Bald space marines shooting aliens in underground corridors are so prevalent in gaming right now that even commenting on this prevalence has become a cliche. But you know what? Screw it — I’m so very tired of this theme, and the turgid scripts that often go along with them. Red Faction: Armageddon has some fun moments, but I really wish there was a button I could press to turn off anything to do with its narrative.
But let’s get to that later! First, some basics: this is the sequel to the surprisingly fun Red Faction: Guerrilla, in which you ran amok around a futuristic, colonised Mars littered with destructible scenery. The implementation of its story was also nothing to write home about, but you could ignore it enough to enjoy blowing things up.
Armageddon, it seems, is like The Warrior Within was to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. By that I mean it’s the grittier, darker sequel — and how better to make the sequel darker than to take it underground? Unfortunately, this move has resulted in cramped environments with far less interesting things to blow up, deftly minimising one of the best features of this series.
That’s not to say it doesn’t still get some things right. Blowing things up and — interestingly — magically reassembling them is still the marquee feature. You’ll find yourself shattering walls to get at enemies, then immediately rebuilding them for some impromptu cover. Combined with some clever enemy AI, it makes firefights feel fresh in a very stale genre. The magnet gun helps out here as well, allowing you to link two objects (enemies, buildings, etc) together and watch them fly towards one another. Things go splat or kaboom, and fun is had.
It’s a pity the game suffers the more it moves away from the destruction. Fighting swarming aliens gets repetitive quickly, and there are often moments where there’s very little objects to blow up. You’ll be ticking off all the generic things a bald space marine must do in games like this: pressing a button to open or activate something, destroying X amount of a particular type of structure, and so on. Vehicles, at least, are done well, and using a giant mech to crash through scenery never got old. Maybe more of the game could have used that?
And then there’s the story. There’s manipulation, drama, romance, and more, but you’d be hard pressed to care about any of it. The dialogue and voice acting is just so cheesy, forced and gratingly nondescript that you’ll actually be craving the repetitive alien slaughtering. It’s like the inverse of Uncharted, and that isn’t a good thing.
Thankfully, stripping out the cruft works well in the other game modes. Ruin mode simply has you running around an enemy-free arena, destroying as much stuff before a timer runs out. This could have been the core game mode and I would possibly have been happier.
Infestation mode, meantime, is Armageddon’s version of Gears of Wars’ Horde mode. Up to four players have to survive against increasingly aggressive waves of enemies, working together and purchasing upgrades to last just that little bit longer. There’s fun to be had here, too, if you have the right friends — and once again, the destruction mechanics make a potentially stale formula feel fresh.
Besides some pretty explosions, the graphics are largely forgettable, not least because the developers used the standard shooter palette of brown and grey — oh, and a dusty red in honour of the game’s setting. The music certainly does its job, although your ears won’t appreciate being assaulted by the bland voice acting.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Red Faction: Armageddon. Like blowing things up in spectacular fashion, and aren’t turned off by an irritatingly poor story? Give the demo a whirl and see if it’s your kind of thing. But to my mind, games like Gears of War have done the whole “fighting aliens with big guns” thing a lot more effectively. Armageddon can’t help but feel like a poor cousin to the top games in the genre. It shine brightest when it’s doing its own thing, but when it tries to fall in line with genre tropes, it comes up short.