Michael Kontoudis
22 Jul, 2011

Red Faction: Armageddon Review

PS3 Review | Armageddon outta here.
Volition’s Red Faction series has always borne the whiff of the underdog. The series’ ten year-old debut on the venerable Playstation 2 was a workmanlike first-person shooter with one obvious hook: the delicious and impressive (for the time) GeoMod technology which allowed players to thrash and wreck their way through the subterranean world of Mars in an effort to overthrow an authoritarian dictatorship. Since then, the series has wavered uncertainly between first-person shooter and free-form third-person adventure, with the red planet and destruction-focused technology taking centre stage. The last entry in the series, 2009’s Red Faction: Guerrilla, was a roughshod but nonetheless promising title which delivered on its destructive premise and seemingly only required a modicum of variety and polish to elevate the franchise to its maximum potential. Now, a full two years on, and Red Faction: Armageddon arrives, ditching the open-world pretense in favour of a return to a linear romp through the caves of Mars. This new direction, while bold and seemingly true to the series’ roots, is nonetheless problematic, making Armageddon something of a side-step which leaves the still-captivating GeoMod technology all dressed up with nowhere to go.

It if rag-dolls... we can kill it.

It if rag-dolls... we can kill it.

Taking place a couple of generations after the narrative events of Guerrilla, the game sees players assume the role of Darius Mason, an uncharismatic soldier who finds himself, along with the rest of the population of the Martian colony, forced to flee underground after the technology which renders the red planet hospitable is destroyed by some crazed cultists. In other words, wave goodbye to the sweeping crimson vistas of Mars, everyone, because it’s off-to-the-caves-we-go. Things go from bad to substantially worse when Darius unwittingly unleashes a horde of generic subterranean aliens which tear through the colony like ants at a picnic.

So, of course, it is up to Darius to put a stop to the alien menace by blasting his way through the caves of Mars armed with a variety of destructive weapons, all from an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective. In truth, Darius’ arsenal is a highlight of the game, with the newly-introduced Magnet Gun being a notable weapon of mass destruction, allowing Darius to fire two shots, the first fixing a magnet and the second setting an anchor to which the first is attracted. The potential for slinging enemies into walls and into each other is vast and pleasurable, and using the device provides one of the few instances when Armageddon rises above the humdrum. Similarly clever is Darius’ ability to repair broken scenery with the press of a button, an obvious concession to ensure that the level design remains practical in the face of its utter destructibility. All of Darius’ weapons are fully upgradeable, using salvage collected from the rubble, and while experimentation generally reaps satisfaction, it is seldom rewarded by the game’s design. Despite the amount of different guns on offer, and the scope for toying with the environment, Armageddon plays out in the vein of a solid, albeit nondescript third-person blaster, with the game offering little to compel players to make the most of their abilities (or GeoMod tech). In the course of bug-squashing, the world of Armageddon inevitably falls to ruin, but the pyrotechnics are largely confined to the background instead of being an integral part of minute-to-minute play. Volition does its darnedest to inject some flavour by mixing the on-foot gameplay with mech-suit sequences and on-rails turret set-pieces, but diversions such as these are de rigeur, if not utterly obligatory. The gameplay is never poor nor anything less than utterly solid, but our will to press on through the decently-sized campaign was often tested by the game’s criminal lack of ambition and oftentimes plodding pacing.

"You seen my cousin around? Bald, grouchy, goes by the name o' Riddick?"

"You seen my cousin around? Bald, grouchy, goes by the name o' Riddick?"

The narrative on offer, while forgettable, is admirably lengthy and represents decent if not spectacular value. The game's campaign rolls on for a good six to ten hours of explosions, dead aliens and ruined caves, but most will find themselves weary by the time they wrap up the game’s final boss encounter. The lack of scenic variety, which was ironically also a fault of Guerrilla, is compounded by the lack of options in tackling scenarios; in fact, there are no scenarios in Armageddon save for moving forward and destroying your enemy (and the surrounds) en-route to the next objective. Where destroying buildings with well-placed bombs in Guerrilla fit the context of that game’s story and properly exploited its technological foundation, traipsing through caves and killing bipedal insects never feels anything less than arbitrary. Armageddon is a good mid-level shooter, but comes across as desperately anonymous for a game bearing the Red Faction moniker. On the multiplayer side of the equation, the online competitive modes of yore are nowhere to be found, replaced by the ubiquitous co-operative ‘Horde’ mode called Infestation, wherein players are forced to work together to fend off increasingly-difficult waves of enemies. Again, the offering is enjoyable but somewhat milquetoast, with Armageddon unlikely to inspire the sort of rabid devotion in the online community which marks the best and cleverest multiplayer experiences.

Darius' repair functionality is the poster-child of cool mechanics which aren't exploited to their fullest.

Darius' repair functionality is the poster-child of cool mechanics which aren't exploited to their fullest.

Middling too is the game’s presentation, with boring artistic design propping up good if not great technical execution. Character models are spindly, particularly those of the alien enemies which come off like cookie-cutter crab-people, but the game's saving grace are its GeoMod effects which are as awe-inspiring as ever, causing bursts of incidental destruction to unfurl convincingly around the player. Blasting through the alien horde while a building tumbles down around you in a shower of sparks and twisted pylons is a superficial but effective thrill which often elevates the otherwise drudging experience of plowing through Armageddon. Mediocre voice-work and an insipid musical score add little to the overall package, but on the whole the game is inoffensive to both the eyes and ears.

Coming off the vast potential of its immediate predecessor, Armageddon is a puzzling iteration of this seemingly wayward franchise. The scaled-down world and linear focus speaks more of budgetary limitations than it does any genuine inspiration to take the series back to its roots, and the game’s pervading aura is that of a sequel borne of obligation rather than creative spark. Make no mistake: Red Faction: Armageddon is a decent shooter with enjoyable weapons crisp controls and reasonable design. It's just a shame that it's founded on an intriguing technological base upon which it resolutely fails to capitalise.
The Score
Red Faction: Armageddon is a competent shooter which nonetheless feels like a squandered opportunity and a misstep for its franchise; decent fun for a few hours, but destined to be forgotten within minutes of its end credits scrolling by.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Red Faction: Armageddon Content

Red Faction: Armageddon - Sketch mode revealed
27 May, 2011 Those are some sketchy characters....
Red Faction film in the works
20 Jul, 2010 A made-for-TV special.
2 years ago
Glad I skipped this one. The average demo put me off of it, shame coz I liked the previous game.
2 years ago
Guerilla was fantastic, I have played through it multiple times, the open-world design in tandem with the complete destructive environments was just awesome. But I had a feeling this would flop when they revealed it was narrative based, forcing you on a specific scripted path. It just takes away what made the previous game fun.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  08/06/2011 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
Year Made:

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