|Xbox 360 Box Art|
Is there life on Mars? David Bowie posed the question thirty years ago (I’m sure others did before him, but forget them, they aren’t David Bowie), and it has been on our minds ever since. Well, I’m happy to tell you that there is indeed life on Mars, thanks to Red Faction: Armageddon, a game kept in a box on the back of which the message “There is life on Mars”. I’m not a fan of the Red Faction series (as I understand there were three games before this one), so I believed picking this up that this would give me a shot at a completely fair review of the game itself, rather than its relation to the previous games. After all, every game should be able to stand up on its own merit, regardless of what came before or after it in its series. So this is Red Faction: Armageddon, a destructive, fun romp on and beneath the surface of Mars.
To cap the story, you play Darius Mason, the latest in the Mason family, apparently viewed as some sort of line of total badasses. When the game begins, Darius McBadass is a member of Red Faction, apparently the Martian army, and they are attempting to keep an insane cult lead by a man whose one part Voldemort and one part the Prophet of Truth (with the personality of neither) from destroying the Terraformer, a device that allows the surface of Mars to be habitable. But, of course, due to the good guys not being Genre Savvy in least, the pooch is screwed and the Terraformer goes kaboom, forcing everyone on the surface to have to go underground. From there, the plot goes quickly Halo meets Dead Space when a distraught Darius takes on a mission to investigate some tunnels, thereupon releasing an ancient evil that’s been slumbering beneath the surface of the planet.
It’s funny that I mention Halo and Dead Space, because Armageddon takes a lot of cues from both of them. The third person, fixed-camera view over Darius’s meaty shoulder as he lays down the almighty Mason wrath with whatever weapon he has his hands on are reminiscent of Dead Space, with Issac Clarke’s metallic shoulder as he puts blades from his Ripper through anything stupid enough to cross his path. From Halo, we get a (not!) parasitic life form that was apparently hidden away by some previous culture for their safety and the safety of the universe as a whole, and the regenerating health gimmick where Darius needs simply get behind cover and his health recharges. And from both we get the insane cult that wants to release or recreate said terror for God only knows what reason that will never be explained in any way that’s remotely sane. But don’t worry, Armageddon doesn’t borrow everything from these two games…Darius does not wear a battle suit. I’m serious.
The latest in the Mason line reminds me very much of Riddick, with the Earth, sorry, Mars-splattered tanktop and a shaved head (though all the male characters are bald, with no explanation even attempted for this) as he lugs around four of several weapons that he can use to annihilate anyone stupid enough to cross his path in a variety of way (another thing he borrows from one of his bastard fathers, Issac Clarke). The weaponry in the game is actually pretty interesting and is one of the high points. Right off the bat, Darius is given an assault rifle and a maul. And given the mighty hammer that I had just had thrust into my hands, the first logical course of action was to smash something, so I slammed it against a nearby building and was surprised when the wall I’d just hit came tumbling down. I was ecstatic as this continued, ignoring my support character trying to tell me to get on with the mission, and throughout the game enjoyed as my arsenal tore through enemies and the terrain alike.
Besides Mjolnir, other wonderful weapons available are the shotgun (always a crowd pleaser), a gun that can flip off gravity to send an object careening into a nearby wall or another object, a gun that can dissolve all but the biggest enemies, and a gun that creates black holes. And now my critique of this game is going to become nearly impossible due to every criticism being countered with “But it’s got a gun that shoots black hole”. There’s also the rocket launcher which, without wishing to spoil, you’ll need for the final boss fight. And you’re welcome, by the way. Each of these weapons presents a unique and lovely way to crush your enemies and see them driven before you, though ironically the hammer is not the best tool for this job. Unlike Dead Space, where every weapon had two attack modes, only the hammer is given two attacks, a horizontal swing and a vertical swing. This would be really excellent if enemies were ever within your striking distance and they almost never are. Most enemies will jump around you like bullies teasing the class outcast in the schoolyard, requiring the use of heavy ordinance to set them right.
You might be wondering about how combat works by this point and if you’re not, start doing so. As said before, you control Darius from a fixed-camera, over the shoulder third person perspective, so you can really never see anything to the left or to the right as you’re moving along. This adds to the challenge when enemies attack from angles. For varieties of enemies, first you have the small ones that can take maybe a shot before they collapse into piles of quivering bloody flesh bits. The second tier that are hardier and in two varieties that can send fireballs and lightning up your ass, respectively. A third tier of the Alien Black Ops who can disappear and reappear almost at will and have a sound not dissimilar to the Predator click whilst invisible, as if they’re mocking you for not being able to see them. And finally a fourth tier of gargantuan baddies that need twice as many bullets as you have to take them out whilst they’re charging you and knocking you down as they spray acid that will surely melt you if you can’t roll away.
Now you’re asking “Madcap, so how do you hand these enemies? What unique strategies can we glean from your divinely inspired wisdom to destroy these alien menaces?” My response is as follows, hold down attack until everything in the room is much deader than you are. This is a shooter, after all, there is no strategy beyond “keep shooting”, which is one of the things that the game does very well (as I mentioned) with its coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs arsenal. You move Darius from point to point throughout the levels, a few of which look oddly familiar compared to things I’ve seen on Earth during, say…the Covenant Invasion or even on the Ishimura if it had been grounded on some rocky, red dust planet.
I’ll stop bringing up the bizarre parentage of Armageddon now, but let me explain it this way. If the gameplay mechanics were the result of Daddy Issac, then the levels were coming from Mama Master Chief’s side of the family (You will never get that mental image out of you head now, you’re welcome!). I’m aware that other forms of media have done the “spaceship overtaken by a terrible alien menace” plenty of times, but those two stick out most glaringly in my mind as influences. Well, it’s more outright copies from Halo 3 as far as the level aesthetics go, specifically the level in the heart of the alien hive, which looks oddly similar to the Flood-overtaken High Charity level. Another cue it takes from Halo is the vehicles, but then in that series, vehicles were used often enough that you had needed to remember how to operate them. In Armageddon, you’re given three vehicles, an exoskeleton suit, a tank-sized exoskeleton suit, and a flying exoskeleton suit. The first is used for two seconds and the other two are used only once, and granted each are for lengthy sections, but why don’t we get to use them more? The aerial one in particular was really fun to fly in and I would have loved to see some aerial combat. But alas, it was all for not, and I spent the whole time in the flyer reenacting the run into the core of the Death Star from Return of the Jedi whilst trying not to blow myself up. This, just so you know, I didn’t find enjoyable…largely because I’m not Billy Dee Williams.
|Darius making use of the Nano-Forge|
The atmosphere is kind of touch and go, Armageddon seems to be having a hard time deciding whether it wants to be a shooter or a survival horror game. One of the first levels before the first creature is glimpsed, we’re given a shadow on the wall that is only there for a brief second, giving me a sense of “Hey, what was that?” Of course, this was wrecked immediately when what I thought was building up tension for the appearance of the monster ended when I turned a corner and was greeted by it. It was startling but then I remembered that I had an assault rifle and it wasn’t bulletproof, and then it was a case of “and so much for that”. Then, later on at points, the game attempts to give the survival horror feel by forcing Darius down dark corridors with only a flashlight that apparently is a mini strapped to whatever gun he happens to be holding. This, to a degree, lets the enemies sneak around you and jump out at you in scary ways. Then you remember you gun that can dissolve their flesh and so, once again, “so much for that”.
Getting back to enemies, as I said before the best strategy is keep shooting because you aren’t given too much choice. Enemies will swarm you mercilessly, even on normal difficulty. Personally, I died more times than I could count and that was trying every sort of thing strategy that I could come up with. So, finally, the brute force method won out and I redecorated all the linear levels of Mars with new wallpaper that just looked cheerful in a Hannibal Lector sort of way. The game does help with this, as a button press will allow Darius to auto-aim at the nearest target, though how one enemy is “next” in comparison to another is left completely up to your imagination, it seems. Some enemy support are monoliths, which glow green and make all the enemies in the area around it glow green, which makes them harder to kill, and large tentacles that enforce the need for Rule 34 for the fan art community and throw the debris and objects around.
Which reminds me to segue seamlessly into another gameplay mechanic I callously forgot to mention earlier, and that’s the Nano-Forge. Remember a few paragraphs back when I mentioned the destructible environments? Well let’s say you “accidentally” take out a staircase in a battle that you need to run up and pull the switch that will open up the next area. The Nano-Forge uses nanobots to repair that staircase like new, and anything else that you can destroy (with Science!). This becomes an abundantly useful mechanic, considering half the missions that require Darius to destroy something are matched by the other half that consist of putting things back together. And along with the Nano-Forge comes SAM, Darius’s onboard Cortana clone. I know I wouldn’t bring up the similiarities between this and Halo/Dead Space again, but this can’t be avoided. SAM is an AI who serves a combat awareness program for Darius. Throughout the game, she provides Darius with information about upcoming waves of enemies, points out alternate routes he will inevitably have to take when the developers thought that players would realize that the game was linear, and wins an Oscar for “Most Bland Support Character Ever”.
I liken SAM to Cortana, because they effectively serve the same function. The only differences being that Cortana actually had something resembling a personality and occasionally knew when to shut up. SAM on the other hand has a bland personality that Darius tries to say is “snarky” and will not ever shut up about your quest objectives. Especially later in the game when Darius is heroically fighting through wave after wave of bloodthirsty terrors, and SAM is chiding him to complete his mission objectives like a disinterested mother telling her child to go brush his teeth and when Darius told her at one point to stow it, I gained all the adoration that I hadn't had before for the character. Then again, this could be applied to most of the supporting cast. “Kara”, Darius’ love interest, is the generic badass action girl. But unlike Darius she’s somewhat greedy, impulsive, and not really caring to keep up with commitments which considering the personality that Darius seems to have, makes me wonder why the two of them are anything resembling a couple.
Other than SAM and the brunette cleavage, all we’re given for support characters is Dillion from Predator, and he’s more tolerable in that he’s there for the purpose of filling in ranks of the Red Faction marines and at least seems to be having a little bit of fun with what he’s doing. And even that is more than I can say for Darius. He is sarcastic about everything, even when the situation doesn’t call for it (yes, I’m the pot calling the kettle black, shut up!), and almost nothing about him strikes me as this mighty, heroic figure. Even when doing things that are heroic, like deciding to forgo SAM’s advice to warn a nearby group about the oncoming creatures or taking on missions single-handedly despite being told that its suicide, it doesn’t strike me that he’s really all there, even when his own life is on the line. It’s almost as if he couldn’t care less.
Getting away from the nonsense, there is an upgrade system within the game that works thusly: Darius collects Salvage (the currency of Mars) by breaking through terrain to find hidden areas holding it as well key structures, and indeed just lying about. Regardless of tier, each upgrade only requires 1,000 Salvage, though some require upgrades from the previous tier in order to be bought. However, Salvage is plentiful enough and you can actually get by with very few upgrades. I got all the health upgrades and increased the damage of my guns and that was it, really, and that got me through the game easily…picking things out of my carcass as I retried again and again. But the thing is, if I can get through the levels without all the upgrades, then why do I need to go through the trouble of getting them? In the end, all I would have is all the upgrades and a steaming pile of Salvage that would just keep building up and building up with nothing to do with it, and affluence when you can do nothing with it is pointless to no end.
In the end, the story is mixing the first three Halo games and Dead Space, but you didn’t come here for the story, right? Nobody cares about shooters with a story! No, you’re all about the multiplayer, aren’t you? Now as my stomach convulsed at the thought of trying multiplayer, I managed to contain the problem with several lovely dry heaves and tried to load it up, whereupon I was rewarded by not having an Xbox Live Gold account. Thanking Odin for my miserly ways, I scrolled over to “Ruin Mode”, which apparently needs to be paid for to be unlocked. Luckily, however, I got a code to get it for free since I bought the game just post-launch. And when I unlocked it, a wonderland opened to me. Granted weapons of mass destruction, it seemed that I had only one objective: “Burn everything, burn it to the ground!” Well, in this case, it was more of a dissolve, smash, pulverize, and eviscerate it to the ground. Given an entire map of buildings to just tear apart for points, I went crazy! Then a minute later I had to stop because time had run out and I was scored accordingly. Not that I mind this (this is sort of the point), but I’d barely had enough time to destroy anything. If you’re going to give me an environment to wreck, don’t give me a time limit and don’t score me. I’d be perfectly happy with it then, because honestly the best part of this game is breaking things, thanks to the Geomod engine, which is an absolute joy.
So, in a nutshell, that’s Red Faction: Armageddon. A game that has a lot of things that I like, but is muddled up with a few minor issues. But as I said earlier, I’m inclined to be nice to it because it has a gun that generates black holes, and as I stated earlier in this review, it is nearly impossible to give proper criticism for something that puts a gun that generates black holes into my hands and invites me to go nuts on anything and everything that comes into my line of sight. But the thing is, the things it tries to do combat and atmosphere wise have already been done better by Halo and Dead Space. It’s not bad, it’s just…bland. It does very little unique things and went it does, they’re boring and needless. But in the end, it’s fun and beating the main story allows you to unlock the mode where you keep your weapons and upgrades from the previous game and so…I have some more buildings to destroy. See you all next week!
Red Faction: Armageddon is available for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Microsoft Windows now wherever games are sold.
Red Faction: Armageddon is available for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Microsoft Windows now wherever games are sold.