Maybe it's the goggles or maybe it's the cape, but Darius Mason just doesn't look like a terribly intimidating fellow. Of course, first impressions aren't always reliable, and that's especially true for the hero of Red Faction: Armageddon. The truth is that Mason is a one-man wrecking ball. As one of the last hopes for humanity on Mars, Mason has been tasked with ridding the red planet of everything from crazed cultists to glowing aliens. With a ludicrous arsenal of sci-fi weaponry and a lust for destruction, he seems perfectly capable of fulfilling that obligation. Even with that whole cape-and-goggles thing going on.
If Mason's name sounds familiar, there's a good reason for it. He's the grandson of Red Faction: Guerrilla protagonist Alec Mason, the man who ran around Mars putting an end to the tyrannical regime of the Earth Defense Force. Guerrilla was a hit with critics, but one thing about it didn't sit quite right with developer Volition, and that was all of the long-haul travel you had to do to get from one mission to the next in the game's open-world Martian setting. So for Armageddon, Volition has developed a story that takes you away from the barren surface of Mars and down into the caves below.
Essentially, the team has traded go-anywhere gameplay for a more controlled atmosphere and improved sense of pacing. This is a change that's likely to raise more than a few eyebrows, and with good reason--those sandbox moments in Guerrilla where you could really let your imagination run wild were some of the best parts of the game. Anyone who has ever covered a bridge in satchel charges, waited around for five minutes, and then detonated the thing just as a caravan of EDF trucks drove over ought to know that quite well. But after playing a few missions in Armageddon, most of our thoughts about the changes to the overall game structure were replaced with rampant glee as we destroyed everything in sight with some fantastic new weaponry.
Red Faction: Armageddon isn't so much of a third-person shooter as it is a third-person demolisher, as most of the game's weapons work hand in hand with a robust physics engine to topple down buildings in realistic detail. Our favorite weapon was easily the magnet gun. With this thing, you fire one shot at an object, fire a second shot at a target, and watch as the object flies violently toward the target. You can use it to yank down a giant smokestack onto a smaller building and cause a chain reaction of destruction, but the real fun lies in tormenting enemies.
In one mission, we had to deal with a swarm of Ravagers, who are a race of insectoid aliens with a habit of leaping out of dark corners and holes high above you. So what do you do to take care of these guys? Well, you can fling an explosive barrel at a group of them with the magnet gun; violently pull a distant one right in front and clobber it with a melee attack; or simply taunt them by throwing their dead buddies at them. Maybe we enjoyed this Ravager fight so much because of how tense this part of the game was, what with all of the shadows and faintly illuminated enemies. Being able to toy with them as retribution was a blast.
Another gun we enjoyed using was the plasma beam. Using this is more or less like running a hot knife through butter: it simply cuts a straight line through anything you aim it toward, instantly carving through buildings, walls, or people. What's a good scenario for using this gun? If a group of enemies are shooting from the second floor of a building, then simply slice away the ground floor and bring them toppling down to your level (ideally followed by prompt hammer smashes to the face). There's also the singularity cannon, which fires a terrifying purple pulse that then sucks in everything nearby and finishes off with an even bigger explosion. What is the suggested scenario for using this gun? Anytime you want to make an enemy soil his pants.
This only scratches the surface of the bizarre mayhem we caused using Armageddon's new weaponry. Even with the open-world sandbox a thing of Red Faction's past, the idea of getting creative with your tools of destruction is still very much a central part of Armageddon. But there was one noticeable drawback to the more linear progression through the story; you may not even realize that the critical path through a level often butts heads with your penchant for destruction, as mission-critical ramps, ladders, and platforms often get destroyed. Fortunately, the game gives you an item called the nano-forge to repair fallen structures, but in our experience, we spent a lot more time than we'd prefer simply fixing ladders to get to the next checkpoint. This was less of an issue in the more freeform Guerrilla, and it seems like it might be a fairly niggling concern in Armageddon. Then again, perhaps we just went a little too wild with those new weapons. But can you really blame us?
Overall, though, we had a great time with Red Faction: Armageddon. Whether it was fighting those Ravagers in a dark, gloomy cave that felt like it came straight out of a survival horror game or jumping into the armored L.E.O. exoskeleton and smashing through walls like a violent, stumbling robot, we enjoyed every bit of mayhem we caused in Armageddon. Expect to see it out on May 17.