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