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Red Faction: Armageddon (Xbox 360) artwork

Red Faction: Armageddon (Xbox 360) review

"Red Faction: Armageddon gives us the Magnet Gun, which may be the most fun Iíve had with any one weapon since I first took a tour of Ravenholm with the Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator in hand."

Is it flimsy evidence to cite a single weapon as being my entire reason for enjoying a game? I donít think so. There are multitude of reasons for Half-Life 2 being as highly regarded as it is (to the point that Iíve reviewed it on three separate occasions and I still canít adequately convey why I love it so much), but if any fan were asked to pinpoint one thing that absolutely sold them on the game, Iíll bet four times out of five youíd be given one simple answer: the Gravity Gun. Only a few chapters in and Valve completely evolved gunplay beyond basic pointing-and-shooting, morphing it into a nonstop physics puzzle as you scour your surroundings for the best possible makeshift weapons. Other developers, from 2K to Visceral, have implemented similar mechanics into their own games, but all have failed to replicate the open-ended glee we experienced when Alyx Vance first put the Gravity Gun in our hands.

Until now, of course. Nearly seven years later, Red Faction: Armageddon gives us the Magnet Gun, which may be the most fun Iíve had with any one weapon since I first took a tour of Ravenholm with the Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator in hand.

This is my first foray into the Red Faction universe. I understand that the seriesí draw has always been the destructibility of its levels, but Iím not sure how thoroughly the series has explored the concept of using the environment as a weapon. The Magnet Gun is all about that. Hereís how it works. You fire at one target, then you fire at another, and then the first object flies at shearing velocity toward the second. Itís a fun concept that, when paired with Red Factionís emphasis on wanton demolition, introduces a brilliant mechanic. Bring a radio tower down on top of an enemy, or pull a bridge out from under his feet. Rip crystals off the walls; rip tiles off the floor. Slam one foe into another, or smear one across the ceiling. Is a tentacle throwing debris at you? Fling it right back! I am told that this is the Magnet Gunís debut, and it works so well in this context that I canít believe no one thought of it before.

Red Faction: Armageddon asset

And itís exactly the boost of energy that Armageddon needs to propel itself beyond the checklist of contemporary action game clichťs that it otherwise so rigidly abides by: brown-and-grey corridors, sticky alien infestation, audio logs, upgrade stations, vehicle sections, on-rails turret sequences, the whole shebang. All it needs is a cover system and Armageddon is the walking embodiment of every shooter released in the last four years. Without this one weapon, the game would not be worth your time. But the Magnet Gun makes it work.

I mentioned an alien infestation. This plays heavily into the gameís plot, which I can describe most charitably as ďinoffensive.Ē Armageddon is set on Mars after the destruction of a terraformer has forced civilization underground, where all of the men shave their heads and wear goggles and, yeah, pretty much look exactly like Riddick. One of the Riddicks, a guy named Darius Mason, is tricked into entering an ancient temple with some mining equipment (read: MAGNET GUN) and unleashing a horde of icky monsters on the planet, because apparently he never got to the sixth level in the original Halo.

The twist of throwing Flood lookalikes into a Red Faction game was not met well with fans, but make no mistake: These aliens are very fun to kill. They move incredibly fast and spend a good portion of the time scaling walls, to the point that the gameís HUD has a familiar motion tracker and itís still often incredibly difficult to locate enemies. It translates to action sequences that are disorientingly vertical at times. Maybe that doesnít sound fun, but your means of disposing of the aliens is just as chaotic as the encounters themselves, with shootouts turning into whirlwinds of debris as entire levels collapse onto themselves and youíre struggling to stay alive, not just against enemy attacks, but amidst the destruction and disarray that youíre causing. Itís messy in an enjoyable way. Mason can even instantaneously rebuild structures heís torn down with a device that, like all unfathomable sci-fi technology, runs on nanites.

The gameís occasional and far more grounded confrontations against other humans are far less exciting in comparison to the more hectic alien battles, enough to make me glad that so much of the game's time is devoted to warding off the Plague, as it's called. I will say, however, that Armageddon short-changes itself a bit by being set almost entirely in claustrophobic caves. Thereís rarely any dearth of potential devastation to be caused, but the few moments spent above the surface hint at a level of open-ended destruction that the tunnels of Mars rarely duplicate. Even the gameís opening sequence Ė before you get the Magnet Gun Ė is fun for the simple reason that you can wreck an entire barracks full of soldiers with nothing but melee attacks. These dweebs are shooting at me and Iím wearing a cape and smashing stuff with a hammer! I am Thor. It is my understanding that the previous title, Guerrilla, was a sandbox game, which sounds like a great fit for this series.

Red Faction: Armageddon asset

But where the game really fails to live up to itself is during its finale, during which developer Volition fell into the common trap of believing that the only way to make a gameís ending feel climactic is to overwhelm the player. Thereís so much going on in the later levels that itís nearly impossible to use the Magnet Gun in any calculated manner, reducing Armageddon to the sort of generic gunplay it spent nearly its entirety defying. Having said that, returning to these sections as an overpowered monstrosity with New Game + is a bit of a treat. Armageddon has a gun that fires singularities, and itís got an unlockable cheat for unlimited ammo. You can see where Iím going with this.

Armageddon has no competitive multiplayer, which is a shame, because that sounds like it couldíve been cool. To my surprise, though, the gameís requisite cooperative endurance mode Ė another clichť Volition embraced Ė is quite entertaining, if only because Armageddonís brand of anything-could-come-from-anywhere mayhem translates into a rather intense multiplayer scenario compared to, say, Horde or Firefight. I went into Infestation mode expecting to only get a taste of it, but wound up pounding through a full 30 waves and willingly resorting to getting only two hours of sleep before work the next day.

So yeah, I like what Iíve played here, enough to wonder how Guerrilla (which Iíve heard good things about) managed to slip under my radar. Iím making it a top priority to track down a cheap copy, and Iím expecting it to be a great game, probably better (and certainly less generic) than this one. But itís got one major thing going against it: The Magnet Gun works so perfectly for this series that no game will ever truly feel like Red Faction again without it.


Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (June 18, 2011)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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pickhut posted June 19, 2011:

Finally got a chance to read this review after finishing and submitting mine, since I make it a habit not to read other reviews of the same game I'm currently writing for. It was a fun read, and it was interesting reading what you enjoyed about the game and so on. Though, I'm in disagreement that the game would've completely fallen apart without the addition of the Magnet Gun. I still had plenty of enjoyment with the other weapons inlcuded in the game, and I had no trouble completely destroying an area without that lone weapon's use.

Still, good review. I dunno if you'll like Guerrilla, though, since it doesn't include said weapon. But a lot of things explode and crumble as much in that game as in this one.
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Suskie posted June 19, 2011:

I don't think it would have COMPLETELY fallen apart, just that it would have been pretty homogenous with every other shooter out there. The draw for me wasn't simply destroying the environments; it was using them as weapons. Still, I was very pleasantly surprised by the game. Crazy that it wound up being more fun than Dead Space 2, Dragon Age II and L.A. Noire.

Thanks for reading, by the way! I'll be sure to read yours at some point today.

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