Red Faction: Guerrilla surprised gamers with its open-world approach and creative application of destruction options. Red Faction: Armageddon will surprise Guerrilla fans who haven’t been following preview coverage, because in many ways it does the opposite of Guerrilla: instead of an open world you get linear corridors; instead of tons of vehicles to tool around in, you get a handful of vehicles to use in specific levels (but the vehicles are all awesome); instead of human enemies you get (mostly) alien monsters. Armageddon is still a good game, but if you want more of the freeform mayhem Guerrilla offered, you may be unhappy with the new direction.
Above: "You are one ugly, muthaf-"
We’re not sure why developers Volition decided to do away with the open world – maybe they felt they’d done all they could with it. Maybe they got tired of human enemies and realized monsters are scarier in dark caves. Maybe the artists got sick of texturing red and brown mountains. Armageddon is what it is, but it handles its new approach always competently and sometimes expertly. The big question is: is “linear” a bad word to you? It isn’t for us, because we can enjoy the more focused experience of a linear action game. If being funneled down caverns sounds really unappealing, approach Armageddon with serious caution, but the game offers plenty of delights, especially if you enjoyed the destruction from Guerrilla, because the weapons in Armageddon get cuh-razy.
While there are standard weapons in the game – an assault rifle, a shotgun, some pistols, a rocket launcher, etc. – and which are mostly holdovers from the last game, their aesthetic design is top-notch. The guns have heavy punch and delicious sounds when fired; for example the Banshees are slow-firing, high damage dual pistols that just sound and feel flat-out nasty. This stuff is all well and good, but the real fun begins when you start acquiring the weird weapons. The favorite for many will be the Magnet Gun. First you shoot some destructible part of the environment (or an enemy). Then, you shoot some other part of the world – it can be a wall, enemy, or anything really. Whatever you attached the first shot to is then sucked toward the second shot. If you first shoot a building, a section of the structure will rip off and break into pieces and then the cloud of junk flies across the level.
With that one gun you can create a symphony of death. If you’re fast, you can have debris hurtling through a cavern from multiple directions like an underground hurricane, and anything caught in the middle gets torn up or slammed into the walls. The weapon is basically overpowered (it has unlimited ammo!) if you get creative with it, although luckily it isn’t the catchall weapon for the game because it just doesn’t kill swarms of close-range enemies quickly enough, or safely enough, since you can easily catch yourself in the maelstrom. It may not be as novel as the Gravity Gun from Half-life or the Portal Gun, but we never got tired of using it throughout the 8-10 hour campaign.
Above: The Banshees. Properly named, properly gangster
There’s also the Charge Launcher, which is like a souped-up version of the Mining Charges from Guerrilla: you can fire sticky bombs rapidly and then manually detonate them in quick succession. For precision area of effect work (sounds like a contradiction, right?) you can go with the Energy Grenade Launcher, which specifically targets biomatter, so you can throw explosives around with abandon and not worry about significant structural damage, which is important when you’re standing on a fragile catwalk and don’t want to make yourself fall to your death. If you are interested in structural damage, what could be better than the Plasma Beam, which creates a continuous stream of searing energy which disintegrates anything it touches? You can “draw” across the environment, cutting a tower in half like slicing through a banana. And finally there’s the Singularity Cannon, which creates a miniature black hole at the point of impact, sucking in all enemies and structural material before exploding it back outward. It’s awe-inspiring.
You also have a tool called the Nanoforge this time around, which changes up the idea of destruction completely, since now you can rebuild whatever you destroy. It can become a sort of obsession if you let it: just hold down the button and run around, watching stairs, catwalks, and entire buildings reform in seconds. It’s hard to resist making sure every inch of railing is intact. It also has some nifty secondary abilities that run on cooldowns, allowing you to repel enemies with a frontal blast, stun and float close-up foes, enter a berserk mode, and set up a shell to deflect projectiles. In the later stages you absolutely need to use these abilities to survive, which makes the game increasingly tactical.
Above: It's hard to tell what this is, but it's a huge walker vehicle you'll drive late in the game, and it's fabulous
Those aren’t all of the items in the game, but they are the most interesting. Yet Armageddon is all about toys, so the vehicles it makes available are all joyful engines of destruction. Whereas Guerrilla provided many different kinds of vehicles to drive, Armageddon offers but a few – but each one is unique and hilariously powerful. There’s the Exo suit, which is like a really small mech. It has machine guns and rockets, but its most endearing ability is a shoulder charge that lets you play linebacker with buildings. Nothing can stand up to its juggernaut bull-rush. There are two spider-like walkers with x-ray vision and some of the most evil anti-infantry weaponry ever. The bigger mech has something called the Napalm Laser – two words that have never been more suited to be joined. When you fire it, you can draw the laser across the ground, and then a moment later whatever the laser touched erupts in columns of fire. It just tickles the reptilian part of the brain that says “Huh, huh… boom.” There’s even a flying section of the game that reminds us of old-ass PC game Descent, where you fly through corridors and rain hell on poor little aliens.
Let’s talk about those aliens for a bit. They make the game feel quite different from Guerrilla, and not just because they look different from human enemies. There’s a decent variety of the buggers, but they don’t just all mindlessly rush you. There are small melee creatures, but all of the others use projectiles, so the game remains a proper shooter. There are sniper aliens that leap around and cling to walls, there are invisible aliens that disorient you with hallucinatory effects, and there are huge aliens that throw radiating globs and then kamikaze at you and explode when they get low on health. Since this is a corridor shooter and the game wants you to feel the alien threat as a massive swarm, you will shoot a shit ton of them before the end of the game. This again makes Armageddon very different from Guerrilla, which had you just tooling around in vehicles for a huge part of the game.
Above: The Exo suit is kind of boring to look at, but it's not boring to drive
One problem with the alien designs is that they don’t look different enough. We understand that they were designed to look like they’re all related to each other, but their design differences feel aesthetically redundant: they’re all claws, spines, and glowing bits and frankly there were a couple of times when a brand new alien was introduced in a cutscene and we actually said “Wait, why did that alien get a cutscene? We’ve already fought one of these, right?” We only figured out it was a new alien based on its attack patterns. It’s also an issue when a crowd of different aliens are all swarming you and it becomes difficult to prioritize targets. It’s not horrible, though – most of the time we could tell the aliens apart, but they could have used a lot more differentiation.
Above: Monster A
Above: Monster B. These are some of the less similar looking ones
The other area that faces sameness is the world design. Other than the obvious linearity and ubiquitous corridors, from a visual standpoint there are only so many ways you can make a cavern look. There is a lot of gray splashed all over the game, but at the same time we still enjoyed the visuals. The art team clearly realized the issue of making caves look interesting after hours and hours, so the environments actually change things up in subtle (and not so subtle) ways. The game is quite pretty and we think it looks better than Guerrilla, which if you’ll recall was mostly red or brown roads and mountains and some buildings to break things up. Armageddon could easily come across as visually monotonous if you don’t stop to appreciate the tiny details along the way – for instance, a simple nook in a wall that’s carefully filled with icicles and billowy blue light to form a pleasing snack for the eyes. It’s one of the advantages of going linear – you don’t have swaths of semi-empty countryside to gloss over with generic rock and dirt textures.
Above: A lot of the game looks like this. Still looks pretty damn good for just a cave
We don’t always bother with checking off the graphics and audio elements in a review because it’s often not important to the main experience, but when you’re dealing with a game like Armageddon, which is a decent shooter that doesn’t offer up heaps of imaginative gameplay outside of its weapons and vehicles, the little details can often stand out. Just as with the visuals, the sound design helps to make Armageddon not just another generic third-person shooter. In fact, we’d say the sound work is the strongest part of the production and adds quite a bit to the excitement of the experience. Every single weapon has a unique, utterly awesome sound profile – consider the shockwave ability of the Nanoforge, which lets out an echoing, almost haunting chime sound before a rising electric scream increases in intensity before exploding the floating aliens around you. The invisible stalking aliens release a resonant, disturbing screech before they attack you. It’s beautiful art for the ears.
There are two extra modes to play with when you’re done with single-player: Infestation and Ruin. Infestation is an online, four-player survival mode and it’s pretty damn fun. The upgrades you earn in any game mode transfer over, and you can back out to the lobby between waves in order to purchase more upgrades. There’s a specific number of enemy waves and they’re carefully designed with crescendos and lulls. Coordinating with teammates and planning who uses what special abilities is interesting, and aside from just straight survival there’s a defense mode where you have to keep a structure repaired while aliens attack. The Ruin mode, which we must note is only activated through a key that comes with a new copy of the game or purchased as DLC (essentially a “don’t buy this used” incentive) is a fairly throwaway addition – you simply destroy as much stuff as possible in a time limit, and while it has leaderboards we imagine only a small competitive section of players will stick with it for more than a few minutes.
Above: Don't let the first level fool you. It looks like Guerrilla, but then you go into the caves, for a long time
The superb polish, lovely extra details, and joyous weapon design certainly elevate Red Faction: Armageddon beyond what could have been a boring corridor shooter, but these elements can only elevate the core of the game so far: it still is, at its heart, a foundation of derivative shooter tropes dressed up with Red Faction’s (fantastic) physics and weapons. It’s a fun game and a worthwhile purchase if you’re not hoping for more of Guerrilla and you’re not turned off by linearity. Some players not enamored with the weaponry as we were will probably find the game turning into a bit of a slog as the aliens pile on thicker as the game progresses. We found the onslaught to simply make the game more intense and exciting, even as it was never particularly difficult (Volition clearly learned from the weirdly over-tuned difficulty of Guerrilla). We hope we gave you what you need to know to understand what you’ll be getting into, because if you do and you’re still interested, Armageddon will provide a destructive, bug-squashing good time.
Jun 1, 2011