|System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC|
|Release: June 7, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Robert VerBruggen
How many times can you reinvent a franchise before it becomes unrecognizable? We might find out soon: developer Volition has been pushing the limits of THQ's Red Faction franchise lately.
In 2009, Red Faction: Guerrilla ditched the series' first-person roots for the third person. Despite some serious difficulty problems (the Casual setting was too easy, the Medium setting way too hard), the game was a moderate success, especially with critics. Particularly enjoyable were the destructible environments, especially when they met with your huge sledgehammer.
With the upcoming Armageddon, Volition is promising another overhaul. Whereas previous entries in the series have pitted you against human (though sometimes mutated) opponents, the action here is all about killing aliens in an apocalyptic setting. The open-world elements of Guerrilla will be scaled back as well.
Following the events of Guerrilla, some sort of meteor crashed into Mars, causing a malfunction in the "Terraformers" that made the planet's atmosphere habitable to humans. After a rash of tornadoes and other severe weather, what was left of the human population began living in and expanding the planet's underground mines. As Armageddon game begins, it's 2170, about a half-century after the events of Guerrilla, and you play as Darius Mason, the grandson of Guerrilla's protagonist.
Mason is a mercenary who does mining and scavenging on the surface for a fee, and in the course of his work he comes across a sealed Marauder cave. When he opens it, a ferocious race of aliens comes pouring out. Thereafter, he sets out to fight back the alien menace and save what he can of humanity. His job is made more difficult by the Cultists, a group that splintered off of the Marauders, sides with the aliens (much like the Unitologists in Dead Space), and is trying to damage the Terraformers even more. They're led by an arch-villain named Hale -- not coincidentally, the man who tricked Mason into opening the cave.
We're somewhat disappointed to see what was once an amazing tale of warring factions and oppressive government become a stereotypical videogame plot. Space marines fighting aliens is a total cliché, and so are post-apocalyptic wastelands. Fortunately, however, the switch has a few advantages, and the developers are promising some gameplay improvements.
Now that the story has forced the game underground, the developers will have more freedom in crafting visually-interesting environments, including lava and ice. In fact, most of the game will take place beneath the surface, and we can't wait to see what Volition came up with.
As for gameplay, we're mostly looking forward to the magnet gun. With this weapon, you fire magnets at two targets in succession, and then the first magnet pulls toward the second. You can use this to make enemies crash into each other, or to steer enemy vehicles into buildings.
Speaking of buildings, they will once again be completely destructible, and the sledgehammer will make a glorious and much-needed return. What's more, some of the new enemies feed off of Earth's structures, which gives you another reason to smash everything in sight to pieces (as if you needed one).
There will be updates in other areas as well. Not surprisingly, there will be a slew of new enemies to kill, most of which are aliens with a Dead Space vibe to them. The Creepers, for example, are a fairly weak enemy that spews venom and attacks in groups. The Ravagers are more nimble, jumping from place to place and attacking from a distance.
Weapons will be extensively upgradeable. The Nano Forge has been passed down through the family to Darius, and it will be even more powerful than it was last time around -- it used to be a purely destructive force, but now it can be used to repair structures, including cover and bridges. The Singularity Bomb is now long-range, and a new Plasma Beam allows you to cut through enemies and structures with the precision of a laser. Also, there's the Exo suit, which reminds us of a Super Mario invincibility star; it allows you to crash through enemies and structures, and has a gun attached to boot. There will also be a knockoff of Gears of War's Horde mode that allows four players to fight endless waves of baddies.
Also, the developers have promised a few treats to their longtime fans. While the game never explicitly says what the aliens were doing sealed in the cave, there will be enough hints that series devotees can figure it out.
One last interesting factoid: The years between Guerrilla and Armageddon will be filled in by a live-action TV movie on Syfy, which will air in May.
Red Faction has seen a lot more evolution than most other franchises do, and we respect Volition for continuing that tradition with Armageddon. We're a little worried that the combination of alien enemies and a post-apocalyptic world might make this entry feel a little generic, but there are some interesting gameplay updates here, and we're thrilled to be able to smash buildings with a sledgehammer once again. At any rate, Volition's track record with Red Faction earns them the benefit of the doubt until the final product is available.
CCC Freelance Writer