Review: Red Faction: Armageddon (PS3)

Title: Red Faction: Armageddon
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: June 7th 2011
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Volition Inc.
Price: $59.99

The game series that got our ass to Mars is back. The sequel to the cult-hit Red Faction: Guerrilla takes a decisively different tack on its structure and direction. Does the gamble pay off? Will Volition’s risk equal reward on this outing? Will this new venture lead to new gains for the 13 year old development company???

If I can say something nice about this new Red Faction sequel – because believe me, a few paragraphs from this point I doubt I’ll find as much courtesy – it does give you some of the best guns and tools in modern gaming to play around with. Dual Banshee pistols capable of dropping grown elephants. Sledge hammers. Pulse grenade launchers. Remote mine launchers. Plasma throwers. Rail guns. Singularity cannons… and my two personal favorites: the Magnet gun and the Plasma beam.

Use the former to glue any two objects together and watch in wonder as the two are drawn together until a high speed collision annihilates both objects – be it beast or building – in a spectacular display of momentum and energy. Use the latter to cut down any structure like a chainsaw blade one-hundred yards in length. These two weapons alone are capable of bringing any structure, outpost, town, or city, down into a pile of rubble in a few seconds.Thanks to Volition’s new destruction engine the damage we can unleash with these tools is just as graphic as it ever was before.

With the new addition of the nano-forge – a tool that can build anything you’ve taken down or was left ruined from any firefight back into its original form – as well as the upgrades players can make; bubble-shields, harder-hitting ammunition, and a berzerker mode that allows a player a brief chunk of time to expend as much pain and ammunition as they want to damage-free – the possibilities for wreck and rebuild are pretty much limitless in this game.

So why throw us into a closet to use all of this cool stuff Volition???

2009’s Red Faction: Guerrilla let us play around on the surface of Mars. Sure Mars looked like the ass-side of Utah – but with much less gun violence and cousin-shtupping. It gave us an open-world landscape to fight our war – which at the time was to resist the EDF forces trying to oppress the hardworking colonials of that harsh, red world.

We built car bombs. We blew up bridges. We ambushed tank convoys. We brought down enemy strongholds. We consumed their precious resources. We generally raised hell whenever and wherever we could do it. In Red Faction: Guerrilla we became Che Guevara and Emiliano Zapata. We were the living lyrics to every song Zack de La Rocha wrote. And now, 50 years later, in Red Faction: Armageddon…?

We’re relegated to being the Orkin man. We go under your house and kill bugs for a living.

It doesn’t seem like a fair trade-off does it?

Volition made a bold move with this new game. Few game-houses before have decided to tweak the format of their respective game franchises as severely as this one has. This new title almost forgets that there ever was an uprising on the surface of Mars 50 years before and focuses on a new problem entirely: alien invasion. Or bug-hunting as James Cameron would have called it.

A group of Cultists – the descendants of Guerrilla’s Marauders – have unleashed an ancient life-form from the guts of Mars herself. Your guy – Darius Mason – is the only man out of a million men who can find and kill these creatures at their source. Which are the caves, mines, subterranean grottoes, and sink-holes under the surface of Mars.

Think Sewer Shark – then close your eyes and remember all the freedom that that Digital Pictures game allotted. Then think of Utah. In this instance, Utah – for once – is the more valuable destination. Replace the Ratigators, bats, scorpions, and mechanical moles from the old Sega CD title with an alien species every bit as generic and makeshift, and we’re somewhere near the same ballpark in Red Faction: Armageddon.

Of course I’m exaggerating with this comparison, but I’m also trying to illustrate the problem when you take an open-world game and drop it into a cave system filled with six alien types.

Expect to feel confined. Expect to feel claustrophobic. Expect to feel completely underwhelmed.

We do get to toddle a bit on the surface of Mars – whether on foot or in one of this game’s cool, new vehicles. But anticipate the experience to be just as narrow and trivial as anything happening underneath the red soil.

The real tragedy of Red Faction: Armageddon is how much time I’ve spent – playing through the five or six hours of its single-player campaign, or sitting here now, ass parked in front of Playstation Nation’s publishing page – trying to come up with something substantial to say about this game. Other than to point out, as I’ve done, that Volition took the entire Guerrilla experience and threw it into a tunnel with some Ratigators for company… I really can’t.

Which is a shame really. Because there are moments when you’re firing your Magnet gun into a giant cooling tower and firing the second “attractor” shot into an alien hulk, and this massive cluster of building material and debris  goes hurtling into the creature crushing it beneath all its devastating weight that feel really, really, really GOOD.

At least the first thirty times you do it.

At least Red Faction: Armageddon looks nice. Outside of the Crystal Caves of Chihuahua Mexico you’ll probably never visit more beautiful caverns. The weapon effects are inspired as well. If Volition knows one thing better than almost anybody in this business it’s how to wreck shit.

In this instance I’m thinking the term might have a double meaning.

Tough call here. There’s nothing extraordinary about the sound design. The alien bugs sound like you would imagine they would. The guns sound great – as does the sound of buildings tearing off from their foundations.

One of the real standouts in this game is the soundtrack. Sonorous and spacey – like the music that plays in the white hallways of the wait-line for Space Mountain at Disneyland. If indeed it still is that same selection of music from my youth and not some updated, bastard version of Bowie’s Space Oddity performed by Hannah Montana.

Another missed opportunity. Some really mediocre games of late (Homefront) have at least had something worth exploring in the online portions of their inventory. In Armageddon you get two flavors – chocolate and vanilla.

Ruin mode and Infestation mode.

In one you wreck as much shit as you can in a set amount of time. In the other you revisit a really disadvantaged version of Cliff Bleszinzki’s “Hoard mode” from Gears of War 2 – but with waves of the Ratigators competing for your blood instead of the Locust. Neither add any additional value to this title.

Outside of the soundtrack, the weapons, and the wreckage one man can bestow in this limited environment, there just isn’t much here to sing songs of praise over.

I can’t shake the feeling that Armageddon is going to be the black sheep of this series – the Halloween 3: The Season of the Witch of the Red Faction saga. The game that wanted to try something a bit different and fumbled the ball – never to return in that direction again. Which could make this game a bit of a collectable if you’re a fan of this series. Because, surely Volition won’t be going down into these caverns again. They’re just too narrow and ordinary for the hardware they’ve given us to play with.

Still… I want another Red Faction game. Just not this one. Is it too late to act like it never happened?


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