Destructible environments are something frequently promised in the gaming world, but rarely delivered on. Sure, games like Battlefield: Bad Company and Mercenaries 2: World In Flames, among others have promised and delivered on destructible environments, to a certain degree that is. But no game does destructible environments quite like Red Faction.
If you thought Red Faction: Guerilla was a destructible environment enthusiast’s wet dream, then just wait. You ain’t seen nothing yet. Red Faction: Armageddon takes the concept of destructible environments and pushes it to the next level. And you know what? It’s a ton of fun!
If you haven’t played Red Faction: Guerilla, then don’t even try to follow the story of Red Faction: Armageddon. And even if you did play Guerilla, you still may be scratching your head from time to time. For me, while I played the first game, it was only here and there, I never played the full game all the way through. Plus, I never played any of the old Red Faction games either. And so, as expected, the story lost me during the first cut scene. I did read the backstory included in the reviewer’s guide before I started, as well as the Wikipedia page, but it was hopeless.
From what I gathered though, the game takes place 50 years after Alec Mason and the Red Faction fought their battle against the EDF. Taking place on Mars, the planet has been liberated from the EDF but it has since become inhabitable. During the prologue we see how the game’s villain, Adam Hale, destroys a Terraformer. The Terraformer was the machine keeping the surface of Mars habitable. You still with me?
Our protagonist, Darius Mason (grandson of Alec), was there that day and failed to stop Hale. With the Terraformer destroyed, the Colonists on the surface are forced to flee underground and make a new life for themselves in the underground caverns of Mars.
After the prologue, we skip ahead ten years. Darius Mason is a man racked with guilt. He blames himself for the Terraformer incident and many of the Colonists resent him. Darius spends most of his time alone, working mostly as a mercenary and scavenger. When he takes on a dangerous mission that leads to him accidentally awakening a long-dormant race of Martian creatures, the Colonists have even more reason to hate him.
Darius was tricked though. He didn’t unleash the creatures on purpose and for some reason, he’s being set up. With the creatures tearing apart the settlements, and an all out Armageddon taking place on Mars, Darius must join up with the Red Faction in order not only to clear his name, but also to save the people of Mars.
It’s a confusing story that makes even less sense for people unfamiliar with the franchise. If names like Alec Mason and EDF are foreign to you, then good luck! For those familiar with the backstory, you might fare better. This being said, the game doesn’t exactly pride itself on story. There aren’t any worthy plot twists or inventive development, dialogue is crummy and most of the cut scenes fail to impress. So on a pure story level, the game doesn’t do much. But, despite not having the faintest clue of what was ever going on, I still enjoyed the heck out of it.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the open-world approach of Red Faction: Guerilla is gone. Instead you can expect a far more linear design, which is far more directed. In doing so, the developers hoped to create a more intense, tension filled and suspenseful game, one where new threats are always present and surprises await at every turn. No more side quests to hold you back, the only thing to do is to push forward.
Over the game’s 22 missions, a lot of time is spent underground in claustrophobic and dark caves. Now while this compliments the developer’s new mindset, it doesn’t exactly hold up so well for the gamer. Sure, the tight and cramped caves make for some intense and tension filled firefights. Especially since most of them are poorly lit.
Very often I felt my heart jump or my palms start sweating as I was traversing the underground hell. The creatures in the game jump and crawl around the cave walls, often flying through the air from one wall to another. They can pop out at anytime and you really do always have to be on your feet.
But this all presented a pressing problem. Due to the fact that it was usually dark, and due to the fact that you were usually in small, tight and cramped spaces, a lot of the gameplay becomes just one big clusterfuck. Too often I would find myself in a situation such as this. I’d be in a dark cave with little to no light, usually a tight space and find myself walking into what can only be described as a hive of these creatures. They would swarm me. Flying through the air, dropping down behind me, shooting me from walls, attacking me on the ground etc. I’d literally have no choice but to just shoot frantically and hope for the best, spray and pray if you will. And when then didn’t work, I’d just run like hell until I got to the next area.
Sections of the game are more open, and sections of the game do take place on the surface, but far too much time was spent putting up a prayer and frantically trying to escape the clusterfuck that I had walked into. Now when you throw in the fact that these environments are totally destructible, the clusterfuck turns into an utterly hopeless gong show.
In addition to the dark and closed spaces, and in addition to the swarm of insect like creatures, you also have massive explosions going off, completely destroying structures underground. And as you fight your way through the area, you’re faced with another obstacle. The falling pieces of structure and the subsequent debris that accompanies them. Put it all together and you get something just shy of pandemonium.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on the game. These sections of confusion and ineptitude didn’t appear a whole lot, but these sessions of madness did happen enough that it became an issue. I understand trying to create a more tense and nerve racking experience, similar to something like Dead Space, but the combat here is to frenetic and mixed with the destruction, it all becomes just too much. There’s way too much going on on screen and it becomes overwhelming at times. Plus, with this more linear approach, things do border on becoming repetitive.
Luckily though, you have your nano powers to help you out. Nano powers are rechargeable abilities that assist in your combat. You can buy/upgrade them and you have four to choose from; shockwave, impact, berserk and shell. None of them are terribly unique or life changing but nevertheless, they’re fun to use and if you choose to upgrade them, you can become quite powerful. Using the nano powers, combined with some wicked weapons (black hole gun, magnet gun, pulse grenade gun, rail driver etc), you should be able to fend off your enemies with ease.
As mentioned before, the destruction in the game is downright fantastic. Just about anything you see can be blown up, and when it comes crashing down, it does so with an astonishing sense of realism, both visually and audibly. The destructible environments are so good that half the time, you don’t even realize how good they are.
Here are some examples. In one instance, I used a special punch move that game has to throw an enemy into the wall. To my shock and surprise, he didn’t just fly into the wall, he flew through it, bringing it down with him. Another instance saw me shooting from afar at a bunch of enemies. They were taking shelter under a metal like structure and accidentally, I shot at one of the beams holding it up. Once again, to my shock and surprise, the entire shelter collapsed and came down, crushing my enemies.
My point is, that the destructible environments are so damn good that things that don’t even look like they can be destroyed, can actually be taken down with ease. Due to the current games on the market, when we think of destructible environments, we think of the occasional wall or house being blown up with a rocket launcher. Here though, almost anything you see can be destroyed and can be done so with almost every weapon, sometimes even with melee. That’s why when certain structures come crashing down unexpectedly, it’s really a moment of shock as you never would have expected it to be destructible. Our brains just haven’t been trained that way from previous games.
And that’s where most of the fun comes from. Just running around and experimenting with and playing around with the destructible environments. It’s interesting also, using the environments against your enemies or using them to protect yourself. It adds a whole new aspect to the gameplay and is definitely a highlight. It really makes you think differently and in a way that no other game has made you think before.
On the flip side of the destruction, is repair. Most, not all, but most structures that are destroyed, can be repaired. Now this is of course within reasonable limit. If you blow up a building, your repair tool won’t just build an entire building back up for you, but things like broken bridges, collapsed staircases, run down generators etc, these can all be repaired with your repair tool. Once again, just like with the destruction, this adds a whole new and unique element to the gameplay. Combined, the destruction and repair feature make the game interesting and fun enough to almost make you forget about the aforementioned issues.
There’s another interesting aspect here that helps you forget about the above complaints, and that’s the vehicle sections. There’s a lot of mindless shooting here. Mindless, linear shooting that is. And at times, it can feel monotonous, despite the awesome destruction and super cool weapons. Luckily though, there are a good handful of vehicle sections to break up the combat. Being set in the future, most of these vehicles are mech/robot type machines that are vastly overpowered yet undeniably fun to use. And although these vehicle sections don’t come up too often, when they do, you’re in for a real treat. Blowing stuff up in vehicles is always better, right?
Now, while there is multiplayer, it’s pretty disappointing. We get two modes, well actually it depends. You start with one and if you buy a new copy of the game, you get a code to unlock the other. The two modes are Infestation and Ruin. Infestation is the game’s Horde mode. Up to four players can team up and fight off wave after wave of enemies.
The neat thing is that your salvage points (the game’s version of XP) is shared between single player and multiplayer. Also with the mode, you can choose between two types of Infestation. One type has you just trying to survive while the other one has you trying to survive and defend a structure.
Like I said before though, it’s not really anything new, just another version of the Horde mode that we’ve seen too many games already copy. If you’re into it then you’ll likely enjoy it but just don’t expect anything different.
The next mode is Ruin. This is basically a free for all destruction mode. You run around blowing up as much stuff as possible, trying to chain combos and gain enough points to unlock the next level. The trick is to be creative and cause as much mayhem as possible before time is up. It’s fun and novel at first, but grows tiresome pretty quickly. I guess you can always compete with your friends on leaderboards if you’re into that kind of stuff
Red Faction: Armageddon is a mostly fun experience. It delivers an often enjoyable and exciting campaign with fantastic destructible environments and over the top yet very fun to use weapons and vehicles. The sections of pandemonium bring the game down a bit as does the disappointing multiplayer but overall, this is a pretty strong effort. I had a ton of fun playing it despite the flaws and found myself pleasantly surprised with the game. Even if you haven’t played the first, this is definitely worth a purchase and it likely won’t disappoint.
Red Faction: Armageddon was released on June 7th, 2011.