Monday, August 15

Red Faction: Armageddon Review (X360): Of mice and men.... and monsters and magnet guns

Save for this year's horrible downloadable release, Red Faction: Battlegrounds: the Red Faction franchise would have to be one of the most consistent in terms of quality. Not to say that any instalment was worthy of great praise, but each has provided me with a challenging campaign, interesting weapons and an enjoyable multiplayer suite. Never "Game of the Year" contenders, but each with enough redeeming features to warrant a purchase. Red Faction: Armageddon continues the trend; delivering a solid, though unspectacular experience, with a bland story, lengthy campaign and a magnet gun.

The Good
Controlled carnage - The Red Faction series is renowned for the ability to destroy terrain and structures in each instalment. Armageddon turns this trait on its head, allowing players to undo all the damage they've done with the Nano-Forge. Repairing an entire structure from nothing but wreckage can have an almost cathartic effect; particularly when you're almost walking on air as you piece a bridge back together.

The ground beneath your feet - The level of destruction that you can bring to each of Armageddon's environments is at times breathtaking, if not hilarious. In the midst of heated firefights I would use guns and Nano-Forge abilities to literally melt the structures that my enemies were hanging from. Sometimes it was annoying to use "Impact" only to find that I had destroyed the floor I was walking on; but thanks to the ability to repair anything and everything, the frustration I felt was limited.

This could hurt me more than it hurts you.

Animal magnetism - Ammo can be scarce in Armageddon - particularly towards the end - so the magnet gun with its infinite ammo and ability to throw creatures and structures for miles is a master stroke. There are few things more satisfying than sending an entire level of a structure right into an enemy's face.

On rails, in the air and through buildings - Armageddon is chock-full of varied vehicle sequences which are all a great deal of fun. Things start off pretty quietly with the L.E.O exo-skeleton, but by the end of the game you'll have piloted a Marauder Walker (my personal favourite), rode a mine cart and even taken to the air in an Inferno fighter. Each vehicle sequence features responsive controls and an array of powerful weapons which allow you to dismantle the game's environments even quicker than you could if you were on foot.

Quite the looker - Despite some questionable (read: cliched) art direction, Armageddon features technically-impressive visuals with a bright colour palette. Very rarely did I notice the frame rate dip, and some of the environments were truly captivating; particularly when I was in the midst of ripping them apart.

New Game Plus - If you're looking for easy marks from me, add a "New Game Plus" option. Armageddon affords players the ability to carry over their arsenal and ability unlocks to a new game upon finishing the campaign for the first time. Brilliant move, Volition! You also get access to Mr Toots, the most adorable and powerful weapon that Mars has ever seen.

The Bad
Slow start - Despite the combat-heavy opening sequence, Armageddon takes hours to hit its stride. When you do finally get your hands on some of the more devastating weapons and you hit the slew of enjoyable vehicle sequences, the campaign seems to be paced well enough; but it never seems to wash away those first three or so cave-filled hours.

If I die, tell my wife: "Hello." - I didn't care for any of the characters in Armageddon. In more cases than should be allowable, I even forgot the names of some central characters. Every now and then I'd happen upon Chesty Love Interest and Old Army Buddy, but when I did there was no sense of warmth or connection. The anthropomorphised villains were just plain stupid-looking, dressed like bugs and all. There was not a single memorable plot twist or line of dialogue to be found either. Armageddon is about as vanilla as a shooter can get.

Mars survival tip: Cleavage CAN save lives.

The Ugly
Accidental villain - Though not explicitly unlikeable, Darius Mason is somewhat of an irresponsible tool. I'll try not to spoil too much, but the lead character never shows a great deal of remorse and ultimately fails to acknowledge that he is culpable for a great many civilian deaths. As a result, he is never really redeemed in spite of his many victories.

Meh-worthy multiplayer - It seems that Horde mode knock-offs - where players work together against waves of enemies - are the order of the day. There's nothing necessarily broken about it, but Infestation is never taxing - thanks to plenty of ammo pick-ups and quickly regenerating health - and lacks any shred of originality. Multiplayer offerings in the series' previous instalments have always been gimmicky, but they often had enough depth to warrant more than the glance that Armageddon deserves.

Oh, the humanity! - In a lot of the marketing material that I consumed in the lead-up to its release, I somehow got the impression that Armageddon was supposed to be a survival horror game. It is anything but, with colourful monsters and lighting effects, and unconvincing gore. On the topic of monsters, there's not enough variety in them to stave off tedium either.

I'd be scared if it weren't for all the pretty colours. 

The Verdict
While it's lacking personality and any sense of originality, Red Faction: Armageddon still manages to offer hours of fun. The vast arsenal of weapons, upgrades and Nano-Forge abilities should do enough to keep most players happy; and I have no trouble recommending it if you find it at the right price. It doesn't offer much outside of the campaign, but thanks to an unbridled amount of destruction and some quality vehicle sequences, it is another solid entry in the Red Faction franchise.

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