As I entered the dark function room to preview Volition Inc’s latest, an impressive array of firearms arrested my attentions: Handguns, side-arms, assault rifles, shotguns, light machine guns and sniper rifles. All distressingly lifelike, all replicas (hopefully…)
Bang went any expectations that this Red Faction might address the socio-political turmoil of a starving Martian society driven underground. Any suspicion that this title might tackle the myriad issues of joining a widely vilified insurgency fizzled out right sharpish.
A table full of guns: Red Faction Armageddon was obviously going to have one overarching theme. And it probably wasn’t diplomatic discourse.
The extended preview begins a few hours into the campaign. An inconvenient ‘Terraformer’ malfunction has driven the settlers underground. Food and water are in short supply. Some ancient menace has been released. Understandably, everyone is having a hissyfit.
Apart from you; Darius Mason, bald grandchild to Alec Mason (Guerrilla’s protagonist), and proud inheritor of the nano-forge: a very important, very shiny Martian artefact that empowers you with some funky new mojo!
Darius rarely encounters a structure which doesnt topple around him.
Despite frightened civilians roaring at me to get a move on and escort them to safety, the nano-forge demanded a test drive. Darius can encase himself within a protective bubble, produce a shockwave, rendering nearby foes immobile, vulnerable and floating. He can even buff his strength, resilience and (inexplicably) the striking force of his bullets.
Also he can chuck miniature hurricanes with his fist. A couple of those and a nearby settlement collapsed around my ankles. Naturally, I blushed with embarrassment. What kind of a savoir was I? If only I could do something to right my wrongs, to correct my missteps.
Incidentally, there was. I pulled the right trigger. And quite considerately, the environment, smashed and demolished though it was, restored itself to its once proud splendour.
Apparently in Armageddon one can giveth, as well as taketh away!
What one cannot
do is enjoy the vibrant, colourful, exciting open world of 2009’s sandbox sci-fi adventure. Armageddon replaces its map for cavernous corridors and a linear approach. It’s all about personal preference here, and while I understand a linear approach can bolster narrative, I sometimes like to wander aimlessly mid-mission, take in the scenery. Lackadaisical gaming I call it.
Sadly, to compound minor frustration, there were three honking great big vehicles adjacent; wheeled, metal beasts I was decidedly unable to pilot. Apparently auld poppa Mason wasn’t good enough to pass the fine art of ‘driving’ down through the generations. Selfish git.
So I begin the escort, on foot, like a chump. “What is this the dark ages?”
Then I tried the Magnet-Gun. All was forgiven. Firstly, affix a magnet to something you want to shift eg. a gigantic stalagmite. Second you attach an opposition magnet to something you want to obliterate, for example, a jerk! Do so and the Martian underground gets renovated while your foes get crushed beneath mountains of hurtling detritus.
I had other guns too: Plasma weapons, laser beams, mine launchers. They probably got the job done, but all I needed was that Magnet-Gun. It’s a game changer. Think the Portal gun – only nasty.
Even an armoured combat mech, replete with canons, heat seeking missiles and a planet cracking right shoulder barge, played second fiddle.
Why shoot a crawling beastie in the face with a rocket when you can just club it with a house?!
Performing my civic duty, the ‘repair’ function quickly righted the devastation. This ability, however, has benefits beyond simply resupplying hefty fodder for your magnet gun. Darius rebuilds bridges, staircases, waypoints and machinery. Numerous mission objectives revolve around construction and rejuvenation over Volition’s characteristic desolation. It’s a refreshing change of pace.
Lastly, though Volition Inc are expanding Red Faction’s repertoire with a new focus on action and an ambitious new construction mechanic, it should be noted chatty protagonist Darius is actually extremely likeable. And this goes a long way when gorging on hours of non-stop masonry crashing to the ground or miraculously rising skyward.
Unlike the stoic, grunting Master Chief or Marcus Phoenix, Armageddon’s cheeky little blighter quips his way through scenarios, lightening the mood with an off kilter remark or panicking like a little girl when enormous alien juggernauts charge him with ill intent.
Although the freedom of Guerrilla’s open, sandbox Mars is sorely missed, Armageddon is likely to be arguably the summer’s most refreshing release. Not over-encumbered by its own sense of pomp and gravity, Red Faction Armageddon offers an interesting slant on standard gunplay, a host of gleefully destructive weaponry, a charming sense of genre irreverence, and a potentially fascinating plot.
Red Faction Armageddon is released for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC on May 31st. I’d envisage there are worse ways to ring in the summer.