Red Faction: Guerrilla was hugely underrated. To my mind it’s one of the very best open-world games in existence. Sure, it lacked the emotional weight of GTA IV, the grand narrative of Oblivion or the flowing freedom offered by Assassin’s Creed, but it had one particularly destructive trick up its sleeve: You could blow the crap out of everything.
Developer Volition’s Geo-Mod 2.0 engine was at the heart of this, a frankly staggering piece of wizardry that allowed you to dynamically destroy structures. Identifying a huge building’s load-bearing framework, chucking a few remote mines at it, then clicking a button and sitting back as it crumpled satisfyingly to the ground was, and is, utterly wonderful.
So when the sequel, Red Faction: Armageddon, was announced last year, I thought “they better not balls this up.” Unfortunately, they did. For the most part.[drop]Armageddon takes place fifty years after Guerrilla’s climactic liberation of Mars. A meteor has destroyed the Terraformer that makes the planet hospitable, forcing the human colonists underground. As violent storms tear through the surface above, the survivors scrabble around amongst the rock and dirt below.
You are Darius Mason, a shaven-headed contractor who is every bit as dull as his Grandfather Alec, the star of Guerrilla. Tricked into reopening a shaft in a spooky Marauder temple, Darius inadvertently unleashes a dormant race of Martian nasties that rip through the settlement and threaten to wipe-out the entire colony. Red Faction: Armageddon sees Mason attempting to undo his mistakes.
All of Armageddon’s shortcomings are hinted at in that set-up. What was a huge field of play is now a series of claustrophobic tunnels. What was free and unconstrained is now tight and scripted. And what was a tale of rebel terrorism with contemporary relevance is now merely humans versus aliens. Pretty much everything Volition have bought to the sequel is to its detriment.
Yet the fun still forces its way through. There’s a gleeful exuberance to be had to watching the Geo-Mod engine in action. Have you ever carefully constructed a building block tower for a toddler, only to see them steam in and wreck it with a maniacal giggle? Destroying a structure in Armageddon is the (slightly) more grown up equivalent of that.
It’s just tempered somewhat by scale. Thanks to the subterranean environments, the structures are smaller and often moored to rock walls. A knock-on effect is that you don’t have as much freedom to plan out the carnage, either. The sense of awesome destruction is diminished as a result. It’s like owning a Ferrari, but being forced to stick to the speed limit.
It wouldn’t be so bad if Armageddon offered some proper linear, scripted thrills. However, the truth is that it’s marked by some really poor design. The likes of Call of Duty and Killzone may be ultra-linear, but they do a fantastic job of obscuring their constant herding of the player. Armageddon, meanwhile, gives you a Game Over screen for straying into the “wrong” area for more than ten seconds. Poor.[drop2]The game’s best moments come from complete chaos. Rather than create tension by keeping you fearful of the next attack by utterly generic Martian monsters, Armageddon throws enemies at you in droves. When you’re surrounded by attackers and you’re throwing explosive charges and assault rifle bullets this way and that, desperately trying to stay alive, it can be exhilarating.
These moments are only improved by the Magnet Gun, a brilliant new weapon that allows you to either magnetise part of the environment and fling it at an enemy, or magnetise the enemy and fling it at the environment. When the screen is filled with claws and tentacles and teeth and flying masonry and girders and blood, I defy you not to smile to yourself. It’s glorious, mindless carnage.
But it’s not enough to stop the game from being a let-down. Even Ruin, a separate mode that gives you a set amount of time to cause as much damage as possible, manages to undercut its own qualities by reminding you just how much fun it was to freely run around Mars’ surface in Guerrilla, indiscriminately demolishing architecture. The Horde-esque Infestation mode, meanwhile, is an uninspired rehash of well-trodden ground.
- Destruction engine is fantastic.
- The Magnet Gun is one of the most satisfying weapons you’ll get your hands on this year.
- There’s great fun to be had in the chaos.
- Move away from an open-world is a mistake.
- Poor level design.
- Dull story.
- Generic enemies.
- Hang on, I forgot, was this supposed to be scary?
Ultimately, Red Faction: Armageddon feels more like a predecessor to Guerrilla than a sequel. In an alternate universe, Volition created this game then thought, “I know, how about we move everything we’ve built into an open-world and let people go really crazy with it? How awesome would that be!?”
But this isn’t an alternative universe and what we’re left with is a back-step for the series. Not terrible by any means, Armageddon is nevertheless a huge disappointment.