Red Faction Armageddon eschews the third person free-roaming sandbox of its predecessor, delivering a stronger directed story with a lot of explosive remodelling. Using GeoMod 2.5 the game's destruction physics have been taken to another level and rather than appearing like a gimmick, they feed into the main game's core gameplay nicely.
Terraformed Mars is under threat by a serious band of cultists lead by a madman; you play as Darius Mason, one of the Mason lineage and member of the Red Faction. It's up to you to stop the destruction of the terraformer and make sure that Mars is safe. There's more to the story of course, a whole lot more, but we're not going to spoil that for you.
Things are different in Red Faction: Armageddon, you're playing a third person shooter now and not a sandbox game. There are several levels of difficulty and an auto-aim which you can turn off if you prefer. The controls are pretty decent with aiming and shooting feeling intuitive, there are a few melee attacks and Darius doesn't feel kludgey at all when you're controlling him. The levels are designed to take advantage of your new tools of destruction and the upgraded abilities provided by the nano-forge. You can only carry 4 weapons at any one time, but you can swap them out at weapon lockers scattered throughout the game's levels.
There is the usual arsenal, with a few choice picks. The twin-pistols, shotgun, and assault rifle all rub shoulders with the likes of the plasma gun, the nano-rifle and the wonderful magnet gun, that allows you to shoot a magnet at one surface or creature and the attractor at another. It will turn any object in the environment into a weapon and it should be a choice for your explorations regardless of the other cool toys on offer. The rail gun is back and it allows you to shoot through walls and other surfaces, coming complete with a special scope that lets you see your unsuspecting targets.
Then there's the nano-forge, part weapon and part tool. It will let you repair broken structures and destroyed stations. It can be used to rapidly reconstruct cover in a firefight and when upgraded later on can fire repair grenades that allow you to repair things at a distance.
Darius' nano-forge can also be upgraded through various unlockable abilities that become available at certain points in the story and accessed at upgrade stations. These feature extra health, reduced damage, better control over his weapons and nano-forge specific attacks like Impact and Shockwave that cause a whole lot of damage to both enemies and the environment. The key to these is salvage, usually found scattered about the levels and created when something is blown up or hammered to bits.
The moment to moment gunplay in Red Faction: Armageddon is pretty generic, but it's the environments that let you spice things up. You can use explosives to bring down a wall on a group of bad guys or let rip with the nano-rifle to deconstruct a platform and watch them tumble into the abyss below. Its mix of tactical environment use and standard combat elevate it to more than just another shooter, it's a solid system and it works rather well. It won't blow your mind...but it will decimate the scenery. There are no health pickups and the game uses regenerating health.
There are a few mech based levels where you're able to take a large walker for a test drive and these are mixed well into the overall gameplay. There's never a section that really feels out of place in terms of what you're doing and the objectives that you're given are run-of-the-mill kinds of missions that you might expect. The game seems to play that aspect safe and I for one can't blame developers for doing that.
You can save the game at any time, but it seems to only save up to the last checkpoint even with a user save. Checkpoints are fairly well placed and ensure that the game doesn't become a grind.
There are some rewards for completing Red Faction: Armageddon and you can initiate a New Game+ which lets you play again complete with all of your unlocks and weapons right out of the gate. A nice little touch that more games need to take advantage of, I'm looking at you Dungeon Siege 3. You can probably finish it in 6-8 hours unless you really scour the game for all the salvage and audio logs you can find, then it might take you a little longer.
Red Faction: Armageddon does a pretty good job in the graphics department. Thankfully there weren't any horrible graphics glitches and Red Faction: Armageddon managed to remain stable when a lot was happening on the screen at once. The dark heart of Mars is produced nicely with a variety of decent effects and textures, capturing the feel of a planet that has been turned into a hellhole by the actions of a lunatic. Where it really shines though is in the aesthetics of the environments. We're talking about that theme to where you are, not how many pixels are in a scene or how good the textures look. It really feels as though you're miles below the surface of the planet, hunting for clues, trying to survive and battling against forces that Darius just doesn't really want to be anywhere near.
The Red Faction: Armageddon animation engine gets a decent work out, the characters have decent lip synch in the cut-scenes and Darius moves pretty well.
GeoMod 2.5 provides the backbone of the destruction engine and you can see the improvements over the previous iteration. Things come apart in a more realistic manner now and there are less impossible physics moments to break the feeling of immersion. Objects have their own weight, mass and structural integrity. It works really well.
AI for the most part is decent in the game; it doesn't really re-write the tactical book or anything but the enemies are aware of various options. They can make a good use of cover and some of the other enemies are very good at zipping from one place to the next, flanking you, and dropping in when you least expect them. Most of the rank and file enemies are easy to put down, but there are a few that you'll need good tactical skill to take out if you want to come out of the battle unscathed.
The sound design for the game is pretty good, it's atmospheric and the various interior locations have their own audio 'theme' that helps establish that atmosphere. The exterior of Mars is a hostile place driven by high intensity dust storms and catastrophic weather changes. You don't see it often, but the sound design works really well in those areas.
A decent score accompanies the game and helps to not only drive the narrative, but add to the tension during combat and explorations.
The voice acting in the game is pretty good, there aren't many missteps or slip-ups with the dialogue and you can hear some familiar game voices in there. Darius is a pretty likeable character overall and his AI companion SAM keeps him on the straight and narrow, with some choice logical comments. It's all well acted in that respect.
For the most part the story is well written and the dialogue is fairly solid. There are a few clichéd moments but they are part and parcel of this genre and especially of science fiction in general. There's nothing here that put me off the game at all.
The game features Ruin mode and Infestation. You can play these as single player modes if you desire, but the fun is in getting to grips with 3 other friends and the support characters from the main story in Infestation Mode. Thirty waves of bad guys that keep on getting nastier and nastier are the enemy in Infestation. You have to play 8 main maps, split between Survival (hold out for as long as possible) and Defend (hold out and stop the enemy from destroying key points). If you succeed in doing this, you'll unlock Dark versions of these maps that make it even harder with flashlights being the key.
Infestation is a chaotic fun mode that has a lot of potential, with friendly fire automatically off, the game's weapons are able to let rip across your friends and spamming them with others creates some truly insane situations. You don't need to unlock the weapons either, since they're based on your single player unlocks.
Ruin mode is like Wrecking Crew from the previous game, except you have one minute to destroy as much stuff as possible, before the other player takes a turn. This mode wasn't as much fun as Wrecking Crew and it pales in comparison to Infestation. I think I'd rather have seen some more done with Infestation than Ruin's inclusion this time around. It's a nice little frosting on the cake, but not part of the cake itself.
Multiplayer worked well enough and there were no lag issues to speak of.
The storyline has been played out before, this one is told pretty well though and it's not a bad game at all. Red Faction: Armageddon has potential and there aren't really any game breaking bugs either. Yet there's something I can't quite put my finger on with the game, something that stops it from getting a higher score. It could be because without the game's GeoMod 2.5 I don't think we'd give it much of a chance, regardless of how the gun combats play out or how well the AI challenges you. There's something glorious about destruction on this kind of scale and that's what Armageddon has going for it. Without it, we'd be looking at generic third person shooter #321 and we've got way too many of them already.
It's a game worth getting if you want a change from the previous sandbox and still want to blow things up bigtime.