shmitty's Red Faction: Armageddon (Xbox 360) review

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So Successful, It Killed a Franchise

Red Faction, as a franchise, is a bit baffling. The first game, a tunnel-building simulator from 2001, didn't exactly set the world on fire upon it's release. After one disappointing sequel in 2002, the 'series' promptly died a quiet death and the world collectively shrugged at the loss. Seven inexplicable years later, Volition, Inc. decided they were sitting on a potential goldmine and shoved out three games, a comic, and a SyFy original movie based on the concept in the span of two years. In an entirely unsurprising turn, Red Faction still failed to find any footing in the mainstream. In fact, the company recently announced that due to poor sales of the latest entry in the series, the franchise no one asked for was effectively dead. There isn't anything shocking about an uninteresting series falling by the wayside, but it's unfortunate that the game deemed responsible is far from bad. In fact, it's actually kind of good.
After finding a bit of success by reviving the series in 2009 with Red Faction: Guerrilla, an open-world sandbox game with a heavy focus on destruction, Volition made the logical decision to shape the sequel, Red Faction: Armageddon, into a linear, underground corridor shooter. Because why not. It may seem like a great failing, to remove a free roaming environment in lieu of a more restrictive and controlled experience, and it absolutely would have been if the world Volition had created with Guerrilla had offered a single interesting thing to do in it. Fortunately, it's a Spider-Man 2 caliber barren wasteland of inactivity, filled only with a handful of repetitive side missions, the occasional building to knock down, and many thrilling opportunities to navigate the drab landscape to the next story mission. The choice to change ultimately feels less about removing freedom and more about cutting out unnecessary filler. Granted, going from pointlessly meandering through wide open deserts to literally funneling players through caves may come off a bit like swinging too hard in the other direction, but Armageddon still manages to maintain a lot of the likable qualities from the previous entry while having a much better sense of focus.
Despite improvements, removing the fat doesn't necessarily lead to a great game, though. There are still quite a few missteps, the only common theme tying the whole series together. If Volition's design document called for them to recreate Dead Space, minus the 'Space', tension, or clever level design, then Armageddon is an unabashed success. Players travel from one cave system to another, shooting the same five or so generic monsters while watching the unremarkable story unfold in the most inept way possible. It sounds terrible on paper, but it is saved entirely by the ability to destroy almost every building in the environment. It's possible to play the game as a typical shooter, and the game fails miserably when it calls for you to do just that, but there is a never ending thrill to be found in pulling entire buildings down on top of your enemies with the help of your handy magnet gun. 
The firefights remain entertaining enough throughout, which is absolutely necessary given they make up the majority of the roughly ten hours of game time. With only the occasional break for brief vehicle sections, the entire affair hinges on their success. Being able to smash things in frequent moments of pure spectacle provides just enough motivation to keep moving forward, though, despite how derivative everything else may feel.  In fact, the worst thing that can really be said about Armageddon is that it's average. If it was an absolute train wreck of design, then it would be a logical point for Volition to have given up. Instead, it's an entirely serviceable, albeit generic shooter with a decent enough hook to keep it afloat. If it was the first in a series, it'd be worth seeing where they took the concept. Now, it just serves as an unfitting end to an entirely forgettable series. At least until Volition reboots it again in seven years.

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