June 24, 2011 by Paul Curtin
Do you like breaking things? And when I say “things” I mean everything. Then you’re going to love Red Faction: Armageddon. And honestly, who doesn’t like breaking things? Armageddon, the sequel to 2008’s Red Faction: Guerrilla, isn’t an open world game like Guerrilla, but features what made that game so impressive — fully destructible environments with a plethora of weapons which allow you to destroy everything uniquely based on your own taste. Oh yeah, and there’s also great shooter mechanics and a solid story… but did I mention you can break just about everything?
Armageddon plays like a mashup of Dead Space, Starship Troopers, Chronicles of Riddick, and Aliens, taking place on Mars in the year 2170, fifty years after the events of the previous game, Red Faction: Guerrilla. Unlike the original, which takes place primarily on Mars’ surface, the citizens of Mars are forced underground after the game’s main antagonist, Adam Hale, destroys the planet’s Terraformer, a machine that keeps Mars’ atmosphere similar to Earth’s. You’ll assume the role of Darius Mason, grandson of Guerrilla‘s Alec Mason, who is tricked by Hale into opening up Pandora’s box, awakening an ancient civilization of Martian creatures, and starting Armageddon on Mars. As Mason, you’ll be on a mission to clear your name, take down Hale, and most importantly, rid the planet of aliens and save humanity on Mars.
I was blown away by Guerrilla‘s demo back in 2009; regrettably, I didn’t have time to play the full game and only got my hands on parts of the game after it was released. Armageddon ditches the open world setting previously used in Guerrilla and goes back to a more linear gameplay model that allows for better storytelling. Not playing the entire last game, I can’t comment if Armageddon is better or worse, but I agree with the developers’ choice. Not all games have to be in an open world setting; video game technology still hasn’t reached a point where a story can be told better in open world games than a more directed and somewhat linear story where the developers can have more control over knowing where players will go and what they will do.
Even with Armageddon not being an open world game, some levels are so massive that at times you’ll feel like you’re playing in a sandbox game. Most levels have multiple objectives which allow you to freely choose which paths you take and in what order you complete missions. The majority of the game takes place underground, but with entire cities built underground and full-scale buildings that can be completely leveled, you won’t ever feel confined and claustrophobic, especially with the ability to break whatever is holding you in and easily free yourself when you get stuck. Being able to break just about everything is the best part of the Red Faction series and one of the most impressive features in all of gaming.
Armageddon uses the Geomod 2.5 engine, an upgrade from the previous game’s Geomod 2.0 engine, and allows for just about everything to be dynamically destroyed in real time — forget destructible cover, you can take down entire multi-story buildings that enemies are hiding in with them still in it. Enemies can also use the destructible environments to their advantage by destroying cover you’re using and even taking the floor out from right underneath you, resulting in gameplay environments instantly changing or even long falls to your death.
Even more impressive than how buildings and objects can be completely destroyed is a new feature to the series’ campaign which allows players to rebuild broken objects instantly. Say for example an entire area is destroyed during a massive battle you have with enemies and the stairs leading to the next objective have been completely damaged. You’ll have the ability to use Mason’s Nano Forge and rebuild the stairs instantly by just holding down one button. You can even run across fallen bridges holding down your rebuild button and watch as the pieces rebuild right under your feet. It’s an amazing feature that the developers deserve recognition for being able to do, especially with the fact that I never came across one glitch, which was shocking with how chaotic battles can get and how much of the environment can change in real time.
Like an artist when choosing his paint, you’ll be able to pick how you go about creating your masterpiece of death and destruction with a wide variety of weapons to choose from. Whether you want to use a massive hammer called the Maul to take a building down strategically one supporting beam at a time or want to just shoot a laser that instantly evaporates buildings, you’ll never get bored picking how to break things. There’s even a magnet gun which allows you to latch on to one object and send it flying at another. How many other games let you throw a building at another building to destroy both? And after you beat the game you’ll unlock a special weapon called “Mr. Toots,” a mini unicorn you hold like a rifle and use to shoot rainbows out of its ass that disintegrate everything.
New to the Red Faction series are the Martian bug-like enemies. Just like the weapons, there’s a wide range of enemies, from other humans to alien creatures, that you’ll be constantly fighting waves of. But enemies won’t just run straight at you. Most will jump around on the walls and try to flank you; there are even pods that constantly spawn alien enemies and make them stronger, which you’ll have to strategically take out first. The story switches between ground, mech, and airborne combat levels with human enemies and bugs, which keeps the gameplay from becoming repetitive and the story’s pacing strong.
Overall, the game plays very similar to Dead Space but with a lot faster pacing that focuses more on action than horror. There are times where your entire screen will be filled with nothing but alien bugs swarming you and explosions, but with the spot-on controls, you’ll have no problem taking them out and using the destructible environments to your advantage. There’s even a snap-on aiming feature for those who aren’t as experienced with third-person shooters, but I’d strongly suggest turning the feature off because the controls are about as good as it gets and using the auto-aim feature takes away some of the immersion you would otherwise get aiming on your own.
Also like Dead Space, there are various audio logs that help tell the story and upgrade stations scattered throughout levels in the game. As you make your way through the game killing enemies and collecting salvage from buildings you destroy, you’ll be rewarded with points which you can use to upgrade your character. All the skills available to upgrade are useful such as the obvious improved health and better accuracy to special abilities like bubble shields and a power that allows you to launch groups of enemies into the air and hold them in zero gravity while you gun them down one by one. There’s around 35 upgrades that are broken down by tiers and which you unlock as you progress further through the game, so you’ll want to break as many objects as possible and find as many hidden cylinders filled with salvage to collect points towards improving your character and getting new abilities to make gameplay even crazier.
When looking at Armageddon, there’s little in terms of negatives to find. The game plays near-perfect and looks great. The ending is somewhat anti-climatic, but that’s because how crazy the build-up to it plays. The only real problem is what isn’t there, and that’s the multiplayer. While the game features a competitive destruction mode called “Ruin Mode” where players challenge each other to cause the most damage in a set time limit, and a co-op Horde Mode called “Extermination,” the lack of a true competitive player vs. player multiplayer is a real bummer. Not every game needs multiplayer, but with the last game having a competitive multiplayer mode and the game’s innovative fully destructible environments being so perfect for revolutionary multiplayer gameplay, it’s a real shame that the feature was removed and what keeps Armageddon from perfection. Red Faction: Armageddon gets 4 out of 5 stars (Great).
- Fully destructible environments with the best physics of any game to date
- Tons of unique weapons and spot-on controls
- Solid story with elements from many popular movie and game franchises
- New alien bug enemies make gameplay feel different than previous Red Faction games
- Gameplay transitions well between ground, mech, and airborne combat
- No competitive player vs. player multiplayer like the previous game
- Gameplay can be a little too easy, even when on the most difficult settings
- Anti-climatic ending that could have been far more epic
- Online co-op horde mode is boring and repetitive