There is life on Mars. We knew this already though – Alec Mason ensured that life could persist by helping a group of colonists and the Red Faction overthrow the Earth Defense Force. Swinging a compliment of weapons and a very impressive maul, Alec Mason eventually retrieves a Nano Forge weapon from a desert-dwelling group called the Marauders. This weapon is used to help end the war between the Red Faction and the EDF, but it is only with the help of the Marauders and their technology. With the EDF crushed, Mars was liberated leaving the planet to thrive under the stewardship of the colonists and the Red Faction….but that was a long time ago.
50 years after the liberation, things on Mars have drastically changed. Unfortunately a Terraformer on Mars has been destroyed and by some familiar friends and a new group called The Cultists. They want to see the world burn, and they are willing to make the surface of Mars uninhabitable to do it. With the Terraformer destroyed, the entire population has been driven underground – there is no longer life on Mars, but in it instead. With 10 years passing since the destruction of the Terraformer, Darius Mason, grandson of Alec and Samanya (“Sam” from the last game), finds himself working as a freelancer miner and salvager. Taking an ill-fated digging job in an old Marauder temple, Darius accidentally releases a horrible plague of vicious creatures into the underground caves leading to the last underground settlement, Bastion. As the creatures run rampant through the underground and onto the surface of the planet, it once against falls to the Mason family to “put the cork back in the bottle” and stop this new threat against Mars.
Break it, fix it, break it, fix it!
Red Faction: Guerrilla featured some pretty fantastic advancements in the Geomod technology – you could destroy every building in the game almost down to the ground. The open world allowed you to pick and choose your missions with the storyline unlocking as you completed these free-form objectives. Red Faction Armageddon goes a different direction eschewing the open world for a more focused linear storyline. It also takes a very different approach to destruction of the environment by now allowing you to repair it. It is a welcome sight as I can readily recall being unable to complete certain missions in Guerrilla because my overzealous assault had broken flimsy stairs leading to my objective. This opens a completely new gameplay dynamic as you can lead enemies onto a precarious perch only to drop them into the cavern below. With the enemies dispatched, you can simply use your Nano Forge abilities to repair the bridge, granting you safe passage. Unlike earlier Red Faction titles, you still cannot damage the environment, but every structure above and below ground can be completely destroyed and completely repaired.
All hail the new king of weapons
Red Faction Armageddon features quite a few weapons, each more deadly than the last. Just like in Guerrilla, you can store these weapons and swap them out at will. There are shooter standards such as pistols akimbo, machineguns, shotguns, but there are plenty of more unique weapons like Arc Welders, Plasma Cannons, Singularity Cannons, Nano Rifles, and the mighty Magnet Gun. If you read my preview, you know how much I enjoyed my time with the Magnet Gun. Having spent a great deal more time with the final game, I can tell you that the Magnet Gun is my absolute new favorite weapon. The Plasma Cannon will fire a bolt that continues through targets until it meets the environment (keep that in mind for Ruin Mode), whereas the Singularity Cannon will unleash a small black hole similar to the grenades in Guerrilla. The Nano rifle “derezzes” the target, ripping them into small tiles as they disintegrate. The Magnet Gun is a simpler and more elegant weapon – it uses no ammunition, instead firing a primary and secondary magnet that inexorably attract to one another. This can be used on almost everything in the game – you can attract the bottom of a building to the top, flinging it into the sky and then falling to the ground. It can be used to pull crystals into a group of enemies. It can be used to attract one enemy to another, smashing them into a satisfying puddle of goo if given enough distance to build up speed. Even large enemies can be picked up and lobbed from here to eternity with a good enough aim. Put simply, I could play nearly the entire game using the Magnet Gun – it’s just that damned fun.
Speaking of guilty pleasures, one of the fun things in Guerrilla was running around and hijacking all of the various vehicles in the game. Fast moving buggies would carry you through the dusty red planet. Armageddon has you spending more than half the game underground, so you won’t be given the same opportunity to stretch your legs. Instead, Armageddon offers up some very powerful but slow moving weapons to sate your vehicle lust. Exosuits with machineguns and rockets, heavy walkers that look like mechanized spiders slinging missiles and lasers, and even a flying vehicle or two to pilot will keep you busy towards the end of the game. These vehicles are often so overpowered that you’ll feel like a kid with a magnifying glass taking on scattered ants on the sidewalk. It’s a satisfying break from the ground work you’ll do to get to that point.
Friends in low (and dark) places
You won’t be taking on the threats of Armageddon alone; you’ll be joined by a few old friends. Kara is a slick salvage trader who gets by on Mars by her wits and will alone. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Frank Winters – a Red Faction soldier and old friend of Mason. You’ll encounter many other characters along the way, but the two, Mason, and a character I won’t spoil comprise the bulk of your encounters. The voice work provided by Steven Snyder, Valerie Arem, Karen Strassman and others are solid throughout – there are even a few honest-to-goodness laugh out loud moments in the game.
One of the issues with Guerrilla was the fast that the red planet felt somewhat lifeless and a little empty at times. With a more focused storyline and the dropping of the open world concept, Volition was able to put quite a bit more graphical fidelity into the game. Characters in and out of cutscenes have an impressive level of detail in their models, with even greater building density being possible in this title. The results are a far more detailed world, even though half of it takes place underground.
Build a better Nano Forge
Red Faction Armageddon features a similar salvage system to the previous game. Destroying the environment (and with the right upgrades, even killing enemies) will yield salvage that can be used to upgrade skills and abilities. Some of these are simple, such as granting additional health or larger weapon clips. Others fuel the incredible weaponized powers of the Nano Forge.
The Nano Forge has four abilities beyond the repair functions I mentioned earlier, namely Impact, Shockwave, Shell, and Berserk. Impact comes to you early in the game, giving players the ability to shove their enemies backwards with a great deal of force. The force isn’t quite enough to kill enemies, but giving them a forceful shove into the environment can often do the job. Later on you’ll gain access to Shockwave. Though it sounds like it’d do the same thing that Impact does, it actually suspends enemies mid-air which gives Mason time to rip them apart. Berserk gives Darius a boost, allowing him to do additional damage with his weapons while emitting an energy pulse that causes an area of effect damage. Shell offers a large bubble around Mason which reflects projectiles. All of these skills were to be used for mining, but they come in very handy in a combat.
Ruin and Infestation
Ruin mode is the equivalent of playing a game of HORSE, but with sticks of dynamite. In Ruin you are given a ‘par’ score to hit, your choice of weapons, and a time limit. Your objective is simple – cause as much damage as fast as you can for as long as you can until time runs out – the highest score is the winner. Keeping the damage going grants bonuses up to double, so figuring out the best way to tackle a level setpiece is an ongoing process. There are a handful of levels, all culled from the singleplayer game, and you are granted access to the most powerful weapons in the game, but getting past par is the easy part. Ruin mode is linked to an online Leaderboard, and while par on the first level may only be a few million, you’ll need to clear 20 million to find your way to the top. At the event earlier this year I managed to hit 21 million – it can be done. Getting high scores and beating par will unlock other weapons for you to use, as well as unlocking additional maps. This mode is very relaxing after a long day at work.
For those wondering about THQ’s more recent business moves, it holds here as well – Ruin Mode will require an additional purchase if you pick up this game used.
Infestation mode will very quickly feel familiar – it is essentially Horde mode from the Gears of War series. You have four characters pulled from single player that progress through ever-increasing groups of enemies that gradually increase in strength. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as access to just one Nano Forge ability. It’s here that the Nano Forge really shines as you can mix and match them into interesting combinations. Shell and Shockwave suspends enemies inside the destructive blanket of Nano machines, ripping them apart rather quickly. Shell and Revive protects players as they bring back downed friendlies. Impact and Shell is just flat out mean as you bulldoze enemies into the destructive confines of the sphere.
There are a total of 8 levels in Infestation mode, split between Defend and Survive. Defend asks players to hold an objective while their friends accomplish sub-objectives. Survive is as simple as it sounds – stay alive for as long as possible. In a move that seems to be happening more often lately, salvage you gain in the single player game (as well as upgrades) are shared when you head into multiplayer. This can mean a great leg-up as you start with various skills, but not everything is unlocked from the start. To ensure that people that have beaten the game don’t simply walk through this mode, the upgrades are gated to Wave 7, Wave 14, and Wave 22. This can give you additional weapons (they are limited by character to start) and Nano Forge skills necessary to get through the more harrowing latter Waves. There are a total of 30 Waves to tackle, and cooperation absolutely necessary to get anywhere near that far.
Get your ass (back) to Mars
Red Faction Armageddon is a step in the right direction – heavily focused on storyline, and easily cresting over a dozen hours of well-written gameplay to tackle is a far better experience than the open world of Guerrilla. Toss in the far-more-fun-than-it-should-be Ruin mode and the 4 player cooperative Infestation mode and you have a game with some legs. Look over my review of Guerrilla – there is a reason why Armageddon is scoring so much higher. All of those reasons add up to a solid product worthy of your cash.