Aliens vs. Red Faction
Despite a few flaws, 2009’s Red Faction: Guerrilla did several things extremely well. Namely, it told an amazing story about a group of rebels who picked away at a tyrannical government until it fell, and it provided a huge, open world in which you could roam about, knocking down buildings with a sledgehammer.
Still, it’s not surprising that developer Volition Software wanted to change things up this time around. Guerrilla’s sales were so-so—by the time I bothered to pick it up, publisher THQ was giving it away for free as a thank you for buying Darksiders—and this franchise has always evolved with each iteration (Guerrilla itself changed the perspective from first to third-person, for example). But did they have to make a linear game where you shoot aliens?
The new entry, Armageddon, starts out promisingly enough. Since the Red Faction’s victory in Guerrilla, Mars has become a relatively peaceful and prosperous place. The only real problem is that a rebel group called the Cultists is making trouble. This should have made for a brilliant new open world game, with your character (Darius Mason, grandson of Guerrilla protagonist Alec Mason) working to beat back the terrorist threat and struggling with the way things have changed. The fact that a hero named Mason was a government soldier rather than an insurgent could have created a lot of tension.
But no. Instead, in an early scene, the rebels destroy a Terraformer, a machine that makes Mars’s atmosphere habitable for humans. The entire human race escapes to an underground system of tunnels, and Darius becomes a miner and mercenary. On one mission, he’s sent to find a seal in the ground and open it. A bunch of aliens pour out, and you spend most of the rest of the game running down a linear path, shooting bugs as they pop out, and watching cutscenes with cheesy, clichéd action-movie dialogue. (Will they sarcastically refer to enemy soldiers as a “welcoming party”? Why, yes, they will.) I bet you’ve never played a game like that before.
This is a huge disappointment, and many fans will see this as a deal breaker. But just for the sake of argument, let’s relax our expectations for a minute and look at Red Faction: Armageddon for what it really is: a generic third-person shooter that apes the feel of a summer action blockbuster.
Seen this way, Armageddon is a smashing success. The ten-hour campaign is one of the most polished linear monster-shooting experiences I’ve ever seen, right up there with the biggest-selling franchises. The graphics in particular are fantastic, with detailed environments, creepy lighting, well-designed creatures, and perfectly natural facial animations.
The settings and monsters have a survival-horror element to them, but the basic gameplay is pure shoot-’em-up: you walk forward, trigger enemies, kill the enemies, flip a switch, and keep moving. As you progress, the enemies get bigger and harder to kill, and you encounter a few bosses.
The developers stole a concept from The Conduit as well: You come across lots of enemy spawners, and you have to make a decision between destroying the spawner right away and trying to thin out the crowd first to make it safer. There are only two small problems with the shooting action: the (rather forgiving) aim assist is practically mandatory, given how quickly the aliens bounce around, and the sound effects can be a little weak at times.
A summer shooter always has to have a couple of gimmicks to set it off from the pack, and Armageddon delivers here as well. The sledgehammer makes a long-awaited return. While it’s not as much fun to use on linear underground paths as it was in an above-ground open world, it’s still a freaking sledgehammer. Almost everything you come across is destructible, just as it was in Guerrilla.
In addition, the Nano Forge can now repair objects, including cover. This would add an additional layer of strategy—if this game actually encouraged you to use cover in the first place. Even in Guerrilla, the snap-to cover system wasn’t great, but here it’s gone entirely. “Using cover” just means “walking behind cover and crouching,” like it does in Call of Duty games. Since the aliens move so quickly, it doesn’t really help much anyway. In my playthrough, I used cover only when my health was low and I needed to hide and recharge.
There’s also a magnet gun—the first magnet you fire attaches to an object, and the second pulls the first toward it. I’m inclined to complain that it gets old quickly, and that the developers completely missed a golden opportunity to design puzzles around it. But if you play Armageddon as a summer blockbuster, the fact that you can use this gun to throw the game’s plentiful explosive barrels around is more than enough to make you fall in love with it.
In the second half of the game, things open up a bit. The plot takes you above ground briefly, down into Mars’s molten core, and then back to the surface for a tense finale. The more diverse set of environments fits the game well, and there are some terrific vehicle sections. In addition to a mech and a huge crawling spider, you get to pilot a small ship Descent-style, complete with six degrees of freedom. The controls here really shine on a console controller; they’re basically just standard FPS controls, with face buttons used to ascend and descend. (Given that Halo: Reach included a section clearly inspired by Freespace, perhaps space shooters from the ’90s will live on within the FPS genre?)
The one thing that’s missing from the summer blockbuster shooter formula is competitive multiplayer. Given how fun deathmatch could be with destructible environments, that’s a shame. Instead, we’re limited to two variations on Horde mode. In one, you simply survive as wave after wave of enemies attack, and in the other, you have to defend a point on the map against the enemies.
An additional single-player mode, Ruin, is something like Burnout’s Crash mode: you just do as much damage as you can, and if you score highly enough, you unlock a new map. Like the multiplayer modes, this is fun, but hardly indispensable. And in a somewhat annoying move, THQ made Ruin mode inaccessible without a code, so it won’t be included for renters and used game buyers. (The download is too small to contain much of anything, so I suspect the code merely unlocks material that’s already on your game disc.)
If you were one of the people who bought Red Faction: Guerrilla and loved it, this game will disappoint you. Two of Guerrilla’s most impressive features (the story and the open world) are gone, and a third (the sledgehammer) isn’t as fun this time around. But if you look at the game this way, you’re missing the point. Armageddon is about taking the tried-and-true formula of a cinematic third-person shooter, adding destructible environments and a few gimmicks, and watching the money roll in. If you want to mow down some high-definition aliens and can’t wait until Gears of War 3 comes out, this is the game for you.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
These are top-of-the-line current-generation graphics, with detailed environments, well-made character models, and excellent facial animations.E 4.5 Control
For the most part, they’re just standard shooter controls, but the developers’ attention to detail shows in a Descent-style vehicle sequence. 2.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The dialogue is absolutely horrendous, though that might be intentional. Also, the gunshots needed to be louder and more menacing.E 3.6 Play Value
This is a well-polished ten-hour campaign, but it loses all of the things that made Guerrilla special in favor of a generic action experience. Also, there’s no competitive multiplayer. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best