Red Faction: Armageddon Review
The original Red Faction was one of my favorite games of the early PS2 generation. Sadly, I watched as the franchise proceeded to go downhill and although the recent Red Faction: Guerilla was a great game, it didn’t quite suit my tastes. In my heart of hearts, I keep thinking Red Faction should be more linear; a story-driven campaign with a lot of shifting environments, terrifying enemies, and cool situations. This is why I was excited for Armageddon, which returns to the franchise’s roots and puts you in the alien-infested underground tunnels of Mars. Now, while the final result isn’t spectacular, I have to stress one element: the fun factor.
But before I explain, let’s tackle the graphics. This series has always featured a lot of dark, often even muddy visual displays, and the texture refinement has been limited at best. But the latest Volition effort takes a step in the right direction, as the special effects are impressive, the animations are smooth, and the enemy and character design is decent. The only downside involves the repetitiveness of the environments; those tunnels just start to look far too similar to each other, and as a side note, some of the destruction isn’t perfectly sound from a technical standpoint. You may get bored of the presentation but the overall display is enough to keep you interested.
The sound is good, too, but my biggest gripe centers on the weapons, which just don’t have enough “bang” to keep up with the chaotic mayhem. It’s unusual that I find the weapon audio to be less than stimulating, so I was actually surprised at this lacking. But the rest of the sound excels in a variety of areas, including voice acting (which, in truth, was another surprise) and the soundtrack. The music really fits into the hectic atmosphere well and the balancing between effects, voices, and soundtrack is solid. Some of the special effects may lack a little audio power, but for the most part, Armageddon sounds exactly as it should: nutty.
That’s really the operative word here: nutty. I could start by saying you play as Darius Mason (grandson of Guerrilla protagonist Alec Mason), and that your goal is to survive a deadly alien outbreak on – and under – Mars. That would be a pretty standard way to start the gameplay and presentation coverage. But you know, unfortunately, the story is just plain boring and isn’t well depicted in regards to pacing and writing, so I really don’t care much about the plot. And neither should you, really. I’d rather focus on the chaos that reigns directly from the start of your adventure; you first take a plasma cannon and puts a gaping hole in a building…and that’s the first thing you do. Such a great start.
It just never lets up. Creating havoc is obviously what Mason does best, so why not just let him go? He’s got a sick melee attack (yeah, the sledgehammer is back) and the assortment of futuristic weaponry is just a joy; everything from the Enforcer (tracking assault rifle) to the Pulse Grenade to the Charge Launcher puts serious power in your hands. And let’s not forget Mr. Toots…a unicorn that farts on enemies and melts them. No, I didn’t make that up. How could I? Furthermore, let’s not forget that almost anything you see can be destroyed; well, anything made by humans, at any rate. Using the environment to defeat your enemies is half the fun.
Plus, you have various powers that have cool-down periods – very RPG-like – and that includes a helpful shield and a force push that can send various structures crashing to the ground. These powers are upgradeable and when combined with that diverse and always entertaining arsenal, you’re a match for the nastiest beasts Mars can throw at you. And then there’s another nifty feature- in addition to wrecking sh**, you can also build stuff. It’s called reconstruction and lets you re-erect a structure you had previously demolished. At first, it seemed a little superfluous but this ability proved immensely helpful in certain tricky situations. On top of which, you never have to worry about blowing up a pathway you may need.
The control is smooth and reliable and although I have a few small reservations concerning the camera and collision detection, the game remains a blast to play. The only problem is the repetition, which sort of gets to you after a few hours. Despite all the insanity going on around you, the game quickly begins to feel like more of the same ‘ol same ol,’ and that brings things down a peg. And when you factor in the lackluster story and forgettable characters, you soon realize you’re playing for the sake of destruction. That’s not bad for a while but eventually, I think it will wear on you. Still, I would never tire of the magnet gun, which can be used to kill enemies and eradicate the environment in a million awesome ways.
Because of that repetition, the online play sort of takes a hit because then it’s even more obvious. I liked Infestation most (four-player online co-op) but Ruin got old fast; it’s basically just Deathmatch and in general, it’s not something that will hook a lot of multiplayer fanatics. This isn’t good news, either, because the campaign will be over in maybe 7 or 8 hours. That’s an acceptable time by today’s standards but considering the competition – like inFamous 2 – this one really needed more longevity. The vehicle segments in the single-player quest feel a little tacked on, the control isn’t always perfect, the repetition is clear, and the story is “meh.”
That all being said, I have to reiterate: Red Faction: Armageddon is loads of fun. There’s a great deal of ingenuity here, and the power we feel wandering about is almost unparalleled in third-person shooters. The package really is quite solid and well worth a look…provided you’re done playing the elite AAA titles out there.
The Good: Good soundtrack and voice performances. Hectic, chaotic gameplay is a blast. Control is mostly smooth and reliable. Weapons, abilities and destructive environment are highlights.
The Bad: Technical elements aren’t superb. Story and characters are boring. The repetition kicks in too early. Online play feels a little bland.
The Ugly: “…I think I’ve seen this tunnel somewhere before.”
6/9/2011 Ben Dutka