From my review of Red Faction: Guerrilla there’s a telling quote nestled in the middle that suggests the game itself suffers because there’s a “lacklustre attitude towards structured progression that initially lets the game down”. And after picking it back up again for a few hours over the weekend, this still couldn’t be more true.
Volition apparently heard my cry, and the cry of hundreds of thousands of others; prompting an overhaul in their sense of narrative and progressive direction. Red Faction: Armageddon then, maintains much of what did make Guerrilla so much fun to play, only now there’s a greater sense of purpose, and a reasonably well lit path to follow.
Late last week I was given a hands-on preview of the game from Volition’s own PR manager, Eric Barker, who let me run loose with the much touted Magnet Gun and Nano Forge as well as a host of other deliciously destructifying weapons. For the initiated, this iteration of the series retains the GeoMod 2.0 destruction tools, and the game’s all-new arsenal maintains that strong desire to tear everything you see down. However, now with the Nano Forge; a device that can reconstruct anything man-made, you’ll also find yourself cleaning up the very mess you just made. It’s an odd affair, sort of akin to watching a cat lay a steaming pile of you know what in its tray, only to then meticulously cover it up as if it were never there.
From a hands-on perspective Armageddon couldn’t be more comfortable. Controls are utterly intuitive (I previewed the game on Xbox 360), and I felt I didn’t need any input from Eric on what to do, or how to do it. Even the new weapons were easy enough to understand: take the Magnet gun and point it somewhere
, pull the trigger and point it somewhere else
, pull the trigger again and watch somewhere
smash into and through somewhere else
, and this includes using enemies as either of the somewheres
. Simple, really.
I had a quick play with the game’s Exo Suits, or at least one of the suits, but my overzealous nature meant that, while I’d been owning the enemy AI throughout till this point, I overreached my boundaries and succumbed to middle-Mars alien terrors. The good news here is that there's still a tactical element to confrontation, and even in a demo it was easy enough to die (and these things are normally dialled right back), so expect the final product to offer some serious edge-of-your-seat action moments.
There are so far two basic enemy-types in the game, in the form of the human cultists, and the aforementioned aliens (though obviously there are sub-classes of these, which I didn't get enough of a chance to explore). Eric was reasonably tight-lipped about the expanded "why's" of these creatures and their penchant for attacking colonists, but it’s not too difficult to put two and two together, linking both base enemy-types with one another in the game’s overall narrative.
What we do know, specifically, is that the Red Faction really hasn’t enjoyed success proper (how could they if they’re still making Red Faction games?). This is set some 50 years after the events of Guerrilla, though you are still part of the Mason lineage, and this time around you’re not necessarily fighting a tyrannical government regime or its own version of Ronnie Cox, rather, you’re fighting the planet itself, which has been ravaged by an impact that wiped out one of its Terraformers, forcing everyone to move underground and start life anew.
Only smugglers or salvagers travel to the planet’s surface anymore, and Darius Mason, the character you play as, is one such person; running his own business, scavanging the ravaged surface for loot he can use or trade underground. It’s when Darius is tricked into peeking into a long-abandoned shaft all hell breaks loose, leaving Darius and the Red Faction with no choice but to fight the cultists and a newly freed, long-dormant alien species who threaten the very existence of life on the Red Planet.
From a structure point of view, Armageddon is a shadow of its former self in terms of freedom, but this, it turns out, really is a good thing. Weapons have more meaning now and the creativity at-hand for dispatching bad-guys or tearing down structures, or combining the two, really is in your hands, so in a sense there’s a lot of freedom in the game’s new confined pathways, but by and large, you’re definitely being told where to go and what to do. This allows players to soak up more of the game’s darker, creepier atmosphere, and though there are a lot of previews out there likening this to Dead Space 2, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Yes, there are creepy aliens, yes you kill them, and yes you play in the third-person, but really, that’s about it. Beyond those similarities, of which so many other games could lay the same claim, Red Faction: Armageddon really is its own adventure. The destruction component immediately sets this baby apart from anything else on the market anyway, but there’s a greater sense of action and urgency throughout, as well as a more tangible world to interact with. Similarities between the two is erroneous.
With just over half an hour of play time under my belt, I pretty much experienced everything that has been set free as public knowledge. I did mess around with the Magnet Gun a bit; experimenting with its applications, and if I can offer Volition one thing they should add for the game’s final release, it’s to let us surf on a piece of debris as it’s being magneted
away - not being able to do that was frustrating. Otherwise it's one of the more inventive tools I've come across in games, and is likely to help players shape their own tactical style as they progress through this redesigned Red Faction experience.
With a tie-in original movie happening on Syfy, along with a host of other media to open up the Red Faction universe, everything is looking up for this game. There’s still plenty for the team to reveal leading up to its May release date on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, and if the first game is anything to go by, they’ll continue to support it post-release as well, because despite its barren appearance, there’s a lot to be told about Mars - the planet is ripe for narrative pickings and I couldn’t think of anything more fitting than a “Red Faction” to tell said stories.