It’s not easy, playing a moron. As the whole of Mars appears to collapse around him, Darius Mason can’t stop himself blurting out nonchalant quips on the situation. It isn’t a problem, though; he’s only tricked in the prologue by Adam Hale, the game’s antagonist, which in turn leads to the destruction of the planet’s Terraformer – the installation that keeps the surface of Mars mostly hospitable.
Many years later, when the Martians have been forced to find new homes underground, he’s at it again. Darius still regrets his poor awareness that day, but distracts his vacuous self with a job as a freelance miner. Luckily, he’s found some work with a group of excavators who are looking to explore some ancient ruins below the surface. Although it sounds dangerous, Darius isn’t fussed – and as for the group he’ll be working for, he doesn’t care who they are. He’s got a ‘no questions asked’ policy.
The buildings he finds underground are “centuries old,” according to S.A.M, his talking Situation Awareness Module. “Centuries? As in more than one?” Darius replies. As he continues surveying, his mind wanders, processing the concept of plurals, and he is promptly manipulated by his mysterious employers under the command of Hale into unearthing a long-buried alien lifeform from inside the planet. Maybe he should reconsider his working procedures.
It’s no surprise, then, that Darius constantly fulfils the role of a dogsbody for the rest of the game – running around inside Mars completing menial tasks such as finding computer chips, collecting power cells and fixing the water supply – all in an attempt to redeem his past failings as a sentient being. Nevertheless, there’s actually a somewhat enjoyable game among this dire storytelling. Even though Darius’ objectives are uninspiring for the most part, the opportunity for destruction on the path towards them is an absolute blast.
The GeoMod engine shines in the large, well-designed combat areas that the game’s otherwise linear sections filter you towards. Each is a miniature sandbox crammed full of destructible structures to collapse upon the game’s human and alien enemies. Here, the reason behind introducing an alien menace becomes abundantly clear as they leap across the open space, clinging to the sides of buildings, practically inviting you to take out the supports from underneath them with Darius’ eclectic mixture of weapons.
His arsenal ranges from the standard machine gun and shotgun to a plasma cannon that that can fire a ball of energy and blow a hole in a wall, only to continue through next one, and the one after that. The variety is fantastic, and experimentation is encouraged to discover which insane methods you can use to clear an area.
However, the greatest weapon Darius has access to is the Magnet Gun, which allows you to pull enemies and objects towards one another. The first shot places a mark on your intended target, while the second signifies where you would like your chosen object or enemy to end up. From there, simply watch the chaos ensue as you send enemies crashing into buildings and explosive containers, debris flooding the battlefield like torrential rain. Once again, delightful emergent situations arises from the weapon’s use, providing one-off moments you celebrate, such as broadsiding a charging alien brute with a 12ft slab of wall, inches from it goring you.
Supplementing Darius’ weaponry is the Nano Forge, a device that grants a number of special powers – including Impact, a forceful knockback, Shell, which generates a protective barrier, and Repair, to restore destroyed cover and pathways. Mixing small arms and Nano Forge powers can be extremely satisfying as you send enemies flying backwards through walls and into liberally placed explosive barrels, or knocking the scurrying aliens into the air with Shockwave and picking them off one-by-one with the shotgun as they dangle in stasis. Upgrades for these Nano Forge powers and other general improvements (health, ammo clip size) can – as in the game’s predecessor, Guerrilla – be bought in a fairly basic system with Salvage found in every level and from tearing down buildings.
Disappointingly, though, there are far too many moments when Red Faction: Armageddon is diluted down to a basic third-person shooter in dull, scripted vehicle sections and in the linear tunnels through Mars’ underbelly. These sections between the open areas don’t emphasise or play upon the exciting destruction features anywhere near as well. A significant portion of the game favours a drab slog through alien caverns, which offer minimal opportunity to wreck the environment.
Charging through an area in an enormous spider mech is fun enough, but not particularly challenging when you can easily just hold down the fire button to progress. The game is simply competent in its shooting mechanics – the mediocrity only highlighted by how entertaining the game had been beforehand when you could use the Magnet Gun and Nano Forge powers to full effect.
These issues are less pronounced in Armageddon’s other games modes, Infestation and Ruin. The former is a multiplayer horde-style mode, which tasks you and three others to survive increasing large waves of aliens or protect a structure from their assault. It’s a strong co-operative game where your choice of Nano Forge powers really comes into play, success only ensured in the later waves with unwavering organisation and well chosen abilities. The latter is a destruction playground, which sees you battling with enemy-free environments to focus on causing as much damage as possible. It’s mindless, but engaging. Much like our hero Darius Mason, then.
There’s a great deal of fun to be had in Red Faction: Armageddon’s beautiful destruction when those moments arrive. But there are so many decisions that seem to work against it, it almost feels as if Volition decided to take a hammer to the game’s own foundations.
Destruction in the latest GeoMod engine is fantastic fun
Many opportunities to develop your own strategies in vast sandbox areas
Strong co-operative multiplayer mode
Terrible story, full of unlikeable characters
Some linear levels go against the game's strengths
Red Faction: Armageddon feels slightly confused. The linear moments let it down, but it's brilliant when you're let loose into wonderfully constructed locations, where you can demolish the environment and find creative techniques to clear out enemies.
7.2 - Good