An Average Shooter with Wasted Potential
2009’s Red Faction: Guerrilla was an open-world action-adventure title, praised by critics and fans alike for its insanely fun destruction mechanics. Guerrilla was made exciting by the opportunities it gave the player to rip apart bridges, buildings, and other structures, and the empowering tools it provided to do so. It’s therefore a bit of a disappointment that 2011’s Red Faction: Armageddon includes many elements which could potentially make it a better game than Guerrilla, but for some reason chooses to forgo large parts of what made its predecessor so great.
In Armageddon you play as Darius Mason, grandson of Guerrilla’s Alec Mason, who manages to accidentally release a swarm of vicious bug-like aliens from the caves beneath Mars and must vanquish the creepy-crawlies to restore peace to the planet once more.
The strong points of Armageddon largely revolve around the destructible environments it presents and some of its more creative weapons. The game sees the return of some of Guerilla’s best weapons such as the rocket launcher and the hyper-destructive sledgehammer, some fairly run-of-the-mill guns such as shotguns and pistols, and some new weapons such as the singularity cannon which launches a singularity, sucking in all nearby structures and enemies, or the magnet gun. In fact the magnet gun may be the most interesting new mechanic introduced to the game. The device requires you to fire two magnets at two separate points, with a powerful force then pulling the two magnets together. This can be used to make buildings collapse in on themselves, drag structures down onto enemies, make aliens smash into each other and generally wreak plenty of satisfying chaos while mixing up the combat.
Considering that a lot of these weapons would seem most at home breaking apart the kind of huge building complexes seen in Guerrila, it’s confusing that almost all of the game is set in underground tunnels where any significant destructible structures can be few and far between. Breaking apart walkways and ramps can actually be detrimental to helping you progress, and while ripping apart structures can be a natural part of combat, few objectives in the game actually involve tearing down structures. Occasionally you’ll find a building that will produce salvage (the in-game currency for the upgrade system) when destroyed, but they generally drop little of it, with much more salvage being available from the collectable containers scattered around the environment.
The game does have some areas, mainly later on where you get to control large vehicles, using rocket launchers and similar weapons to blast your way through levels, sometimes getting the opportunity to take down bridges, towers, and buildings, but these moments are short-lived and often involve plodding slowly down rather restrictive paths.
In place of Guerilla’s spectacles of destruction, Armageddon puts a greater emphasis on its third-person shooter component. This is something that it manages to pull off competently, but beyond weapons like the magnet gun it never feels like the game does much to make the combat anything better than “pretty fun”, and it can become downright repetitive in places.
The game does however, make some attempt to mix up the combat by giving you special abilities such as impact which pushes back everything in your immediate path, or shockwave which allows you to temporarily make all enemies around you levitate while you shoot them down. These abilities recharge over time and are welcome additions to fights, having the power to provide some entertaining moments. The game also goes to quite some lengths to incorporate a repair mechanic in which the player can use their “nano forge” to restore destroyed areas of the environment. The visual effects when using your repair abilities are rather pleasant, but the novelty of the mechanic wears off after a while.
Graphically the game is not particularly notable one way or the other; it doesn’t make Guerrilla’s mistake of slathering whole areas in a single colour, and textures appears reasonably sharp and detailed, but it does all get a little samey after some time. On the story side, things are sadly about as boring as they can get. The characters are generic and shallow, the plot is unimaginative, and the narrative feels more like a tool to keep things moving than anything that the developers had a serious investment in.
In addition to the single-player mode the game includes an “infestation mode” in the style of Gears of War’s horde mode or Halo’s firefight, where you can either go it alone or team up with other players in taking on waves of enemies. How much enjoyment you get out of this mode is likely to depend on how much of the combat you’ve experienced in the game so far. I must saying, trying out the infestation mode after I’d completed the main storyline, I found myself burned out on the combat, but there is something to be said for experiencing a multi-player version of it.
The game also includes a “ruin mode” in which you are given large open areas full of exploding tanks and buildings, and just asked to go to town, either destroying things freely or trying to hit a par score within a time limit. There are only five ruin mode maps and I don’t think it’s worth the cost of the online pass if you haven’t bought the game new, but none the less it can provide some brief bursts of great fun and is reflective of what the game as a whole could do well to aim for.
Overall, Red Faction: Armageddon is a game that provides some empowering weaponry and where it does implement hyper-destructible environments, some satisfying moments, but it remains baffling that the game too often shies away from its potential strengths to present itself as just a rather unremarkable third-person shooter.