Reviewed: June 9, 2011
Released: June 7, 2011
Perhaps the most fundamental thing that can be said about Red Faction: Armageddon is that it's a return to the series' roots. Unfortunately, while that would be a good thing for many games, Red Faction's gnarled roots were best left deep underground. After Red Faction Guerrilla's surface-side romp, where you spent your time inspiring the citizens of Mars to rise up and fight for you by bombing Earth barracks or driving trucks through the walls of apartment complexes, the return to the mines and tunnels of Mars feels a little stale and underwhelming.|
The meat of the game is the single-player campaign. After a pair of set pieces involving the destruction of the terraformer that makes the surface of Mars livable and the release of ancient aliens from under a complex designed to keep them in, the pace slows drastically. As a six hour game, it feels like it has roughly enough events to last for two. While some of the later set pieces are spectacular, especially those involving vehicles, they all come after an early game that's almost entirely crawling through tunnels and shooting at the same few aliens over and over.
Some of the previous game's innovations have been maintained. While you can destroy structures for salvage, and spend them on upgrades, it feels like in the tunnels of Mars meaningful destruction is rather rare. Additionally, without the thrill of fomenting rebellion, much of the destruction feels hollow. Sure, I could tear down a building with relative ease, but unless the game tells me it's infected, I'm pretty much only doing it for the salvage, and for the joy of watching it fall down.
That said, the joy of watching things fall down is still one place where Red Faction gets it right. While you still can't dig through rock, an understandable but significant drawback in a game that takes place almost entirely underground, the destruction models seem to have been generally improved, so that vaporizing the bottom floor of a building or ripping out its structural supports and watching it collapse on the enemies hiding inside is still an absolute joy.
There are a few bits of strangeness that undermine the aesthetics of the destruction, however. For one, the game doesn't seem to model how much weight a material can take before it bends (Or bending at all. Mars is a very brittle place) which often leads to bizarre structural elements like a few feet of wall holding up a ruined silo, or a load-bearing stairwell single-handedly keeping the second floor of a building aloft once the first has been hammered to pieces. While these have very little gameplay effect, it often took me out of the game.
On the upside, the weapons are generally rather exciting. The nanoforge lets players project telekinetic force to smash through walls and repair objects, and can be upgraded with other defensive and offensive capabilities, making it an incredibly useful tool that's fun to wield. The plasma beam that can cut through practically any material on impact or the singularity generator that pulls materials and enemies towards it before throwing them outwards, shredding things in their path, are two examples, but the star of the show, far and away, is the magnet gun. Able to target any enemy or destroyable material, with the first thing you shoot being yanked towards the second the magnet gun lets you fling the foundations of a building at the enemies inside, slam two aliens in mid-leap together from across a room, or pull pipes and ducts off of a ceiling to crush enemies pursuing you. The magnet gun is consistently fun to use, and I wish I got more chances to play around with it other than the rather short campaign.
People who buy the game new do get a code for Ruin mode, a sandbox that lets you compete to see how quickly you can destroy, building up a combo as you do, or else simply relax as you reduce a part of Mars to rubble. Unfortunately, the only way to unlock new arenas is through achieving high scores in the competitive mode, meaning that unless you quickly master the combo system, you'll be stuck with the first Ruin arena. Even more unfortunate, Ruin accounts for roughly half of the game's multiplayer options.
The other half, Infestation, is a little more substantial. A cooperative mode where players fend off alien attacks, it can get pretty intense, especially once you unlock the dark maps where players need to stick together to take the most advantage of their flashlights. However, it's unlikely to dethrone Gears of War or Call of Duty's cooperative offerings, and the lack of a competitive mode, which Red Faction Guerrilla excelled at, is sort of a shame.
Ultimately, Red Faction Armageddon isn't a bad game so much as it's a disappointment. While it achieves what it set out to do, providing a linear, set piece-based shooter reminiscent of early Red Faction games, it's a shame to see this kind of step back after the last game dared to take the series in an interesting new direction. With a new Gears of War coming out soon, it's hard to recommend unless you're a die-hard fan of the series or seriously jonesing for a third-person shooter. An awesome selection of weapons and some cool set pieces don't make up for the steps back the game takes, and relegate Red Faction Armageddon to being a solidly average game.