Red Faction: Armageddon Review (PC)
Sometimes in the gaming world a big launch comes along and for that week people seem to forget that other games exist, not only in terms of playing but buying too. The last week or so was one of those weeks as first people in Europe got Duke Nukem Forever and then on Tuesday it was launch time in North America. While everyone was digesting the reviews and some unfortunate souls wasted their hard earned cash on a dire game also hitting the shelves was THQ and Volition Inc's Red Faction: Armageddon. This third person shooter is the fourth instalment in the Red Faction franchise and see's us take control of a mercenary, Darius Mason.
With a unique approach to multiplayer, an extremely destructive environment and a sci-fi storyline, has a gaming gem been missed in the frenzy of Duke Nukem's latest launch? Today we find out.
The basic storyline to Red Faction: Armageddon's single player campaign is that we are a mercenary on Mars. The game begins with us joining a squad of marine type characters on a mission to save the planets Terraformer from being destroyed by the big evil of the game, Adam Hale. Following the success, or failure of this initial mission where we learn the main game mechanic we are tasked with variations on 3rd person action as we take on various jobs surrounding the main plot.
There is a significant variation to the single player gameplay because of this and that helps to keep the gameplay fresh as the story progresses. For example, in that first terraformer mission we have a reasonable amount of control over the enemy, not being in too much danger (shown above). We then move to a more exploration based level in a mech suit before the next drops us into a nest of alien creatures which we must fight our way out of, saving colonists along the way. Even within this rescue mission we have a couple of different gameplay styles going from on foot to mech suit, to on rails blasting (shown below) and back to the former.
While this may seem reasonably standard linear title there are a number of aspects which make Red Faction: Armageddon stand out a little from the norm. For starters we are playing in an environment which is hugely destructible. Few games go to the lengths Armageddon has in terms of how much we can impact the surrounding environment and the concept is enhanced by two gameplay aspects. Firstly we have a selection of weapons which are designed for maximum power, from rocket launchers to plasma cannons and beyond. These allow us to rip large sections in the levels, reaching areas we thought impossible to get to or turning the battle in our favour by taking out sections of level below enemies who are firing on us. One particularly fun weapon is the magnet gun which allows us to fire at two objects and when detonated the two are thrown against each other exploding in the process. It makes for some rather impressive gameplay sequences.
With all this carnage going on around us the developer has been intelligent enough to realise that there is need for some way to reverse the changes on occasion and for this reason we have an electronic device attached to our arm which can be used to repair areas of environment or technology. In addition to this we can also use it in a way similar to Star Wars force powers to push away enemies and blast open doors. Using the video below as an example we can use the heal power to recreate damaged boxes for use as cover while fighting some of the larger creatures in the game. This then buys us time to change weapons or reload while mid battle.
In terms of controls we get the usual WASD for movement, R to reload, space to jump or dodge, E to activate items, Q for our force impact power and shift/ctrl for run/duck. Mouse commands are also pretty standard giving us left for fire, right to lock/zoom, middle for heal and wheel to change weapons from a choice of four which we can carry at any one time. An additional tool available to us is GPS which, rather than show our goal on a map, places down markers on the floor which we follow. Weapons can be swapped out when we find alternatives or we can access weapon terminals throughout the levels, swapping our combinations as we see necessary.
There is no shortage of ammo around the level and also dotted around are pods which we scavenge to gain credits. These can then be spent at terminals on upgrades. We can for example increase our health (which auto-regenerates), improve our recoil skill and amongst other things, make our enemies health visible thanks to an enhancement to our personal computer which, along with our main character, voices over the game as we progress.
Speaking of upgrades, these are useable in the campaign mode and in the online aspects of the game, though Armageddon doesn't feature traditional multi-player battles. Instead we have two modes, the first is Infestation where we and up to three other players from across the world are sent into a level packed with alien creatures and our task is essentially to survive, though other objectives are added. This gameplay is tense, action packed and rather difficult for novice players but at the same time hugely fun. It also mixes a little bit of MMORPG style gameplay as our friends can act as healers when we are inevitably taken down during the battle. Here is an example of some of the creatures we face...
The second non-campaign game style is "Ruin". In this mode we play through a level, only one is available to begin with, and we must cause as much destruction as possible in the space of a minute. Destroying a chain of items or multiple items increases our bonus and the aim is firstly to get more than a target score assigned and secondly, to get more than other players who have logged their scores to the games online leader board. As with the single player campaign this creates some pretty cool visual experiences, especially as the level progresses and some of the larger items come crashing down, as shown below.
The final aspect of our gameplay, at least for the Steam version of the game, is the ability to unlock achievements throughout the 10 hour + campaign.
Graphics and Sound
Red Faction: Armageddon is a DirectX 10/11 capable game (DX9 mode available too) which has an impressive visual style. Based on the Geo-Mod engine (now version 2.5) which was originally used on the first Red Faction game we get some good quality levels which have a few stand out aspects such as water and slime effects. There are no significant problems with low res textures appearing where the developer couldn't be bothered to spend the extra time making the game look good and the weapon effects, creature animations and overall level appearance is good. It certainly serves its purpose which is to provide a nice backdrop to our fast, action packed, explosion filled gameplay.
Sound wise things are not quite as good. Out of the box the balance between aspects such as gunfire/explosions and the soundtrack is off, favouring the music too much which gives the game a lightweight feel to combat. Tweak this balance though and things significantly improve, partly because the electronic style music isn't the most engaging. Voice acting is decent however as our main character offers some decent dry wit and sarcasm as the game progresses. Our personal computer's voice is also acceptable and functions well within the game rather than being a distraction.
The core gameplay within Red Faction: Armageddon offers us an enjoyable 3rd person shooter with an interesting storyline that keeps us playing. The games highlight is the huge amount of destructible aspects within each level which create some excellent visual spectacles and a good range of powerful destructive weapons only add to this effect.
The linear nature of the game may bother some who prefer sandbox style gameplay however there is no denying that mixed in with this style of gameplay is a significant portion of the game which is filled with action. Rarely on most levels do we get time to catch our breath between waves of alien creatures and the sheer number of these on some levels makes for a tense, enjoyable game.
The variation in game styles within the game also keeps things fresh but essentially at its core Red Faction: Armageddon is a shooter, designed for us to have a blast playing without the need to use to much thought. When this is executed correctly, as it is here, that is never a bad thing.
||Action packed gameplay, plenty of destruction and a nice selection of weapons. No significant bugs (other than the ones that are trying to kill us) and some responsive controls maximise the fun.
||Nothing ground-breaking but the destructive environments are impressive and the overall visual style works well.
||Probably the low point of the game, a lacklustre soundtrack has too much emphasis over the gunfire and explosions. Once tweaked though things improve and the effects enhance the game visuals. In game voices are also performed well by the actors.
||A campaign which is a good length with two unique non-campaign modes enhance the value. One gives us a long term mode to play with friends and other players in a challenging environment. The other is a quick fix of destruction which may not be a long term draw.
(Not an Average)
||A well written game which sets out to offer maximum destructive fun and succeeds in creating an enjoyable sci-fi based 3rd person shooter. One of our favourite games of 2011, basically because it doesn't take itself too seriously and is a huge amount of fun.