This Time it’s for Mars
If there’s anything we can glean from pop-culture about the fate of humanity, it is that any mission to Mars we undertake will end in disaster. 2009’s Red Faction: Guerrilla showed us how dangerous it was to live on the surface of Mars, and this year’s follow-up, Red Faction: Armageddon, will show us how terrible it is to live underneath the surface of Mars. Sure, it’s a slight change of scenery, but at its core Red Faction has something simple to teach us: Mars is bad.
We were recently given the opportunity to play Red Faction: Armageddon for the better part of a day, logging about three hours with the game’s story mode as well as some intermittent time with both Ruin and Infestation modes. There is certainly a lot to see and do in Red Faction: Armageddon, and while the game looks like it is shaping up to be a memorable successor to surprise-hit Guerrilla, if you think it’s going to be piggybacking off its successor, think again. Armageddon is a whole new beast.
Let’s talk about the single-player experience first. The narrative follows the saga of Darius Mason, the grandson of Guerrilla’s protagonist. Unfortunately, Darius accidently caused Martian bugs to go after the humans who have settled underground, and between the humans clamoring for Darius’ head and the Martians attacking everything in their path, Darius is in a pretty tough spot. The game certainly recalls past events in the series, but if you never played Guerilla, the game never penalizes you for it, and so much time has passed between the two games that you won’t feel lost at all.
Although the narrative is quite cohesive, Guerrilla fans may be a little disappointed with the structure of Armageddon, which is almost completely linear. Though the linear function serves the story well, if you are looking for something on the scale of Guerrilla, it doesn’t look like Armageddon will deliver.
However, though the game lacks the explorative nature of its predecessor, from what we’ve seen it will more than make up for it in terms of both gameplay and narrative. The biggest recurring theme in the gameplay is that of deconstruction and creation. There are two big factors at work here. On the one hand, you have the game’s signature weapon: the magnet gun. This gun essentially allows you to take two things, be they structures, debris, or enemies, and smash them together. The destructive possibilities for this weapon are nearly endless, as you can smash enemies into each other, destroy buildings by magnetizing the ceiling to the floor, and magnetize pesky Martians to the ceiling. I actually tried to play the game without using the magnet gun for awhile, and I have to say that clearing a horde with just a shotgun or grenade launcher just doesn’t cut it most of the time, and the magnet gun (and it’s conveniently unlimited ammo) will be your go-to weapon for pretty much every firefight you find yourself in.
However, the game features a large creative element as well. Our main man Darius is equipped with special nano-tech that can re-construct destroyed elements in the environment. This comes in handy, as much of the Martian underworld is in disarray, and you’ll have to build walkways and pathways to get to the game’s various goals. The creative element isn’t as free-form as the destructive force that is the magnet gun, but it still provides an interesting gameplay dynamic. It’s also something that you’ll have to constantly remember, as forgetting to reconstruct bridges can land you very quickly in a pit of angry enemies just waiting to tear you apart.
In addition to the main single-player mode, we were also able to check out both Ruin and Infestation modes. Ruin mode is a simple mode that encourages you to destroy as much as possible in the environment within a specific time limit. Though it sounds easy in theory, finding enough to destroy on a grand enough scale to get through each time gate is certainly a challenge. Do well and you’ll climb up the online leaderboards. Do poorly and you’ll be kicked out early. The mode is simple, but effective, and works well if you just want to play a short burst of Red Faction.
Infestation mode is Armageddon’s take on a traditional multiplayer mode, and sees you teaming up with four other players as you take on increasingly large hordes of enemies. You can choose your load-out weapons in the mode, as well as a special ability to go along with it. The mode definitely gets points for intensity, and you’ll have to really cooperate with your teammates if you want to succeed. Though my team was spread out around quite a large room, I frequently found myself yelling to them and trying to signal them as best I could (without drawing too much attention to myself) so we could work together to get ourselves as far as possible. This mode definitely has some strong potential, and although comparisons to Gears’ horde mode are certainly inevitable, I think Infestation will stand well on its own, especially when you factor in the extreme cooperation fostered by the mode.
I was certainly impressed by Red Faction: Armageddon, and can’t wait to see more of it when it releases next month. The single-player experience is extremely solid, and though it is a lot different than Guerilla, it has enough going for it to stand extremely well on its own. The game certainly has blockbuster potential, and I’ve got a feeling the full version will deliver on the promise of what we’ve seen thus far.
Under the Surface of Mars
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.