Red Faction: Guerrilla was undoubtedly one of the highlights of 2009. Taking on the role of Alec Mason, a disgruntled miner on a Mars governed by the fascist Earth Defence Force, it was up to you to lead your comrades in the Red Faction to freedom against your oppressors and declare the planet your own. The switch from a first to a third-person camera worked out to be the correct choice, lending greater gravity to the shooting action that both the lengthy campaign and multiplayer modes offered.
Every weapon, be it the Assault Rifle or the hyper-destructive Nano Rifle, felt meaty and powerful, making the shooting highly satisfying. Blowing everything up with Detonation Charges was a blast, as was destroying buildings just for the sake of it. And then there was the hammer. The iconic weapon of the game, every swing contained the power of 30 rhinos, decimating enemy soldiers, vehicles, buildings and everything else in your path. Each impact landed with a ‘thunk’, making it immensely entertaining to use. There’s little else that comes anywhere nears as gratifying as donking an opponent in the face in multiplayer (especially when it’s shaped like an ostrich).
So it’s with good prospects that we embraced Red Faction: Armageddon.
Suffice to say, we’ve been left more than a little disappointed.
50 years after Alec Mason liberated Mars, the planet’s surface has become an uninhabited wasteland thanks to hideous weather conditions caused by the destruction of a Terraformer by cult leader Adam Hale. Mason’s grandson Darius is doing what he can to survive in the huge caverns in which the Martian humans now live. Eventually taking on a mining contract that goes horribly, horribly wrong, he’s tricked by the cult into unleashing a horde of alien monstrosities named The Horde onto the planet which ravage everything in their path. Now, it’s up to you to rescue the colonists, take down Adam Hale and save the planet.
It all starts off promisingly enough. Although the opening cut-scene is a bit shonky, that’s forgiveable, as after it’s done you’re plonked into the middle of a battlefield, shooting enemies just like before, albeit with a minor control scheme modification. Each gameplay element is slowly drip-fed to you over the course of the material, such as the new weapons on offer. Everything feels familiar and you look forward to some more satisfying blasting action.
Soon afterwards, you’re introduced to The Plague, and that’s where Armageddon takes a turn for the worse. Your weapons are replaced with more conventional (read, boring) ones, such as double pistols, and you realise just how annoying an enemy your new alien opponents really are. They’re insect-like, so they scrabble all over the place, causing them to be infuriatingly difficult to hit, making you unsure as to whether you’re actually hitting them or not. Things get worse when nests and weird tentacle things pop out of the ground, meaning that, unless they’re destroyed, tough to kill enemies will continue to respawn on an indefinite basis. Killing the same mooks over and over again because you can’t find the last nest begins to grate before long. Bad checkpointing doesn’t help either, meaning you’ll probably need to endure these sections more than once.
Compared to Guerrilla, the single-player is seriously lacking. The story is linear and the world is closed, meaning you can’t explore and tackle the game however you see fit, and constant wondering over whether your bullets are hitting or not soon becomes tedious and tiresome. There doesn’t seem to be many original ideas here, either. A ruined planet ravaged by murderous creatures that can only be stopped by a space marine with an AI companion. Sound familiar?
The campaign is hugely disappointing, so surely the multiplayer should make up for it, since it’s bound to be as addictive as its predecessor. So you hop out to main the menu to play it…
…and that’s when you notice that there isn’t any.
Well, there is, but it’s nothing like the stellar competitive multiplayer mode that Guerrilla offered, only an ‘infestation’ mode, essentially a boring Horde mode populated by irritating enemies and players that regularly bitch-quit the second they go down. You’ll be lucky if you even manage to get into a game, something that rarely happens as you wait forever to start the match. There’s also a ‘Ruin’ mode focused purely on destroying buildings, but you can do that to your tactical advantage in Guerrilla’s multiplayer. Why play this when you can play that instead?
Red Faction: Armageddon could have been something great like its predecessor, but the baffling design decisions made here mean cutting back most of what made the previous title fun in the first place: the weapons are lacking, the game world and narrative are less cohesive, there are fewer opportunities for destruction and, most importantly of all, no fantastic multiplayer. As a result, Armageddon feels like a disjointed entry in the Red Faction canon.
A major letdown as the next instalment in a franchise that had seemingly found its feet and begun to flourish, Armageddon is ultimately inferior in every respect. It’s not world-endingly poor, but it’s not awe inspiring, either. It’s purely mediocre, undermining the franchise as a result.
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