Looking at Red Faction: Armageddon as it swiftly approached its release and I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. All the indications to my mind were that Volition had abandoned all that was promising in Guerrilla and churned out a dull, brainless corridor shooter for a quick buck before destructible scenery lost its sheen.

Volition, I am so sorry. Armageddon isn’t a cheap, brainless corridor shooter. It’s a spectacular, brainless corridor shooter. It’s a celebration of blasting all things great and small. It’s a definitive lecture on How To Halt An Alien Invasion (conclusion: shoot them all one-by-one till there’s none left to do any invading).

Armageddon is mirror universe Guerrilla. The latter is gun-shy. The player is a master demolitionist who by the end of a play-through is highly trained in precise deconstruction. The weapon of choice is the maul, the enemy is Mars’ buildings. Armageddon is a messy free-for-all by comparison. The structures that come crashing down around the player are collateral damage, innocent bystanders in a war between one man and a teeming army of destructive, explosive aliens. At the end of a battle I often looked around in startled amazement at the unmitigated carnage that surrounded me.

The shift in focus is made possible by the much-improved combat. Guerrilla was an uncomfortable mess when attacking foes of smaller proportions than bungalows. The mostly human enemies traded bullets with Alec Mason as the poor fellow navigated sluggish aiming controls and an icky sticky cover system that just plain didn’t fit. Mostly I just wished the soldiers would go away and leave me alone to my business of launching sneak attacks on unsuspecting load-bearing walls.

Armageddon bears little resemblance to Guerrilla's horrible fighting. The maul makes a brief cameo in the opening tutorial level as the first weapon, and from there it stayed consigned to the weapons locker (similar to Guerrilla’s, where you can switch out any equipped weapon for one you previously discovered) until I entirely forgot it existed. Armageddon’s arsenal is a joyful thing to behold, with a huge selection of lethal tools that provide a wide variety of ways to murder and mutilate. By the end of the campaign I’d amassed twenty-three, and after the credits finished rolling the game nudged me towards a second play-through with the promise of a further two freshly unlocked. Nothing feels underdeveloped or underpowered (save for the three pistols), and I found myself switching gaily between them as I went.

Cover has also vanished, and in its place is a new attitude towards fighting. The game doesn’t want you to sit still and nibble away at an opponent’s health bar at a distance, it wants you in the thick of it, scurrying frantically around its arenas as catwalks and shacks come crashing down around you and enemies leap from wall to ceiling to ground, flinging balls of - what, plasma? For all I know it’s extra-terrestrial faecal matter – at you and giving a good showing of trying to disembowel you. To encourage this new approach comes a few new tricks. Spawning pods spew fresh aliens at you and an immobile set of tentacles that emerges from the ground provides nearby foes with shields, allowing them to take far more punishment. These are mostly situated around corners and beyond the immediate threat, in need of elimination. Neither is too incessant or overwhelming to frustrate, but both urge you onwards and make picking off attackers from a corner futile.

The aliens themselves are a mixed assortment, including scurrying insect-like creatures that leap towards you claws raised; teleporting nuisances that cloud your vision with a sickening green mist and pack a punch; and large, lumbering bipedal beasts not unlike Unreal’s Skaarj after an intense regimen of anabolic steroids which hurl timed explosive balls of energy your way. Taking on a cavernous room full of these creatures can prove challenging but seldom annoying – on Normal difficulty I found death rare, but somehow the game still never felt too easy. The spectacle carried it magnificently.

The game throws in a hearty amount of variation in vehicle sections, on-rails segments and changing environments. Its levels are hardly kaleidoscopic, but they still provide a far more varied view of Mars than Guerrilla ever did. The vehicles are mostly excellent, with the exception of the flyer segment which, although providing me a short burst of joy thanks to its Descent-like feel, was completely neutered by an abysmal view distance that meant enemies refrained from appearing until they almost smacked into my windscreen. The exo-skeleton and giant insectoid walkers were, however, a nice change of pace to just plain walkin’. Particularly enjoyable, in the latter of two exo-skeleton sections you’re lead through a claustrophobic subterranean market that’s just too small for your metal girth, forcing you to lurch around like a grown man drunkenly stumbling his way through a children’s playhouse in the garden of a country pub. Fortunately, there’s a button to charge. Press it, and your mech dips a shoulder and blitzes through anything in its path. The ability has a zero second recharge. Infinite charges later and one market fewer and I finally understood with complete clarity the full weight of the idiom, “a bull in a china shop.”

Armageddon finishes laying its toys at your feet around halfway through; play for another five hours and you’ll not see any new guns to play with. The latter half of the game devotes itself to ramping up the intensity of encounters. You continue to unlock passive and activated combat abilities all the way through, and by the time you reach the final levels you will be fighting off massive swarms of assorted nasties as you swap between your favourite weapons and deploy defensive and offensive abilities such as Beserk mode and a temporary shield bubble. The bosses largely avoid the horrible clichĂ© of being reborn in new incarnations as the game nears climax, instead being dispensed and replaced with a new, more interesting threat. As the explosive orgy reaches its peak the credits roll and Mr. Toots, the unicorn with magic rainbow farts that vapourise all those that stand before him (well, behind him), is unlocked, it's hard not to dive straight back in for another play-through.

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