STAFF REVIEW of Red Faction: Armageddon (Xbox 360)

Friday, June 3, 2011.
by Ken Laffrenier

Red Faction: Armageddon    Box art Let me, for a moment, regale you with a simple tale involving a cousin of mine. It would be safe to assume that this individual may not be the sharpest knife in the block, nor is he the ?inside joke? of the family. He can be seen as quite confident while simultaneously falling over himself to offer assistance where it is not needed. There have been several occasions where he has taken on various careers only to have inadvertently mailed off vast sums of money to Nigerian investors, or invested the family savings in ?solar powered, genetically engineered trees?. His wife and 2 children stand by him while most would not accept his failings. It is most unsettling that this is not the lowest branch on my family tree but I know that Great Grandpa Chayyim O?Lafleur (yes, a proud French, Irishman with a strong Jewish upbringing?.it could happen) must be hanging his head in shame each time ol? Charlie calls up his investor friends over at the Walmart.

Why do I share this tidbit of information? It is only to provide some basis in reality to the plot of the latest Red Faction title. In this newest installment you take on the role of Darius Mason, Grandson to Alec Mason and Samanya, the legendary/heroic revolutionaries of Red Faction: Guerrilla. You see, ol? Darius is having a little bit of difficulty living up to the family name but more on that later.

Video game developer Volition, is working with THQ (parent company and publishing juggernaut) to, once again, bring the human race to Mars. This team has been the force behind the entire Red Faction series as well as the Saints Row series and the much anticipated, inSANE title (2013), amoung others. Interestingly, the team has introduced Syfy Games as a publisher. It seems that Syfy has created a TV movie to bridge the 50 year gap between the Guerrilla and Armageddon stories (tentatively, slated for June 2011 on, you guessed it, the Syfy network). While I question that validity of a ?bridge? movie, it is encouraging to see such confidence in a gaming franchise.

So here we are, 50 years after the events of Red Faction: Guerillas, being introduced to the latest in the Mason family clan. You take on the role of Darius shortly after he ?inadvertently? doomed an entire planet to a life of being preyed upon by native beasts. In the decades following the revolution of the Mars colony, it seems that the Terraformer that had maintained a relatively safe atmosphere was destroyed by an oddly convenient meteor impact. The Terraformer?s destruction drove the colonists underground so as to avoid the violent storms that were now ravaging the surface. It is in this context that we are introduced to Darius; being a contractor he is tricked into reopening a long lost temple thereby releasing the native inhabitants of Mars?needless to say, they?re not in a welcoming mood.

The Marauders have returned to cause havoc, along with the natives, under the direction of a new grand priest and between them create all kinds of opportunities for Darius to fall out of the good graces of his fellow colonists (as if unleashing giant bugs isn?t enough). Being essentially religious soldiers the Marauders are mostly (damn Shiva) cannon fodder, that is except for the incredible machines they?ve been able to create. The Marauders, bug like, vehicles are incredibly powerful and serve as an introduction to some of the games plot points and yes, you will find yourself taking control of some of these units.

Armageddon?s newest enemies, the natives of Mars, are as varied as they are menacing. With names like Creeper, Alpha Creeper and Ravager they attack using claws, teeth, scythe like insect legs and naturally occurring bio-weapon based appendages that spit acid at incredible distance (and accuracy). These of course are only the foot soldiers, there are others that are able to become practically invisible until they are close enough to strike (Wraith), or giant worm-like claws (Monolith)that help to shield the foot soldiers and all the while fire their own form of acid. We also must not forget the giant tentacles (Tentacle) throwing all manner of destruction your way, or the pods that seem to give birth to infestations of aliens, or the bulky beast (Behemoth) that, like an oversized rhino, lives to run you down.

Playing through the game, one can?t help but think ?what the %*#@ are all these, potentially, deadly weapons doing laying around on the ground? or ?wow, I just found a more powerful weapon, this must mean that the enemies are getting easier?. Although, I personally take affront to game developers that introduce new weapons in such a convoluted manner, I cannot fault the Red Faction creators for their vision of futuristic means of death and destruction.

Many of the old standards make their return and are even beneficial for brief periods. Classics like the Rail Gun, Rocket Launcher along with beam and nano based weapons are available. The Sledgehammer makes a triumphant return in the form of the Maul. The Maul is heavily modified to bring down any the biggest of buildings or bugs, the issue however is that you have to be quite close to pull off such destructive capabilities.

There are a lot of old and new weapons to talk about but there are a few that deserve special mention. First up is the Magnet Gun, this is by far, my incapacitator of choice. The implementation is simple; your first shot ?marks? a target and your second shot ?marks? a destination that your target is drawn to. The combinations are very satisfying, have an enemy shoot to the ceiling or walls, have size-able pieces of a structure, headed at high speed, toward an enemy (or another structure with an enemy between them), or have an enemy traveling at top speed toward another enemy.

Next up is the Singularity Cannon; this wonderful device will shoot off a manageable sized and somehow contained black-hole (who comes up with this stuff). It may seem very farfetched but the effect is incredible. This space of nothingness completely and indiscriminately envelopes a space before creating a small explosion as a sort of one/two punch of awesomeness.

And finally we have the Nano Forge. This is not the Nano Forge of the past but rather a customized and modified unit with outstanding capabilities. The most obvious appeal is its ability to direct a wave of energy forward, destroying enemies and structures. Add the availability to augment the unit with additional offensive (Shockwave and Berserk) and defensive (Shell) proficiencies and you have a complete, self contained, lightweight, super powerful, all-in-one piece of combat gear. But the fun doesn?t stop there, remember all of those structures you?ve been blasting to pieces, well some of them are needed to protect you from incoming fire....the Nano Forge was upgraded by Darius? father to offer regeneration abilities! That?s right, simply point and shoot and nano particles will rebuild non-organic matter, better yet utilize the reconstruction grenade to rebuild structures from a distance without you having to stand in the open, fully vulnerable. This may sound like the ultimate piece of engineering but there are limitations; its power reserves are limited and can take time to recharge, so use it wisely.

Which brings us to scavenging; THQ seems to have a fascination with the scavenging idea (much like Volitions need to use Ultor as its nemesis) and Armageddon is the most blatant example. As you destroy different structures (and eventually enemies) you are often awarded by falling pieces of scrap metal. Scattered throughout all environments are additional ?barrels? of scrap and it is all tallied, as you collect it, as a sort of currency. At different points in the game you will come across an interface machine allowing you to ?cash? in the currency in order to purchase upgrades. Only a limited amount of the upgrades are available early on and some require a leveling aspect before accessing the most powerful of the upgrades.

What?s frustrating is that it takes 1000 units to upgrade any one unit and there are no guarantees regarding how much scrap you?ll receive for destroying a structure. So you can spend a lot of time decimating an area to gain 200 units while in other areas you can collect 500 units from a single building. While I?m not necessarily against the currency idea; being taken out of the game and story in order to back track, collect scrap and then find an interface unit seems awfully disjointed to gain upgrades.

The visuals are much darker than previous Red Faction offerings but that?s to be expected since much of the game play takes place underground. There are some improvements here and while there doesn?t seem to be huge leaps forward some of the visuals surrounding the alien bugs are quite ingenious. There is a fantastic sequence when you come across the Wraiths, that can become ?invisible?; they zap in and out of the visual spectrum while inundating your senses with flashes of light and otherworldly fog. As well, whenever you are immersed in darkness the onslaught of bugs will feature their own bioluminsecese, and when any source of light catches them they seem to jump off the screen. The above ground sequences, with the turbulent weather systems present a real sense of chaos visually.

The sound in Armageddon is really a mixed bag. There are intense sequences that the atmosphere and background music really amped up the on screen disarray. However, there were plenty of moments, especially early on, that heavily features a sort of techno based music that became both distracting and annoying. While I can appreciate that games are looking to add new additions to many of the games being presented, the need to offer a 'Video Game Based' soundtrack shouldn't outweigh the needs of the actual game itself.

As a whole, this is the best Red Faction title to date. I missed the 'sandbox' style of Guerrilla but I enjoyed the story focus (and not having to travel from one end of the map to the other) to complete objectives. Using Darius as a sort of fall-guy allowed for a number of humorous numbers and really allowed the character, in the end, to shine. The 'love interest' is underplayed and frivolous, I can only assume that Syfy plans on playing up that aspect. This is a must for any Red Faction fan and a happy addition to most casual gamers but I'm interested to see where the franchise will take us from here.

At the end of the day, ol' Darius turns out to be the one to save the day. Sure he was mislead, easily manipulated and even the focus of a lynch mob but he manages to take down the baddies without anybody witnessing it.....right.....I mean, you can take his word for it, right.....there was an evil mastermind behind everythin

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.9 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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