Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more – literally. Red Faction: Armageddon takes us back into the mines, back into the tunnels that were the familiar setting of the original Red Faction, the one that stole our hearts, blew endless chunks of rock out of our walls, and killed mutated freaky things that wanted to eat you alive. Yes, to me it feels kind of like a journey back to the start of it all, but sadly there were a few things missing.
Armageddon sees you take on the role of Darius Mason, grandson of Alec Mason, the main character from Red Faction: Guerrilla, and from the outset of the game he is thrust into the role of hero. The antagonist to Mr. Mason is very bad man by the name of Adam Hale – a terrorist who sees the Red Faction as just another oppressive governing power, and wants nothing more than to see them crushed, and Mars ‘liberated’ once again. Seriously, when public transport to Mars becomes a reality, I’m never setting foot on that hell-hole. Far too political! Darius is part of a Red Faction assault squad, racing to the terraformer – the huge structure housing machinery and systems designed to keep Mars’ atmosphere at the same level as that of Earth, making it safe and livable by humans – in order to prevent Hale and his naughty buddies from blowing the shit out of it and generally just spoiling it for everyone.
After a failed mission, seeing the terraformer reduced to rubble, and the entire human race being forced underground into the tunnels and caves of Mars to eke out an existence in darkness and claustrophobia, Darius Mason feels guilty for his failure to prevent the terrorists from completing their mission, and makes his living working private contracts for any number of shady characters. The primary events of our story kicks off when Mason unwittingly causes a huge tomb of insect-like creatures to spring forth from what is essentially a giant plug, after having smashed into lots of tiny pieces. Why did he do that? It was a job! Why would someone pay him to unknowingly release lots of bugs? Well, because they are a dick, that’s why.
Bugs are everywhere and anywhere, burrowing through rocks, climbing up and down walls, eating people, smashing people, and generally just being incredibly horrible for no particular reason. It’s incredibly similar to the concept of Aliens (best movie of all time), with insectoid freaks of nature leaving a trail of carnage and death wherever they go. One thing is for sure though – they are a hell of a lot of fun to kill.
RF: Armageddon is basically the exact same game as Guerrilla, feel-wise; it’s a third person shooter with a variety of crazy but incredibly fun weapons and some very interesting tools to get you through the levels. Yes, levels, the key difference between Guerrilla and Armageddon that you may or may not appreciate, yet really made no particular difference to me. Guerrilla, being a completely free roam game spanning a huge area of the populated surface of Mars, was incredible fun on a fantastic scale with so many miscellaneous secondary objectives too complete, almost completely optional of course, and knowing that any building you destroy at any point in the game will be gone permanently was genius. Armageddon, however, is an entirely linear game, and the most open world you’re going to get in it is on the co-operative modes. There are occasionally slightly different directions you can take in certain areas, while it is never anything more than a ‘go high’ or ‘go low’ approach, and if like me you like to explore everything, you will find yourself backtracking down the alternate route anyway to find all of the scrap metal you need to upgrade Mason’s abilities.
Whether you already know it or not, the main feature of any Red Faction game was the destructible environments, and using them against your enemy. In RF1 it was about blowing bridges up while convoys crossed them, sending them plummeting to their dooms, in Guerrilla it was about dropping an entire building full of enemy soldiers, crushing them all, and holding your eyes in whilst they tried to pop out in pure, untamed amazement. I missed out RF2 because, quite frankly, I didn’t like it; it simply wasn’t very good, and the only person I know who did like it, never played the first game. The ability to destroy almost everything was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen in a video game, and the many ways in which you could do it meant it there was never a dull moment. Bringing a smoke stack down onto a convoy of EDF supply trucks, or ploughing a C4-covered lorry into the middle of an enemy bunker and setting it off to destroy the whole thing made me a very happy person. While the vehicles in this fourth installment don’t quite serve the same purpose as those in Guerrilla, which was mainly transportation, they most certainly provide welcome interjections of utter chaos and destruction, and give you an infinite supply of ammunition to take down horrendous amounts of enemy bugs and structures, something which is incredibly fun and a nice change after the lengthy on-foot portions of the game.
Thankfully, despite the lack of open-world gameplay in Armageddon, the destruction side to it is still there and perhaps even better than it was before. The new weapons and tools make the game very different, and make fantastic use of the close-quarters nature of this installment. Being swarmed by nasty man-sized bugs that want nothing more than to tear your face off? Shoot one magnet from the aptly named ‘Magnet Gun’ at the staircase above you, and the other at one of the bugs, and sit back and and enjoy as the entire thing comes crashing toward them in a huge pile of metal and rubble, smashing any and all of the bugs into tiny gooey peices. Yes, its the same kind of destructive fun you would expect from a Red Faction game, but in each installment the ways in which to accomplish said destruction has evolved to explore more fun and varied ways to do it.
Volition have managed to advance the story beyond the pre-and-post-revolution events of its ancestors, to something that focuses the characters into a much more claustrophobic setting, paying homage to the original Red Faction, bringing narrow tunnels and destructible buildings along with mutanty, snarling, dark and damp chaos to your screen. Not to mention there’s a cameo of sorts from a character in the first game, one which I was rather pleased to shout “Ooooh, it’s HIM!”. Why should you care if it’s open world or not? It’s not like GTA – a game that has been open world from the outset – would now go linear and become a corridor shooter. Red Faction was, at its core, a linear shooting adventure which allowed you to blow stuff up, a key feature which has never been lost along the way, yet people are displeased that you aren’t free to roam the surface of the planet *again* and do the same things you did in Guerrilla.
The story isn’t particularly amazing, I have to admit. There’s nothing amazing about the narrative and certainly nothing very original, but as far as third-person sci-fi action shooters go, there’s plenty of action and plenty of shooting, so what more do you really need? The characters are all pretty likeable and the voice acting is pretty stellar, which meant I was able to be immersed enough in certain moments of the game; unfortunately though, there isn’t quite enough face time with any of the main characters and most of the cutscenes are over pretty damn quick, which means that certain dramatic moments of the game don’t really hit you with the sympathetic force that they really should. The game took me about 7 hours to beat, so it’s not a particularly lengthy endeavor either, but I had a blast from start to finish, and the multiplayer coop mode has added a bunch more hours of bug-blasting gameplay to the tally.
In summary, Red Faction: Armageddon – whilst taking quite a big step in the opposite direction as it’s most recent predecessor, Guerrilla, in terms of open worlded-ness – is an absolute hoot. Yes, I said hoot. It’s got bangs, booms, blasts, bullets, bombs, bazookas, buildings, brawn, baddies, bugs, blood, and brilliantly good times all round. I’d say that this game, as a perfectly solid and wholly enjoyable shooter, is well worth your money. Go spend it, now!