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New "Red Faction" falls apart

June 17, 2011

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Red Faction ArmageddonThere's something to be said for simplicity - a horror movie without all the gore and fancy CGI; a roadster that doesn't need a fancy sound system, heated seats, and power everything; an acoustic guitar and a great voice.

Stripping things down to their essence can often be a great thing. Other times, like in the case of Red Faction: Armageddon, leaving out entire chunks of what made its predecessor so phenomenal has resulted in a game that is merely okay, when it could have been something much more special.

Developer Volition has been behind almost the entire Red Faction series since the first title that was released in 2001. Volition went in a very different direction when it released Red Faction: Guerrilla in 2009. Guerrilla went the open world route, molding a game that could best be described as Grand Theft Auto on Mars.

That game's protagonist, Alex Mason, traversed a large portion of the red planet, playing through a basic storyline while taking on different side quests, almost all of which were a ton of fun. Volition introduced its Geo-Mod 2.0 game engine in Guerrilla, which took "destructible environments" to an entirely new level.

Things are very different in Armageddon, with the biggest change being that the open world setup has been completely scrapped for a completely linear campaign experience. Although the single player story is fun, it's nowhere near the awesome experience that Guerrilla was.

Red Faction Armageddon Armageddon is set 50 years after the events of Guerrilla, and you play through the eyes of Darius Mason, grandson of Alec Mason. A relatively short opening level sets up the plot for the remainder of the game. In short, a cult manages to blow up a machine called the Terraformer, which makes Mars' surface habitable for humans. Once the Terraformer is destroyed, the citizens of Mars are forced deep within the planet's surface.

As Darius makes his way from level to level through the mines and caves in search of the cult's leader, it's clear that while destruction plays a big part in what makes this game enjoyable, the hand-holding snatches a lot of that enjoyment right back. This game is the exact opposite of open world, to the point where if you leave a certain area before finishing your current objective, a 10-second countdown will start, forcing you to turn back.

The underground is full of man-made structures that are just screaming to be destroyed, and to mix things up, swarms of bugs that have been unearthed (unmarsed?) from the depths of the caves attack Darius mercilessly.

Luckily, the combination of weapons at Darius' disposable is spectacular. Sure, he has access to pistols, an assault rifle, and a rocket launcher, but those are nothing compared to some of the other implements of destruction at his disposal.

There's the Singularity Cannon, which shoots a mini black hole that sucks in anything in its vicinity and then detonates. There's the Nano Rifle, which destroys entire structures by disintegrating the metal they're made of piece-by-piece. And of course there's the star of the show, the Magnet Gun. This thing allows you to attach one magnet to anything you'd like - bug, massive cave crystal, whole structures - and then shoot anything else, resulting in the first object flying toward the second, with zero consideration for what may be in the way of the two.

Red Faction Armageddon There's no doubt that when Armageddon is firing on all cylinders, it's a blast. Unfortunately, these moments only occasionally pop up. Volition smartly does its best to present the player with lots of objectives that involve destroying things, but we can only imagine how much fun the Magnet Gun would be in an open world.

There are actually a few levels where Darius does make his way to the surface of Mars, and it's like night and day how much more fun the game is. Volition even throws in some neat easter eggs for those who have played past games in the series, but this is almost like an unintentional reminder of just how much gamers are missing while playing Armageddon.

Technically speaking, Armageddon hits all the right marks. Player models look wonderful and cutscenes show plenty of attention to detail. The game is mostly very smooth, though there are a few sequences with even more destruction than usual where framerate does slow down. It's also worth noting the game's excellent score.

Voice acting is fine, though the script itself is lacking. There should be a drinking game where participants have to take a shot every time someone in the game says "Something's not right." Darius is likable enough, but he isn't the most original protaganist we've ever seen.

Campaign aside, the other piece of the puzzle missing from Armageddon is competitive multiplayer. Guerrilla without a doubt had one of the best - and most underrated - multiplayer experiences in the last few years. Armageddon completely scraps all of that for a Horde-like 4-player co-op mode called Infestation.

There are only two game types in Infestation. The first has players simply destroying wave after wave of increasingly difficult bugs. Weapons open up as you finish more waves, but at the end of the day, there's absolutely nothing here we haven't seen before.

Red Faction Armageddon The second mode is a little more Red Faction-esque. Enemies still come in waves, but players are also tasked with defending a central structure, using a repair tool attached to their wrist. It adds a surprising amount of strategy to the game, and it's kind of neat being told to destroy so many things for so many hours, and then having that whole scenario turned upside down.

The last mode is called Ruin, which is similar to the Wrecking Crew game type in Guerrilla, minus the "pass the controller" option. Here, you're basically plopped into a level and told to amass as much damage as possible. There are no enemies; you just shoot at things and watch them go boom. It's a neat distraction, but even Wrecking Crew had more options available than Ruin Mode does.

Red Faction: Armageddon is fun regardless of whether or not you played its predecessor, and absolutely no developer does destruction like Volition. Still, it's extremely difficult to ignore the things "Guerrilla" offered that was cut out for the follow-up.

Armageddon is the equivalent of a summer popcorn movie. It's fun the first time you experience it, but it's easily forgotten. The fact is, Volition has already proven it's capable of making something worth going back to again and again.

 

Red Faction: Armageddon
Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Volition, Inc.
ESRB Rating: M for Mature 17+
Official Site: http://www.redfaction.com/

Rating: 7 / 10

 
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