Review by sixgears2

"Red Faction Armageddon manages to improve on the best parts of the series, but it may be found lacking in content by some."

Red Faction has been around in one form or another for a very long time. From the first highly acclaimed Half-Life clone to the more recent third person Guerilla, the series has survived all manner of changes in both the gaming world and its own universe. Red Faction Armageddon once again radically alters the formula, but it manages to do so with enough consistency and style to come out on top, despite a few frustrating oversights and a couple of niggling issues. If you've been looking for a cheesy but fun sci-fi shooter to tide you over until Gears of War 3, this may just be your ticket.

The visuals in Armageddon are rock solid. The game's smaller areas make up for the decrease in size with an almost across the board improvement in graphical quality. Lights bounce eerily across the cavernous chambers as the game's star, Darius Mason, picks his way through Mars' subterranean wasteland, weapons pack a devastatingly bright punch full of intricate particle effects, and characters animate as fluidly as any I've ever seen. The same is true of the alien enemies, who leap from wall to wall and floor to ceiling so quickly and dynamically that it's frequently hard to keep up with them. More impressively, the game runs at nearly constant 60 frames per second despite the often ridiculous amount of carnage on the screen. This lends Armageddon the buttery smoothness that is often the hallmark of successful action shooters, and although there are a few frame stutters here and there the game runs better than Red Faction Guerilla by a mile. The only real complaint I have about Armageddon visually is the fact that the character models for both the humans and the aliens come across as a little generic, but chances are you won't be noticing that while enveloping an entire building full of bugs in a big, pretty black hole.

The sound in Armageddon doesn't keep pace with the excellent graphics, but it does its job well enough. The aliens sound appropriately alien-y and the guns sound powerful enough to sell the experience even if their sound clips won't blow your mind quite as impressively as they blew up the building that used to be in your way. The voice acting is on par with a science fiction B movie, which is to say that it is cheesy and generally voiced by people who seem to be attempting to sound as serious as possible while barely holding back waves of laughter. The game won't be winning any awards for amazing acting, but let's be honest with ourselves and admit that Armageddon is basically in the same class in the game world as Starship Troopers is in the movie world; it's entertaining, but only if you leave your sensibilities at the door.

The story of Armageddon is, to put it bluntly, pretty lame. The writers at Volition apparently ran out of material a while back and decided that they would make the jump from highly unlikely to laughably ridiculous by including hostile aliens this time around. I suppose that's what happens when you kill off all your interesting characters in the first game, leaving all the cookie-cutter stereotypes that follow able to do little more than reference them through short audio clips or place names. The bottom line for the story is this: an evil terrorist has destroyed the terraformer that made the planet's atmosphere habitable and forced the people of Mars underground, where they discover through a series of extremely unfortunate events that they are not the only ones down there. This of course leads to the standard macho “kill ‘em all” hero trek that I have come to expect from these kinds of titles, and ultimately culminates in, you guessed it, killing ‘em all. It's utterly predictable from start to finish, and even the one or two moments meant to carry emotional weight fall flat due to painfully one-dimensional characters that only a truly lonely individual would be able to form a connection with. If you are going to play Armageddon—and you really should—don't do it for the story. Do it for the ridiculously entertaining gameplay.

Its crazy gameplay is really what saves Armageddon from a perpetual place in the bargain bin hell most alien games are relegated to. The insanely destructive play of Guerilla has been amped up to a degree of violence that I haven't seen in a game for a long time. Aliens and people burst into bloody chunks when hit with one of the game's more powerful weapons, and entire buildings shudder and crumble under the onslaught of your over-the-top arsenal, which is really the star of the show here. Volition has included some truly astonishing pieces of weaponry, including a gun that shoots small singularities (essentially black holes), a weapon that fires a bolt of energy capable of destroying entire buildings from the inside out bunker buster style, and a beam weapon that disintegrates anything that it touches. There is even a magnet gun that fires (what else?) magnets that can be attached to enemies or objects and then used to sling them into walls or even other enemies. Some old classics also make a return, the most notable being the rail gun. Anyone who played the first Red Faction way back on the PS2 will remember the frustration caused by being shot through every wall on a map with a sniper rifle that included an x-ray vision screen. Now that ludicrously unbalanced power weapon has been placed back into the hands of the player to be used against Armageddon's armies of hapless enemies. After all these years, it's still immensely satisfying to shoot an unsuspecting halfwit in the face from a corner two blocks away. And lest you think that Armageddon is all about tearing down and destroying things, Mason has now been equipped with a nanoforge bracelet (very in style this year) that can magically repair anything he may have broken during his furious battles with the bugs. This becomes extremely helpful when you realize that you may have gotten a little carried away and accidentally reduced that staircase you needed to dust. It's very cool technology to see in action, and the more tech-minded players will likely spend a reasonable amount of time blowing things up just to repair them and do it again in a different way.

Aside from the incredibly entertaining arsenal, the Armageddon plays much like any other linear third person shooter, albeit with aliens that move far more quickly than the enemies in most other shooters and destructible environments. You can dodge, jump, melee, and take cover much like you can in games like Gears of War. Unlike Gears, however, the enemies tend to be quite predictable. Enemy types are somewhat varied and cover the spectrum of what one would expect—teleporting enemies, jumping enemies, huge enemies, etc.—but all enemies of any given type will generally behave in exactly the same way. Fortunately, the game throws them at you in large enough numbers that their algorithmic behavior gets lost in the crowd. Additionally, the more linear style of them game has allowed Volition to more carefully craft each encounter, further balancing the questionable AI by forcing them into somewhat scripted fights. In Guerilla, the battles often seemed out of control and overly difficult due to the open terrain and non-scripted encounters, but Armageddon offers a much more controlled—and I use the word controlled in a loose sense because the battles are still incredibly chaotic—experience. No longer will you find yourself ambushed in the open with nowhere to hide or forced into a brawl with poor cover or equipment. Instead, you will spend your 8-10 hours of time with Armageddon plodding through a carefully orchestrated but still very enjoyable arc.

Speaking of heavy scripting, some have lamented the loss of the open world from Guerilla. I, however, think that the move was a good one. Armageddon simply plays better as a linear affair and manages to maintain or even improve the best parts of Guerilla without all the barren filler and mindless tedium introduced by that game. Armageddon feels more like a full experience than the often empty and occasionally boring Guerilla did. It also feels much more like a Red Faction title despite the aliens, and the sense of pleasant nostalgia I got while piloting a hovercraft straight out of the first Red Faction or storming an old Ultor facility more than made up for the lack of a free-form world. Still, the loss of freedom did come with a price. There are far less opportunities for destruction in Armageddon than there were in its predecessor, and many of the underground environments don't feel as if they take full advantage of the possibilities offered by GeoMod 2.0 destruction. It's still great fun to obliterate entire complexes swarming with enemies, but the heavy scripting means that most encounters will play out roughly the same way every time, even if the buildings fall down slightly differently depending on how you hit them.

Also lamented by many is the loss of Guerilla's abundantly entertaining multiplayer suite. As much as I've been sticking up for Armageddon, I do have to say that the absence of the multiplayer option is a serious downside for those considering a purchase. Gone are the backpacks, team-based modes, and sheer destructive fun of Red Faction multiplayer, and in its place stands…well, a horde mode. That's right, the only real multiplayer that Armageddon offers is yet another blatant rip off of Epic's now ubiquitous hold-the-line gameplay. There are two different modes within this game type, one of which has you simply trying to survive while the other has you protecting certain structures. Both modes are admittedly pretty enjoyable, but I suspect that as other major titles release their comparatively short legs will begin to show. Even a couple months after release it is difficult to find a populated co-op server, so I can only imagine what it will be like in yet another few months. There is a new game plus feature for the single player, but the lack of a real multiplayer really hurts this title's value. The multiplayer was arguably the best thing that Guerilla had going for it and it seemed to be pretty popular, so the decision to remove it here seems odd at best and more like a downright failure to capitalize at worse.

All in all, Red Faction Armageddon holds its own on the single player front and manages to improve upon the best mechanics from Guerilla while trimming most of the unnecessary and, frankly, boring fat. Unfortunately, though, the lack of a real multiplayer mode means that the amount of enjoyment one can wring from this truly enjoyable title is severely limited. It's a great ride while it lasts, but don't expect it to last too long.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/02/11

Game Release: Red Faction: Armageddon (US, 06/07/11)

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