Volition Games, the team the produced all of the Red Faction and Saint’s Row games, are the Michael Bay of the videogame world. They specialise in big, flashy ridiculous games, titles that probably aren’t anyone’s favourites, but can be a hell of a lot of fun all the same. I have been beating things to death with physics-based acts of unbearable cruelty since Exile on the C64, so it’s fair to say that the Red Faction games have always appealed. If it is not your fondest wish to see 500 years of mathematic and scientific progress put to use purely in the service of digital genocide, then your mileage may vary.
It’s safe to say that Armageddon’s predecessor, Red Faction: Guerilla, is the best loved in the series. Volition took the open-world approach that had served them well in their GTA-aping Saints Row games, and threw it together with their Geomod 2.0 engine, which made buildings collapse in a hilarious OTT fashion. Red Faction: Armageddon moves the action along 50 years from the last game and, after an accident renders the surface uninhabitable, underground into tunnels and catacombs. The move back to a more linear style of play might put some noses out of joint, but for the most part it works, with enough scenery and open space to let you use the game’s bizarro arsenal to the full.
And speaking of weapons, the highlight of the game is the Magnet Gun. Like most of the guns in the series, it’s repurposed mining equipment, allowing you to temporarily link two points of the environment, sending chunks of scenery hurtling at enemies, or vice versa. With most of the enemies being incredibly fast-moving insect-like aliens, the Magnet Gun quickly becomes the most useful weapon in the game, as throwing huge pieces of the walls at the enemies is the best way to counter their speed. It’s a pity the enemies aren’t more varied, as there are plenty of other interesting weapons, like a black hole launcher and a railgun that can see and shoot through walls. Sadly, apart from a few portions of the game, you can’t use these anywhere near as effectively as if you spam the Magnet Gun.
Guerilla introduced the Nano Forge, an arm-mounted doohickey that was mostly used to blow things up in a slighlty different way. In Armageddon it takes on a mush more prominent role. You have it from the start, and while it can be used offensively, it’s more often used defensively or to augment your weaponry. It can create shields, trap enemies in zero-gravity tethers, and boost your attack power, and you can level these abilities by collecting salvage from the destroyed environments. It can also be used to rebuild any destroyed man-made structures. Holding down the left bumper will quickly rebuild anything in your immediate vicinity, allowing you to create cover out of thin air. It also means you’re never stuck, as you can always rebuild your route. It isn’t a selling point in and of itself, but it definitely helps distinguish Armageddon from all the other shooters on the market.
While the game may now be a linear affair, gameplay is varied enough that it doesn’t get dull. While it doesn’t go beyond the familiar vehicle sections and escort missions that tend to infest 3rd-person shooters, here they rarely outstay their welcome, acting as they should – to break up the main action of the game so that it doesn’t get tedious. Finishing the single-player unlocks New Game Plus, letting you keep unlocked weapons and skills for a second playthrough. It also unlocks the game’s final weapon, which is easily a match for Guerilla’s Ostrich Hammer in the ‘awesomely stupid and stupidly awesome’ terms. Beyond the story mode, there’s a score-attack game called Ruin mode. There are no enemies here, just a ticking clock and a whole load of buildings to bring down. It’s pretty slight, but it’s fun in short bursts.
Multiplayer is limited to the co-op Infestation mode, which comprises a series of missions that see you playing as one of the Red Faction soldiers with up to four others. Taking inspiration from Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, these see you facing off waves of enemies and allow for a bit more in the way of tactics than the main game. It’s not going to make the game last for much longer, but it’s a better addition than yet another competitive deathmatch mode no-one will play.
Design and characterisation is where Red Faction: Armageddon really falls down. Darius Mason, the main character, could easily be swapped with Infamous’ Cole or any one of the ‘edgy’ bald guys with generic tribal tattoos that seem to clog up third-person shooters at the minute. Most characters are similarly generic, but special mention must go to the game’s antagonist, Adam Hale, such a ridiculous one-note villain that they might as well just have named him Badguy McBarstardton. Pale, creepy, perpetually whispering and with a hooded face covered in tattoos, he looks flat-out ridiculous. Even this prancing moustache-twiddler isn’t the absolute low point, with a token female character with obligatory cleavage-revealing gap in her armour and a gruff sergeant seemingly created by throwing all the lines from every ‘Nam movie ever made (plus Aliens for good measure) into a random number generator. These two draw winces every time they appear. If you care about story in games, don’t play this after Portal 2 or L.A. Noire.
Disappointing design and a script with more than a whiff of ham about it don’t stop Red Faction: Armageddon from being a lot of fun for as long as it lasts. If you’re not in the mood for endless explosions or can’t suck up a hokey plot, steer clear. But if you want some brainless fun that’s just different enough from the other shooters on the market, Armageddon is definitely worth a try. It might be shallow, but how many other games let you hit someone in the face with a house?
XBox 360 version played. Completed on normal difficulty. A copy was provided for review purposes by THQ.