Summary: Volition, Inc. and THQ are proud to present Red Faction: Armageddon, the latest in the franchise that is most well-known for its comprehensive environmental destruction. This fourth game in the series of action games based on the trials and tribulations of colonizing the red planet take you deep underground for a close encounter with an ancient race of Martian monsters. Before you determine whether or not you're up to the task of saving that rock once again, why not see how the game fares in Vandy's review? Go on then, don't be shy!
Red Faction: Armageddon brings you back to the fourth rock from the sun many years after the revolution that took place in the last game. You play as Darius Mason, descendant of the Guerillaís protagonist and ex-member of the Red Faction. Following a terrorist attack on the planetís enormous terraforming machine, extreme weather and other unfavorable conditions on the surface lead most of the humans on Mars to migrate underground, where abandoned mining colonies are refurbished into something at least moderately civilized. Darius and his friend-who-happens-to-be-a-girl Kara spend their days as miners, scavengers, and/or mercenaries out of Bastion, a major subterranean settlement which serves as a hub for the surrounding areas.
One of these ďbusinessĒ arrangements brings Darius to the surface of Mars, where he meets the shady organization that hired him at gunpoint. Undoubtedly regretting his ďno questions askedĒ policy, Darius descends into the depths of an ancient temple with his mechanized excavation suit. He smashes open what appears to be a magical seal atop an ominously dark shaft, Darius is told to plumb its depths. He then realizes heís fallen into a trap set by his old nemesis, the fanatical cultist leader long thought dead, Adam Hale. As it happens, youíve stumbled into a nest of indigenous creatures that were sealed away centuries ago, for good reason, and inadvertently brought about Armageddon on MarsÖ
Volition, Inc.ís latest release combines a newer version of their GeoMod destruction engine and the third-person shooter elements of Red Faction: Guerilla with the more carefully directed and story-driven gameplay of the original games in the series. Armageddon for PC brings with it support for higher screen resolutions, DirectX10 and 11 on supporting hardware, and improved aiming controls with the mouse, all at a lower price point than its console counterparts. How does the game fare overall? Turn the page and find out!
Armageddonís level design is very much a linear affair, taking place almost entirely in underground caves and tunnels. This a far cry from the open-world mayhem on the surface of Mars found in its predecessor, Guerilla. Aside from the more narrative-focused and deliberately-paced gameplay that entails, this also means there is less stuff to destroy, and letís face it, thatís what Red Faction is all about. What good are all of your destructive abilities without a plethora of massive buildings to test them out on? Given the fact that youíre surrounded by immovable rock for 90% of the game, however, they do a decent job of cramming in a lot of dynamic objects and structures for you to play with, including explosive barrels and more flimsy shacks than you can shake your hammer at.
Probably the most major new gameplay element here, though, is the ability to turn the environment into a weapon. True, you could demolish garrisoned buildings and crush the bad guys inside them before, but now you can literally throw entire chunks of structure around using a nifty new tool called the Magnet Gun. It works by firing two magnetic projectiles that will stick onto almost any surface; the first goes on the object you want to move, and the second acts as the anchor, rapidly propelling said object in that direction. Combined with Armageddonís improved physics and [seemingly] more numerous debris, it is as awesome to behold as it is fun to use. It is a bit overpowered -- the thing has unlimited ammo and can also be used to pick up and throw enemies far enough to *SPLAT* on impact.
There are plenty of other weapons to play around with, as well, ranging from the conventional (assault rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher) to the outlandish (plasma cannon, nano-bot rifle, black hole emitter). Many of them are explosive enough to severely damage your surroundings, so if youíre climbing a rickety walkway above a bottomless pit, it might behoove you to use less obtrusive weaponry, such as the pulse grenade launcher (deadly against organic life but harmless to structures) or the rail gun, which can actually penetrate through buildings and other destructible objects without damaging them.
If thereís a problem with the arsenal in Armageddon, itís that itís simply much too big for your inventory, which is limited to 4 slots. You can find arms lockers throughout the game that allow you to switch up the weapons youíre carrying, but even so, I found myself sticking with 2 or 3 favorites most of the time. Thereís also the fact that aliens donít drop extra mags, so you have to suspend your disbelief a bit at the premise of ammunition crates being scattered to every corner of the Mars underground.
You also have access to a host of other abilities, powered by the Nano Forge, which is a device worn on your characterís left arm. Along with granting you the companionship of AI helper SAM (Situational Awareness Module), its primary function allows you to repair or rebuild any destructible object in the game world. Surely youíve played Red Faction before and blown something up by accident, wishing you could bring it back? Well, not only is that possible now, itís a necessity for some areas, whether a bridge you need to cross was inadvertently brought crashing down or a mission objective tasks you with restoring some machinery back to prime working condition. You can even use it to restore your cover midway through a firefight!
Additionally, youíll be using the energy stored within the Nano Forge to periodically execute some pretty sweet Jedi-like powers, such as a force push, personal shield, and overdrive/rage mode than greatly increases your offensive capabilities for a short while. Collecting salvage materials from destroying certain objects or exploration nets you a currency to spend at upgrade stations to enhance these abilities, along with your inherent attributes like health, accuracy, and reload speed. New tiers of upgrades are unlocked as you progress through the story and you can purchase them in any order (barring a few that have pre-requisites from lower tiers).
Although you occasionally fight some cultists, those pesky aliens make up the majority of what youíll be blasting, crushing, and smashing throughout the duration of Armageddonís campaign. Their most common ranks are surprisingly agile, bouncing between cave floors and walls like pinballs, hanging off the side of stalactites, tall buildings, and the like long enough to toss various projectiles your way. Console gamers have to make up for the relative sluggishness of their gamepad controls by utilizing the built-in aim assist feature that snaps your crosshairs to the nearest enemy.
Oddly enough, this fast-paced swarm combat works really well on PC when you disable the auto-aim; I found such lively targets to be a joy to track and shoot, time and time again. Itís certainly more interesting than the typical human targets that just stand there, waiting to be popped a few in the head. This might not be the case if it werenít for the mouse aiming being so snappy and responsive, unlike in Guerilla.
As if everything else this game offers wasnít enough to whet your appetite for destruction, Armageddon also introduces suits of powered armor and other vehicles for you to wreak havoc with. Certain portions of the game will let you hop into an exoskeleton mech armed to the teeth with an endless supply of machinegun rounds and homing rockets, plus you can pick up and throw an alien if they get too close or perform a quick shoulder-dash to charge through enemies and destructible objects. One particular level has you maneuvering through a very cramped, deserted prison; since the mech is too large for the doorways, youíre basically forced to crash through walls like the Kool-Aid man, which is a lot more fun than it probably should be. That said, my favorite vehicle section was definitely near the end, where youíre allowed to pilot a small fighter spacecraft. Though plenty awesome in its own right, those familiar with Volitionís work on the Freespace series of space combat games might end up needing to change their pants afterward.
The newest Red Faction looks better than Guerilla for sure, but thatís not surprising considering the transition from an open world sandbox to a linear cave-crawler. In fact, the few outdoor levels that do exist in Armageddon take place in canyons with walls that touch the sky or on a mountain side at night, so itís too dark to see anything beyond the cliffís edge. It allows you to choose between DirectX 9 and DirectX 10/11 at launch, but itís not quite clear exactly what features are employed in that respect; the only thing mentioned in-game is that the High setting for ambient occlusion requires DX10 or above. For all I know, they could just be using the advanced renderer for performance optimizations otherwise, which is better than not using them at all, I suppose.
Unfortunately, Armageddon employs a quite claustrophobic over-the-shoulder viewpoint, even worse than those used in Resident Evil or Dead Space. This will likely contribute to you feeling like you have tunnel vision the entire time and possibly cause headaches. I got used to it after a while, so it wasnít a huge deal for me, however there is a CheatEngine trainer floating around the official forums that allows you to change the FOV it to your liking. While it doesnít change the position of the camera, giving you a wider angle of view ought to make things a little easier on the eyes.
As the textures and poly count of most objects in the game are rather sub-par, the best part about the visuals would have to be the special effects. Iím talking dynamic lighting and shadows with light sources can be busted and even repaired, simulated lens flare (thankfully not at J.J. Abrams levels), or even the smoke and other sprite-based elements. Just counting all the different components of an explosion, you have the brilliant, multi-colored flashes, glowing particles being strewn every which way, dirt and dust being kicked up all around, debris whizzing around with small trails of fire and smoke behind them, not to mention the remnants of whatever you just blew up! Alien bugs splatter and explode in glorious showers of gibs and goo, but somewhat surprisingly, human enemies do, too. There is one sequence where you pilot an arachnid walker mech that uses chain lightning as its primary weapon and get to see cultists doing the electrocution shuffle for a few seconds before popping like I imagine a tomato in a microwave would. Dozens of them, over and over again! Thereís your ĎMí rating.
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