Friday, 14 December 2012

Review: Red Faction Armageddon (PC)

A slightly older game than my usual list of more recent reviews but I got this in the Humble THQ bundle for a $1 so I can't complain.  My history with Red faction is spotty at best really, I played the original PS2 game and found the destruction physics to be a little lacking but definitely something that could be improved on in the future.  Red Faction I believe was the first game to try anything like this on a scale where destruction isn't pre-scripted and more random based on the weapons used and area hit.

I never played Red Faction 2 so the story going into guerrilla was a little vague since it assumed you had some prior knowledge of the games storyline.  Guerrilla though was a game I thought was the future of the series.  It made sense since Volition where pretty big on making open world games with Saints Row and the idea of destroying a large open world environment was pretty sweet.  I still boot up Guerrilla every now and then just to have fun smashing through buildings in trucks from high jumps.

The Nano Forge works well when the level design needs it
Red Faction Armageddon though goes back to it's roots as a linear shooter with destruction physics.  I don't know what influenced this decision, possibly the hype from Dead Space and it's monster corridor shooting and claustrophobic environments or possibly budget issues I don't know, but what I do know is that Armageddon was a big step backwards.  I think many people expected them to roll out a bigger and more improved edition of Guerrilla since Saints row the third was a massive hit, but alas they decided to go down this route.

The game is still set on Mars nearly a generation or so after  Guerrilla with you playing a new member of the Mason family line, this time as the shaven headed moron Darius.  Darius is a member of the red faction, the name for the free martian military, as they attempt to prevent the destruction of the planets one and only terraformer.  A mad bastard by the name of Adam Hale has rounded up an army of deluded psychopaths and attacked the terraformer for some....reason that isn't really explained.  Anyway the Terraformer is destroyed despite Mason's best efforts and the entirety of Mar's human population are forced underground because clearly there is more oxygen down there. 

This is where things got a little weird for me.  How are they still breathing?  Do they have micro-terraformers for underground or was there enough oxygen in the atmosphere without the terraformer now?  Despite this the only negative thing to come of the terraformers destruction is the storms that now cover the planet.  The story picks up 5 years later and Darius is now a gun for hire or something it's never explained.  He gets sent on a job by some archaeologists to open a ominous looking pit which ends up freeing a planets worth of horrendous monsters.

This is where the game becomes a monster shooter.  The majority of the time you will be wandering around corridors shooting mutant bug creatures with a variety of varied weapons.  The geo-mod tech from previous games returns with a few more tweaks but sadly it doesn't get the same treatment as it did in Guerrilla.  Most rooms that allow for destruction are very limited and the opportunity to create alternate routes or paths is pretty much negated due to the subterranean setting of the game.

Armageddon is a third person shooter then with monsters and not particularly interesting or threatening ones really.  Most are annoying things that hop around the level sticking to rocks and shooting barbs at you, or are hulking beasts which prefer to throw exploding goo or charge you.  Each monster is colour coded for easy identification also, so the first monsters you meet are yellow, then red, blue, green and orange and wish I was making this up, but I'm not.  Every monster is ridiculous looking as well and once you get there pattern down they die very easily. 

This device can end it all, but only when the plot decides it can
The game is cheap when it comes to the monsters.  Volition must have known through testing that the best tactic is to stick to a wall and just wait for the monsters to pop out to be shot, so they created infinite spawning pods so you have to move around the level to stop the mobs from spawning.  The only reason you will die on higher difficulty settings is because the game will throw so many mobs at you, that it is impossible not to be hit, otherwise it becomes a chore to root out the pods and destroy them, before moving onto mopping up the remaining gribbly's.

I am making it sound all bad, but really it's just generic and monotonous gameplay.  The shooting is functional and some of the weapons are great to use such as the black hole gun which sucks everything in then explodes, but it just feels like this would have been more enjoyable against human opponents instead of the alien teletubbies.  The atmosphere is also killed every single time Mason opens his mouth because he has a single emotional setting which is "smug".  Regardless of him seeing a small settlements worth of people horribly ripped apart or being confronted with a monstrous tentacle creature he simply acts the same way.  It doesn't help that the script seems to have been written by the saints row team, who may or may not have been aware of the games tone when writing it, because everything comes off as a cheap sci-fi script for early afternoon viewers.

There is some fun to be had with the geo-mod system as you cause bridges to fall apart to kill monsters when they aren't sticking to the walls or ceilings, and being able to stomp around in a set of powered armour is pretty sweet, especially when it has infinite ammo and enough firepower to level an entire skyscraper.  Sadly because of the level design the suit never gets to be used as much and when you do get it your playtime with it is short.

There is a semi-roleplaying element in the sense that you collect resources to upgrade Darius in a number of ways.  Some of these are mandatory upgrades like increased weapon damage and health increases, while others are more for a laugh like being able to force blast foes further away or generating a shield for a brief time.  It's just another checklist feature that wouldn't really be missed if it was absent from the game. 

The monsters look as generica and threatening as Tyranids do
On a few rare occasions the gameplay will alter from dark underground levels to surface levels with human enemies although these are relatively short and spread too far apart from each other, although these are the highlight segments of the title as they involve more tactics and strategic use of Mason's arsenal.  A few on rails vehicle sections add a little more interest but swapping from corridor shooting to rail shooting is more a sidestep then a step forward for the game.

The most dumbfounding part of the this game though is the ending to the story which frankly pissed me off with how idiotic the writing was.  Around the late game stage, probably two thirds of the way in, you are informed by Mason's handy dandy nano-forge unit that these creatures are killed by pure oxygen.  Now first you have to wonder what it is the characters are breathing to begin with since the terraformer was destroyed half a decade ago, but the real clunker is this.  All Mason had to do was repair the terraformer and the creatures would all die.  Yes all of the deaths of the innocent people could have been avoided if the military had simply repaired the terraformer.  To make things even more jaw droppingly stupid is that Mason repairs the terraformer by himself with the aid of the nano forge within 30 minutes.  Yes simply repairing a few broken sections of the main machinery would have been enough to generate clean air again so the entirety of the Mars population could live on the planets surface.

Power armour section are the most fun in the game
Why in the hell did the military (which are aware of Mason's repair gadget) not just simply secure the terraformer post destruction and have Mason repair the bloody thing to begin with is beyond me.  Instead this important and rather simple idea is ignored so we can be led around hours of boring underground corridors and rock formations sprinkled with monsters which look atrocious and AI that leaves something to be desired.  I know plot isn't every games strong suit but since Armageddon makes a point of rolling out hours of monotonous dialogue and cheesy one liners, you would think they would have tightened the story up a little more.

Graphically the game looks nice it's just a pity that the aesthetic and atmosphere to the levels are ruined by neon coloured monsters which are there simply to cash in on the sci-fi monster gaming fad.  Characters and monsters are generally high quality and the environments look good for rock faces and ramshackle buildings as you can get.  The surface levels look more interesting if only because orange is a nice change from black as a background colour.

As mentioned earlier the dialogue is terrible and it is.  The script is awful and actors deliver every line like it's some kind of made for TV action series.  The story lacks any gravitas considering the amount of death that is going on in this game.  The sounds are pretty sharp and some of the weapons really thud with power, while the monsters on the other hand make very little noise other than hissing, chirping or screeching which all get old fast.

Overall Red Faction Armageddon is a very generic shooter which is functional and not exactly bad to play, it's relatively stable and never once crashed during play so if you do get it you won't have to worry about CTD's or lockups.  I only hope that if and when Volition embark on their next Red Faction title they go back to the open world style and tap into the same gameplay that made saints row and Guerrilla really enjoyable.

SCORE: 4.0/10


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