Armageddon isn’t an awful video game but it is the game which sunk the Red Faction franchise so soon after its resurrection. Guerrilla was a critically lauded open world third person shooter/smasher, the huge playing field for destruction was its greatest feature, which makes it all the more bemusing that the sequel was pushed into a linear corridor shooter desperately clinging to the coattails of Gears of War.
You play Darius Mason, a descendent of the previous Masons from the other Red Faction games, and otherwise a cookie cutter protagonist with no depth whatsoever. The rough summary is that Mars’ terraform machines get blown up so everyone is living underground, then you get tricked into unleashing an army of not-locusts, and shoot your way to saving the day. At your disposal is an arsenal of guns, laser rifles and rocket launchers with which you lay waste to growing number of the various enemy types and all the scenery which they hide behind. Unlike the previous game, this time much more emphasis is placed on being able to repair the things you break, as Mason comes equipped with a “nano forge”, a device that can reconstruct anything. However despite a promising set of ideas and mechanics the execution results in a pitifully average six to eight-hour single-player campaign.
The first and foremost flaw is the plot, at best it’s a mediocre way of moving you to each shooting gallery, at worst it’s a cliché ridden mess with no character or originality. As for the cast, you’ll find a spattering of gaming’s most overused stereotypes here; the black “cool” sergeant and the “badass” token love interest to be specific, neither of them have a drop of depth or personality with voice actors who sound like their doing their first table read. Mason himself is nothing short of boring, there is not a single aspect of his character that is in any way relatable and he makes quips incessantly with his AI companion and the aforementioned supporting characters which fall hopelessly flat. Ultimately due to this wooden selection of characters and dire plot there is no sense of drive throughout the game, everything you shoot and blow up lacks any of the necessary context to give it a satisfying feel.
Were Armageddon to feature a fantastic set of third person shooter mechanics that made each encounter unique and thrilling it would be easy to overlook the terrible narrative stringing together the shooting. Unfortunately the gunplay is a jumbled collage of ideas that could have been something innovative, but turn out to be horrifyingly derivative. Given at least half of the weapons at your disposal are explosive it would stand to reason that the level and enemy design would allow for large-scale planes of destruction reminiscent of a Michael Bay film, sadly this is not the case.
Early on there is a little room for experimentation but as the game gets past the halfway stage you’re being swarmed with too many enemies to keep track of and trying anything other than peppering frustratingly bullet spongy bugs with the assault rifle is a quick way to the “You died” screen. The most exotic weaponry also suffers from two very questionable design decision, the incredibly low amount of spare ammo you can carry for any one weapon, and the capacity of a mere four weapons on your character at any one time. Fixing either of these issues would have solved the other, too many times you run out of ammo and have little else to supplement it with, which only encourages the use of the bland assault rifle due to its relatively liberal ammo count. The restriction on weapons at any one time is clearly influenced by the restrictions of a console controller, and the game is much worse for it because you really need to always carry the magnet gun and the assault rifle, which means you can merely carry two other weapons, destroying chances of any true combat variety.
There are glimmers of good in this combat system however, specifically the magnet gun and the maul hammer. The magnet gun is the closest to fun Armageddon gets, there’s definitely a satisfaction in pulling a building down onto a group or enemies or yanking an enemy sideways into a wall and watching burst like a balloon. Disappointingly, much like with explosive weapons, it becomes hugely inefficient during the gun fights in act two and three as enemies require three or four slams into walls to die. The maul hammer is oddly out-of-place given the magnet gun is far more effective at breaking down buildings and the melee combat is threadbare, it’s almost as if there were plans to develop the melee further but it was cut short. Especially in the early game running around battering things with a sledgehammer has a certain cathartic appeal, and it was a shame this tactic became wholly unfeasible in the later game. Had the game had a more robust upgrade system that did more than provide dull accuracy/health/damage upgrades to Mason himself the arsenal Armageddon offered could have been truly standout, however it is left in possibly the worst state possible, entirely functional but utterly mind numbing.
Somehow Armageddon even manages to make superpowers dreadfully dull, as you progress you unlock powers that amount to force push, stun, shield and buff. Impact (force push) was the only one with promising combative applications but felt like a slightly more effective version of your melee attack, and given how melee attack can be relentlessly spammed against all but the top three tiers of enemy there’s no real use for it. The shockwave (stun) attack is almost useless because it’s close range only and the scenarios where a stun would be useful are almost always encountered when engaging enemies at range. Shell, the shield power, is probably the most useful as it gives you a small area where you are almost invincible and thus allows your health to start regenerating, so is excellent in a pinch. Berserk is a damage buff that is mildly useful for speeding up a particular fight however doesn’t have the versatility of shield (where you can get about 5 seconds of fire off without taking any damage yourself).
The biggest problem with these powers is not their effect but their resource, they all run off a single power bar which takes around ten seconds to recharge, so powers are tools you can occasionally use rather that a true weapon in your arsenal. It also neuters any sort of synergy these powers could have, you can’t shockwave a group and send them flying with an impact or skyrocket both offence and defence by using berserk and shell simultaneously, much like the melee combat it feels horribly tacked on and shallow, any depth it could have had is non-existent. The last glimmer of innovation is the nano-forge which allows you to rebuild the area you just levelled, however it’s execution is so imprecise and clunky that it’s impossible to smoothly integrate rebuilds into combat and it’s used almost exclusively as a tool to let you keep moving forward. As with all these glimmers, the premise is there but its execution is confused and contrived.
The regular third person shooting is punctuated at a handful of times throughout the game with vehicle sections; a spider tank, a jet and various exo-suits. Whilst they do provide a small break in the monotony of third person shooting, each vehicle handles almost identically. You have a machine gun type weapon and rockets. Which you use on everything in front of you until you can move forward. Even the plane section which unlocks vertical movement is heavily restricted because it takes place inside a cramped series of tunnels that make any sort of evasive action entirely pointless. Each instance feels so much like a cookie cutter set piece that serves no purpose other than spectacle, and the spectacle is mediocre.
The game does feature a horde mode, online and offline, although online is deserted. If somehow the mechanics feel good to you it might just be your cup of tea but there’s no innovation. There’s also the “ruin” mode which is the second most interesting thing the game offers you. You have a time limit to cause as much destruction as you can and there’s a par score to unlock the next map, however the shallow depth of the gunplay makes multiple attempts somewhat repetitive.
As to the most interesting thing the game offers, that would be the secret weapon that you unlock after finishing the story. A stuffed unicorn that farts out rainbows of destruction, whilst it sounds like something you find in an 8 year old’s fanfiction, the sheer novelty of this weapon does provide a small measure of much-needed levity to an otherwise oppressively dull experience.
From a technical aspect the game has a fairly comprehensive graphical options set, although it’s hardly a looker, faces are bland as the characters behind them and everything in world looks dreary or ugly, there’s nothing exciting in tunnel after tunnel of grey rock. Fortunately for the most part the framerate is excellent, only dipping noticeably when there were extreme numbers of enemies or explosions on-screen at once.
It’s fair to say that when your best feature is an unlockable weapon you’ve done something very wrong. Although there’s nothing horribly wrong with Red Faction Armageddon, it is a soul crushingly generic shooter with no sense of love or life. It commits perhaps the most awful sin a piece of entertainment can commit, it’s pure mediocrity.
REVIEW CODE: true true A complimentary code was to Brash Games for this review. send review true true. Should you wish to send us review code please email paulryan-at-brashgames.co.uk
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