A castle made of sand.
The are few fictional character types as instantly familiar as the space marine. He is the stoic, beefy Alpha Male who talks as straight as he shoots and has few qualms when it comes to eradicating intelligent alien races with greater speed and efficiency than the entire human cast of Avatar. Such is the power of the human imagination that we have invented him, reinvented him, endlessly reiterated him, and grown to tire of him long before our space travel could progress enough for him to come to exist. With each new appearance as a game protagonist, he takes another small step for marines, and a giant leap towards going the way of the 90s animal mascot and becoming extinct.
Which is why you may feel understandably burned out when confronted with Red Faction Armaggedon; a third-person cover-shooter set on an arid Martian landscape populated with hordes of extraterrestrial foes to annihilate. After Red Faction Guerilla’s sandbox free-roaming its successor takes a decidedly more linear approach, following endless tunnels and caverns in much the same way Dead Space does corridors or Gears of War ruined streets.
The twist on the format is the series’ trademark Geo-Mod engine, allowing for comprehensive environmental destruction. Re-tweaking the impressively robust physics of the previous game you are again able to apply your creative vision to the often generic landscapes – hammering a supportive beam to topple a structure on approaching enemies or rebuilding a tactical flight of steps using the simple ‘colouring in’ tool.
The dynamics are intuitive and add much-needed individuality to an otherwise familiar shooter experience, giving you license to experiment with the gravity gun’s ability to attract any point A to any point B or blast the generous distribution of explosive barrels just to witness their effect on the surrounding architecture. Glitches can arise in the form of buildings standing on a prodigiously strong section of plumbing or a flung object frustrating with an erratic trajectory, but the toy-box is otherwise well-rounded and its novelty lasts long after the game’s other elements cave to traditional shooter fare.
Armaggedon’s best experience is an hour in. There is no particularly spectacular set-piece at this point, rather it’s around this time that you become experienced enough with the arsenal of weapons and tools to carve up an eclectic mix of carnage unique to you. Here Armaggedon is a joy to play – alien hordes swarm around you and whatever combination of abilities and weapons you use feels like a natural and effective method of dispatching them. It’s only after prolonged play that the cracks begin to show.
Using the same destination path-markers and radio instructions as the previous game but not its free-roam gameplay, Armageddon can feel like a rather blinkered experience. You will often find yourself led in to an open area whereupon you will be attacked by seemingly endless waves of inhabitants and tasked with clearing the room before proceeding. Often the odds will appear insurmountable, but if you decide discretion is the better part of valour and retreat you will be punished for leaving the combat area, making the various staged battles feel like monster closets despite the clearly labelled exits.
Break on through
Given that Red Faction’s environmental destruction was originally a response to the oddity of locked doors proving a challenge to heroes armed with heavy explosives it seems a backwards step to punish the player with mission failure for taking any approach other than total annihilation (especially when enemy clearance is rarely stated as a mission objective). The widespread use of this archaic mechanic does guarantee frenetic, bloody battles throughout the game but it soon begins to feel more like a butcher’s busywork than a mercenary’s fight for survival.
This time that mercenary is Darius Mason, grandson of legendary freedom fighter Alec Mason. Fifty years after Mason Senior’s political struggle and ultimate victory over the enslaving Earth Defence League, Mars’ inhabitants are forced underground when Darius fails to prevent the destruction of the terraformers which sustain human-life on the planet’s surface. Years later, Darius again finds himself pitted against the strange cultist, Adam Hale, the same man that once outsmarted him and now intends to further disgrace him in the face of an increasingly desperate human population.
Even in its establishing scenes, Argmageddon’s plot proves repetitive and incoherent and ultimately irrelevant, amounting to little more than a series of vague incentives to travel from MacGuffin fetch quest to generic switch to be pressed (with plenty of monster closets in-between). Familiarity breeds contempt, and as you become more and more aware of Armageddon’s superficial game-life extension the less inclined you feel to play its game. Ability enhancements inject some variety in to the proceedings, but with each level of skills unlocked at a specific stage of the game this too becomes formulaic.
Laws of attrition
Visually, Armageddon is both an impressive spectacle and a mundane trek through samey locals. In full battle enemies will be dynamically utilising environments and throwing all manner of fireworks in your direction with only occasional slow-down, and yet in a following encounter the same enemies will be climbing the same dull architecture giving little feel of progression. Voice work – whether in cutscenes, radio communications or discovered audiologs – is delivered with emotion and character and Darius himself is an easily likeable protagonist. The only issue is the lack of material the story gives them to work with and so interaction between the few recurring characters becomes a shallow, objective delivering affair.
Armageddon’s difficulty curve is irregular and after turning off the ridiculous auto-aim you will still find yourself giving more thought to whether you should raise or lower the difficulty than what tactics to use against the throng. Even slogging through a harder difficulty will only amount to 8-10 hours of repetitive gameplay and the humble multiplayer offerings of obligatory horde mode ‘Infestation’ and mindless destruct-a-thon ‘Ruin’ add little value.
Armageddon is fantastic fun at first, with little substance to reward further play. A great rental perhaps, as the short-term experience offers an involving run-and-gun alien blaster which is comparable to existing releases yet also individual enough to warrant interest. Ultimately the long-term experience doesn’t hold up, and the finely-crafted production crumbles due to poor support.
Pro – A varied and novel shooter experience.
Con – Quickly devolves in to cheap repetition.