Within the first five minutes of Red Faction Armageddon
(RFA) I was taking on a gaggle of the Marauder cultists around the large terraformer on Mars. The problem was that I was playing it like a standard duck and cover third person shooter, using a machine gun to pick off one guy and then moving up to find cover, which felt a bit played out. In moment of clarity, I remember that I was playing a Red Faction game and that I had more creative measures at my disposal. So I holstered my pistols, equipped the charge launcher, popped out behind cover and with one shot brought down an entire tower on a group of bad guys. The results were satisfying and after mentally high fiving myself, I noted to myself that I needed to remember that the weapons at my disposal give me indirect as well as direct ways to take down bad guys.
RFA takes 50 years after the events of Red Faction:Guerilla as Mars hasn’t done too badly since last we saw it. You play Darius Mason, the grandson of Alec Mason (the guy who freed Mars from the EDF in the last game), who is trying to defend the terraformer from a Marauder cult who wants to destroy it. Unfortunately things don’t go according to plan and the terraformer is destroyed, forcing all the humans on the planet underground.
The game flashes forward a bit and it turns out that life underground isn’t great but people are getting by. Darius is now in the construction and demolition business and is hired for a job requiring him to open a large mysterious seal in a deep cavern. Unfortunately for Darius the cultists have set him up and he unwittingly unleashes an alien horde on the populace of Mars. Now it’s time for you to help Darius reclaim his birthright and fix everything he’s screwed up.
The biggest difference between Guerrilla and RFA is that the vast open worlds of Guerrilla have been traded in for a more focused and linear experience. Some people (like myself) groused about this when it was announced but RFA is a much more crafted experience than Guerrilla. Volition does toss folks a bone in that the levels in the game are huge with enough alternate paths to keep things interesting at times but it’s still a very guided experience.
Another interesting thing about RFA is how the weapons are handled. The traditional shooter paradigm is that you get access to the most powerful weapons at the end of the game. RFA chucks that aside and gives you most of the best weapons at the start of the game and then challenges you to use them in new ways. You still get some new weapons as you progress but you have most every weapon in your arsenal by just after the midpoint of the game.
By the end of the game you really need to be familiar with a good number of the weapons and how to use them effectively as the game is unrelenting in the number and variety of enemies it throws at you at one time. You’ll be constantly switching back and forth to figure out the best way to work through large mobs of enemies without running out of ammo and without them killing you.
The centerpiece of the armory is the magnet gun. The first shot is a giant magnet that can get attached to structures, enemies, and parts of the environment. After that you can shoot out a second magnet which pulls the first magnet (and whatever it’s attached to) towards it. It’s a basic idea that Volition executes perfectly. There’s nothing like launching a small structure into a cluster of aliens or having one hurdle across the screen into another one creating an explosion of gibs.
The real key with the magnet gun is that you have to factor momentum in your shots. If the magnets are right next to each other than you’re not going to have much of an effect but if you give them space to get some velocity then that’s where the real splattering fun begins. The magnet gun is also a fast way to take down structures as you can tag the roof then a lower panel and the thing will rend itself in half.
Another fun thing you have at your disposal is the Nano Forge, a device that sits on your hands and allows you to either repair the world around you or unleash one three upgradable attacks. The Impact ability allows you to push out a wall of force in front of you, the Shell ability creates a protective shell around you that damages enemies who enter it, and finally the berserk ability allows you to temporarily boost your speed and damage done.
The repair ability of the Nano Forge does feel like a bit of a design fail safe though for the designers as you can destroy almost everything in the game including key walkways and staircases that get you to the next portion of the game. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing but it does feel like a bit of a safety valve for those who might get a little too happy with some of the more destructive weapons in the game.
Outside of a few shooter standards like pistols, rifles, and shotguns, the rest of the armory is also built around blowing stuff up in creating ways. You’ve got things like the singularity cannon (which creates a vortex that sucks things around it in before exploding), the charge launcher which allows you to launch multiple explosives and then detonate them later, the plasma gun which allows you to burn through multiple enemies, and a rocket launcher. I know rocket launchers are classic shooter stuff but when you have a fully destructible environment they are much more fun to play with.
There’s only one problem with such an exotic set of weapons is that when you don’t have access to them (such as the vehicles sections that dot the games) the game doesn’t feel as unique. It’s an odd comment to make I know but there were times when I would have absolutely killed to have the magnet gun but didn’t because I was strapped into an exo suit or locked into the cockpit of a mech. The vehicle sections aren’t bad but the weapons on the vehicles aren’t nearly as fun as what you have when you’re on foot.
As you progress through the game you can collect salvage which allows you to upgrade your abilities and weapons. There are four tiers of upgrades that include things like extra health, extra weapons, and the ability to see the health meters on your enemies.
The single player campaign itself is a mixed bag of mostly good stuff. I cranked through it in a little under eight hours on the normal difficulty while only getting stuck in two spots in the campaign. The campaign is a bit uneven as you have really, really great levels and experiences throughout the game that are chained together with some rather ordinary and some rather off putting levels. The mix of action is solid though and I never really got bored with the game but there were a few sections here and there that I felt like I was grinding through. It doesn’t help that Darius is a bit of a yutz and gets stuck with dialogue that seems to have been purchased from a discount Nathan Drake store. It’s not bad but it’s not overly good which is a shame as the plot of the game does have a few interesting twists and turns. It’s not the most original thing out there but it wasn’t as predictable as I expected it to be.
Outside of the single player campaign is the co-op Infestation mode where you and three friends take on ever increasing groups of enemies and the competitive Ruin mode where you attempt to cause as much damage as possible within a time limit. Your score is then compared to others using leaderboards. I played the Ruin mode for about 15 minutes before getting a bit tired of it and moving on and I didn’t get a chance to play the Infestation mode with anyone as the game hasn’t been released yet but playing through a few rounds by myself was fun and I could see the game being enjoyable if played with friends.
I’m still a bit baffled as to why Ruin mode wasn’t turned into more of a party game. It’s something that’s a lot of fun to do with friends in the room as well as online and I think it’s something that even non-gamers could get into.
Because the multiplayer modes aren’t of the super competitive type the folks at Volition allow you to share your upgraded abilities between the multiplayer and single player modes. This gives you an incentive to play modes if only to earn extra upgrades for the other modes. It’s a nice twist and it does encourage you to explore all the content on the disc.
There are a few issues in the game. I ran into one bug where I fell off one of the vehicles about a third of the way into the game. I had to repeat this section a few times and was able to repeat the glitch twice. The game and I also had some disagreements about when certain mission objectives were complete and if I had repaired something significantly enough to walk over it. Nothing that was a real deal breaker but more of the things that pulled you out of the experience.,
When you die, the game also gives you the option of returning to the last checkpoint or loading a previously saved game, with the checkpoint option being the default. I kind of expected it to pick the last saved game and go from there but that’s more of a user experience issue than a defect in the game.
Going in I was a bit concerned about the conversion to a linear experience but for the most part I really didn’t notice it that much. The only times I felt the constraints of the new game where when the game made it clear that I should not be exploring the world and that I should get my ass back onto the path. This was communicated by a “return to game area” message and a timer.
Looking back at my time with RFA I have to admit that most of the memories are positive and I did enjoy the majority of the game. The amount of cool things you can do with the weapons helps gloss over some of the weaker points of the game and there are a few absolutely rip-roaring levels that I’m going to go back and play again.