Monday, 30 January 2012

Red Faction: Armageddon

The Title Screen

Introduction
Released in 2011, Red Faction: Armageddon is a third person shooter by Volition Inc. The fourth game in the franchise, it was released on Xbox and PlayStation and ported to PC by Volition themselves. It is available on, but not exclusive to, Steam.

The game features a single player campaign, an online cooperative "Infestation" and a destruction sandbox called "Ruin Mode". This review will be on the single player campaign for PC.


The First Thing
Having not played a Red Faction game, I was unsure what to expect. I had heard of the praiseworthy physics engine, but had never experienced it. Minutes into the game, I was asked to smash through a wall and I was immediately impressed. There is a certain pleasure with collapsing a building into a cloud of dust with a well placed explosion. Of course not every 'thing' in Armageddon is destructible, but enough is. It is a core feature and immediately sets the game apart; for better or worse.

Darius Mason


Plot & Devices
Fifty years on from Red Faction: Guerilla, an attack on the terraformer (atmosphere controlling device) by the terrorist Adam Hale forces the Mars settlers to relocate underground. Darius Mason (you) is indirectly held responsible, due to failing to prevent the attack because he was tricked by Hale. 5 years later, the inhabitants have constructed underground caves and towns. Contracted for a mining job, Darius is once again deceived by Hale and unintentionally releases a race of ferocious aliens. Darius must fight his way back to the people and find a way to contain the aliens before it is too late.

The plot is not particularly interesting or well delivered. Effort has been put into the main character, but all other characters are quite forgettable; scarcely appearing and with cheesy and predictable dialogue. Plot progression takes place in non-engine cutscenes, further hindering the immersion. Objectives seem a little generic and unconnected with the overall story, until the final missions. Ending with a large plot hole leaves the distinct impression that more thought could have been put into the story line.


The Game
Red Faction: Armageddon is a linear, over the shoulder, third-person shooter. Darius has regenerating health and can equip 4 weapons out of a possible 15. The weapon variety is large with focus on destructive capability. Also, the physics engine can be used offensively; enemies can be hurt by falling rubble or interaction with objects at high speed. Ammunition is found in drops (not from enemies) and is in two types; one for the small weapons, one for the larger, explosive guns. The player can change the weapons they carry at red weapon consoles found throughout levels.

Fighting aliens in caves

Game progression is noticeably linear but the actual gameplay is quite varied. Fighting packs of aliens, Darius is mostly alone and on foot but there are sections requiring the use of a powerful exo-suit or vehicle. These segments are typically not hard, but serve to break up the gameplay - and are usually accompanied by high levels of destruction. When coupled with the physics engine and the visual effects, these levels become the most memorable from the game. Protection missions where Darius must prevent damage to a vehicle or person help vary the regular gameplay further.

Destruction is what really sets this game apart, and is occasionally required for missions. Darius possess an unlimited-use Nano Forge that allows the player to repair any object that has been damaged. Primarily so that the player never fails a level by destroyed something they needed, Darius occasionally receives missions that require either the repairing, or destruction of, a key object (usually a generator or a bridge).

The upgrade menu

An XP ('Salvage') system that can be used to purchase upgrades, as well as 'cheats' upon game completion. Salvage can be found throughout the levels and from structures once they have been destroyed. Upgrades are organised into tiers that are unlocked at fixed percentages of campaign completion. The player can unlock new abilities or modify combat efficiency by purchasing them from the blue stations.

Volition Inc. wanted to ensure that the PC release would be of good quality and it shows. Even though it was clearly designed with consoles in mind, the mouse is still smooth and the controls feel tight. I did encounter a loss of frame rate once, but other than that the game feels polished and complete.

The soundtrack and most of the dialogue is forgettable, with the exception of Darius and his computer assistant, 'SAM'. Darius's good nature and humour combined with SAM's sassy and matter-of-fact delivery, result in memorable exchanges that help compensate for the weak plot.

Repairing a bridge with the Nano Forge

Wrap Up & Negatives
The plot lets the game down. The characters are weak and the story is unoriginal. It is so badly delivered at times that at one point I was unsure if I had killed the main antagonist, and had to watch the cutscene again to double-check. I will not ruin the ending, but upon seeing it you may ask yourself: why has someone not done this a long time ago?

The gameplay is a little on the easy side, the player can 'lock on' to enemies (although on PC this only seems to work half the time, but as we have a mouse it doesn't matter). The locations are also not that attractive; with a few exceptions, most of the levels are underground. Yes, this fits with the theme, but the result is everything is brown and dark. Caves also enforce how linear the game is but the few levels on the surface, plus the vehicle and exo-suit sections, help to offset this.


Personally
I liked the game. Darius and SAM are nice characters to play, and although not challenging the gameplay is fun. It can get a little boring in the cave levels with no destructible objects, but most of the time this is not the case. The exo-suit levels are so fun that I wish they had made a mode just for them. Although the combat is a little unvaried, it is as fun as the player wants; using the magnet gun to drag a monster through a building and watch the building collapse is an experience you do not have often.

I feel this game has a bad reputation for two reasons:
1) It differs a lot from the previous game, so some fans were upset.
2) The plot is quite bad.

So if you can look past those two problems and are looking for a simplistic yet good looking shooter, with an excellent physics engine... this game could be for you.

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