Reviewed: June 9, 2011
Released: June 7, 2011
The Red Faction series has undergone a lot of changes since the original release shortly after the US launch of the PS2. At the time, the first person shooter genre was largely relegated to the PC, as the consoles lacked the firepower needed to pull of the genre with fluidity – Red Faction changed all that with some of the best FPS action and storytelling yet seen on any device. |
The story of Parker – who under false promises of untold riches, winds up as a slave labor mine worker for the evil Ultor Corporation on the distant planet Mars. As conditions worsen, Parker revolts against his captors and fights to escape the planet before it is entire taken over by plague. The awesome storytelling and gameplay was augmented by developer Volition’s newfangled GeoMod 2.0 engine which allowed gamers to literally destroy the scenery to progress the gameplay. If Parker could not get through a locked door he could simply blast a hole in the wall next to the door and walk on in.
The first Red Faction may have been a bit too heavy for some folks especially with high-action games like Halo hitting the scene on the then-new Xbox. Volition knew that the PS2 needed a “Halo Killer” so it modified the formula a bit with Red Faction 2, targeting a more run-and-gun high-action approach. This change left Red Faction 2 in an awkward position; not quite as cerebral as the loyal Red Faction fans were hoping for, yet nowhere near the blockbuster appeal that the Halo Killer seekers were looking for.
With the third installment of the Red Faction series, Volition knew a change was needed – so they took the things they learned with another franchise of theirs – Saints Row – and applied the winning formula consisting of open world gameplay and a new third-person perspective. Keeping with the Red Faction signature GeoMod engine, Red Faction Guerilla focused on including the fully destructible environments in the gameplay – giving gamers a huge hammer weapon with which to smash and bash buildings and objects to the ground.
But now gamers seemed a little overwhelmed (or maybe I say oversaturated) with the open-world gameplay, and asked for a more cohesive storyline. So with Red Faction: Armageddon, the fourth official installment of the Red Faction series Volition has decided to back up a step or two: maintaining the third person perspective but reverting to a linear storyline in which our protagonist Darius Mason (grandson of Guerilla main Alec Mason) has to stop the hordes of Martian creatures that he accidentally freed while opening a mine shaft on the surface.
This time around the fight goes subterranean; with much of the action taking place in dark tunnels and damp underground corridors, the flashlight-lit Armageddon almost seems more like a hybrid of Dead Space, Chronicles of Riddick, and Doom 3 than it does of Guerrilla or Red Faction 2, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, a majority of the original title took place in the underground caverns, so this is more like a trip back in time.
The Martian creatures are a sight to behold – spiny and spiky, these creatures are like nightmare insects gone wrong. With the blink of an eye, these insects leap around the level attaching themselves in high-up places making it difficult for Mason to see, much less lock onto. Thankfully, Armageddon features a very forgiving auto-regenerating health system and an intuitive auto-targeting system that help get Mason through most battles.
Mason has a handful of signature moves that come from the Nano-Forge bracelet, most importantly the Impulse attack which when fully charged can destroy a swarm of enemies or a nearby object with ease like Darth Vader’s Force Push. The Nano-Forge can also be used for productive means – repairing bridges and structures that impede the way. I will admit that the constant need for roadway repair seemed a little too gimmicky (and finicky at that) for my tastes, but it was a nice visual effect to watch.
Speaking of cool weapons, Armageddon is chock full of assault rifles, shotguns, pulse cannons, and charge launchers – but the one weapon that trumps all others is the magnetic gun. While not for high intensity fighting, the magnetic gun is still one of the most useful tools in the arsenal in that it can be used for so many purposes – from taking out entire groups of enemies in a single swoop, to destroying objects quickly and creatively, to opening new areas with ease.
The magnetic gun works two shots – the first shot tags an item that is to be moved, and the second shot tags the location where it is to go to. Once the two shots are taken, the item is magnetically drawn to its target. Wallah – everything in between the two is toast. Gamers can pull chunks off the ceiling to fall on hordes of enemies, enemies can be catapulted to distant locations, vehicles can be slammed to the ceilings – there are even boss battles that have the gamer peeling off the boss’ spider-like legs one by one using the magnet gun. Great fun!
Armageddon also brings back a long lost staple of video-gaming in the form of the Mech-like LEO Exosuit. These suits transform Darius into a hulking powerhouse, able to smash through objects and enemies with ease. The segments that use the exosuits are brief, but fun. It had me longing for the old days of Mech Assault and Metal Arms. While I did find myself interested in returning to the world of Armageddon, I must admit it was more for the rewarding action sequences and not for the storyline – which seemed to be rather thin and uninspired for a Red Faction story.
It does not help that Darius Mason sounds exactly like the kind of person I don’t want to associate myself with in a game – coming across more as an arrogant one-liner jockstrap sort of a-hole as opposed to the silent and humble Parker who made the series what it was. The writing comes across as cheesy and contrived, with all of the requisite memes and plotline twists thrown in to give the appearance of a cohesive thread tying the action sequences together. It works, but it definitely lacks the polish of something like the Uncharted franchise.
Visually, Armageddon is a mixed bag in that it looks acceptable for all of the deformable GeoMod setpieces included in each scene, but as for an apples-to-apples comparison to other games it looks dark, muddy, and uninspired. Everything is cast in one or another shades of gray, and the game lacks any detail for objects that are not within the immediate vicinity. But just when it seems like a lost cause, something stunning pops up – like one of the enemy creatures that have some of the best detail and movement I have seen in a long time.
The sound is also a mixed bag – with some excellent explosions and weapons effects – but some of the lamest voice acting I have heard in a long time. And no, it’s not that the actors haven’t done an acceptable job – it’s more like everything has a bit of an echo or reverb to it which makes it sound like the tracks were recorded in the back room at Volition rather than in a professional studio setting. I am not sure if Volition’s intent was to mimic how the speech would sound in real life setting, but in a cinematic experience like gaming it all sounds cheap and unpolished.
Still, although the presentation leaves something to be desired, the overall gameplay is a blast…literally. From the single player story to the four-player online Extermination mode there is a lot of fun to be had in Armageddon. Add to that the sandbox style Ruin mode in which the gamer is awarded for destroying the most scenery, and you have one heck of an experience. Not completely on par with the likes of Dead Space, but close enough to make it worth your time.
All said, I still favor the formula of the original Red Faction over the more recent releases – but there is no denying that there is immense enjoyment to be had in in destruction, and Volition has never disappointed in this aspect. Armageddon may lack the storyline components of the prior releases, but it more than makes up for it in terms of overall action and gameplay ingenuity – and while I may never be able to recapture the experience of the original Red Faction, I can see many more hours of magnet gun follies in my future.