterating Martians by the truckload?
In the end, all you'll get out of Armageddon is quick, dumb fun. Even ignoring all my problems, it had lots of potential, especially from a technical perspective. It's got some pretty high quality graphics, complete with impressive lighting and one of the widest arrays of particle effects I've ever seen. I know that sounds like faint praise, but in a game all about blowing stuff up, it really adds an extra kick to the proceedings. It's also got a surprisingly cool soundtrack that seems to combine electronic and orchestral music, and the voice acting is at least better than the planks of wood that were apparently hired to act for Guerrilla.
To summarize: demolishing buildings is fun, launching aliens around a room is fun, and alternately repairing and destroying objects as a battle evolves is fun. But you know what isn't fun? Sitting through an hour of cutscenes centered around characters whose every action makes me want to pull my hair out. And the fact that these cutscenes replace one of the best online multiplayer experiences in years is just adding insult to injury. I can't recommend Red Faction: Armageddon, but I don't completely condemn it, either. It's very clear that its developers have talent. Someone just needs to point them in the right direction.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 01/04/12, Updated 09/10/14
Game Release: Red Faction: Armageddon (US, 06/07/11)
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