Red Faction Armageddon
3rd Jun 2011 | 13:21
Every shot you fire in Armageddon has consequences. Ever since Mars' main terraformer was destroyed by terrorists - an event you witness first-hand in the surprisingly low-key opening - mankind began filling every subterranean tunnel with knotted tangles of pipework, walkways, transport systems and shanty towns.
This is an abridged version of the full Red Faction Armageddon review which appears in issue 106 of Xbox World 360 magazine. The issue hits shelves on June 7 and offers exclusive screens, insight and info.
And now, each time you pull the trigger to try and hold back the ravenous aliens spilling into these newly civilized zones, you undo all that hard work piece-by-piece. This is the best physics playground imaginable. In ditching the sandbox surface warfare of Guerrilla and heading down into funnelled environments, Volition has built an enclosed world with unparalleled potential for destruction.
CARVIN THE MARTIANS
Armageddon plays like nothing else on Earth, Mars or anywhere else for that matter; mostly because the Magnet Gun changes everything you ever knew about third-person-shooters. Your main foes are quadrupedal aliens that leap about so fast the snap-to aiming system often struggles to keep track.
The best way to take them down, therefore, is to create your own subterranean jet-streams that launch walls of rubble at terrifying velocities across the environment and annihilate everything in their paths. The ability to propel object A to point B means that from the buildings on the ground to the signage on the walls, Armageddon's mile-wide caverns are equipped with 360 degrees of ammo just begging to be brought into play. Some natural furniture is ripe for flinging too: crystal formations and rock piles can also be used to bulldoze your otherworldly adversaries.
In the main campaign mode most of the other weapons are actually fairly redundant. The Plasma Beam is great for carving up structures in score-attack mode Ruin, but less useful in the story. Mostly, Armageddon is very much a one-gun game.
The overall level design falls slightly short of the mark in that respect. Whereas Guerrilla's missions often sent you into and through buildings, or at least ensured enemy soldiers would be taking refuge in them, Armageddon's structures are more commonly placed around the critical path.
There are exceptions to this rule - walkways over canyons are ripe for demolition as you cross and a few big rooms (one water pump facility in particular) have collapsible storeys that don't stand a chance when the fighting begins - but a lot of the action takes place on the sides of your route forward.
The playgrounds are still fun and house combat exhilarating enough to embarrass any rival game you care to name, but more key path uprooting would have been welcome. We unleashed hell in the busier areas to see just how it would cope with a few hundred things being pulled in different directions and all being tossed around at once. The engine swallowed up everything we threw at it without missing a beat, proving that Volition weren't constrained by technical barriers.
The ability to reverse all damage and repaint buildings with Darius' Nanoforge makes it even more galling. There are moments when you need to rebuild destroyed cover to hide from projectiles and also paint back buildings to restock on Magnet Gun ammo. So why aren't we forced to use this tool much more often?
One set-piece sees Darius journeying along what's essentially a giant ski-lift while blasting alien pods from the track above. The track is impervious to damage, but a little further into the game Darius finds the ability to shoot 'repair grenades' that undo structural harm from afar. Is it too much to ask for that ability to have been introduced slightly earlier? It would have made the set-piece even more exciting by injecting added urgency to the shooting, as well as bypassing the need to create indestructible man-made materials that ignore the game's unique selling point.
Fortunately, oversights like these are rare. Thankfully, for a large percentage of the modest 8-9 hour running time the game plays to its strengths. It feels great to spy salvage pick-ups through a window of a seemingly enclosed room and being able to just blast a hole in the wall and stroll straight through without worrying about details such as doorways. Small moments like these rewrite the rules of action games and propel Red Faction into a league of its own.
At one point during a surface-based mission in the middle of a storm we were told to destroy a number of large beacons. When somebody mentioned that they'd had to complete the same objective countless time before in dozens of similar games we replied by shooting the top of one beacon tower with a magnet and then tagging an enemy Marauder on the other side of the canyon with another.
As always, the Magnet Gun did its job impeccably and pulled down the tower, scooped up tons more rubble as the runaway beacon ploughed through ramshackle barracks and then splattered the enemy and his companions into a rock face. Needless to say, our spectator had never destroyed a beacon like that before.
Combat situations such as our beacon experiment sum up Red Faction Armageddon perfectly. The fun you get out of the game is directly proportional to the creativity with which you approach it, and between level scales and weapon sets Volition has handed you a licence to do whatever you fancy, whenever you want.
In a surprising twist we even found ourselves quite attached to Create-A-Character-faced Darius Mason and his little band of buddies. His tale's conclusion jumps the shark just a tad towards the end and some lazy fade-to-black transitions between action and cut-scenes occasionally deflate the atmosphere, but Armageddon's tale does a fine job of stringing together levels so engrossing you'd happily replay many of them individually if you could. Luckily the Leaderboard-centric Ruin mode fills that void nicely.
Not as groundbreaking as Guerrilla then, and not without some issues either, Armageddon is still a crowning achievement for developers Volition.
The player freedom is nothing short of exceptional. And who knows, with a little more care, craft and polish, Red Faction might yet grow into a franchise that'll rival even the biggest of first-party exclusives.