One sign of a great game is when you never notice it's repetitive. Anyone can be reductive and distill a game down to a few key mechanics that are repeated, but it's up to the level design, enemy A.I., and a host of other factors to keep it interesting from start to finish. Red Faction: Armageddon has successes and failures at this, with pacing issues and levels that swing from super exciting to downright boring. Still, it's worth playing, not only for the better parts of its campaign, but for its great take on cooperative multiplayer.
Armageddon is the fourth game in the Red Faction franchise. You play as Darius Mason, grandson of the protagonist Alec Mason from Red Faction: Guerilla. Darius isn't living up to his grandpa's great name, failing to stop Mars' terraformer from being destroyed by terrorists, and forcing humans underground after the surface becomes nearly inhospitable. As if that weren't enough, Mason gets manipulated and used several years later, being forced to fight an alien menacethat's unleashed onto Mars in a struggle to save the few surviving Martians. Along the way there's romance, betrayal, and several other dramatic tropes.
Or, at least, they would be dramatic if the story wasn't so forced. The story is told almost exclusively through cut-scenes that break up the missions, with characters that we're told to care about rather than those who are developed so that it occurs naturally. Games like Uncharted prove there are good ways to create believable characters with a mix of cut-scenes and intermittent dialogue during gameplay, but Red Faction doesn't accomplish this at all. The dialogue is cheesy and the fates of the characters never seem important when the only time I get to see what they're like is a few seconds in between long sequences spent blowing the crap out of everything.
What Red Faction: Armageddon gets right is its use of environmental destruction. Lots of games let you blow things up, but in Armageddon the environment is a weapon, a playground for you to manipulate, contort, and kill your enemies. The best example of this is the Magnet Gun, which allows you to attach a magnet to one object, shoot another magnet at something else, and then watch as object A flies to object B. You can sling enemies into walls (or sling walls into enemies) and watch as they go crashing through the environment, causing secondary explosions. Moments like this are pure, unadulterated fun, and where Armageddon shines. Even when I'm just blasting holes for enemies to fall into, or blowing the crap out of the world, I feel powerful. The guns have the oomph that makes me feel like a badass.
The parts where Armageddon gets noticeably repetitive are where destruction isn't emphasized enough. Levels drag on where there's hardly any part of the environment to use as a weapon. As a third-person shooter Red Faction works, but it's not strong enough to just be that. Fighting a bunch of swarming aliens as they cover the walls is interesting for a level or two, but you really need the destruction hook in a big way to carry it for several levels.
The shooting levels where there's scarcely anything to destroy or use as a weapon also emphasize how uninspired the objectives are in the campaign. You have the ability to both destroy and repair items, but most objectives boil down to running to an area and pressing a button to open a door, extend a bridge, or give you access to another hallway of enemies to smash on. That's fine here and there, but the campaign needed more creative ways to use Darius' repair and destroy abilities.. It's a bit of a rollercoaster in the campaign, where there are boring chunks of levels followed by parts that are awesome.
Along with the more exciting levels where Darius has a ton of crap to destroy, vehicle missions help alleviate the sometimes boring pacing. At several points Darius gets to pilot mechs, some of them as small as an exoskeleton, others hulking giants that tear through multi-story buildings at will. It's empowering, and a great way to showcase the sheer beauty developer Guerilla's given to destruction with its GeoMod2 engine. Which is good, because while it looks great while things are blowing up, Armageddon isn't exactly a graphical powerhouse overall. It's not bad looking, it just has some very bland levels, and parts that look like they're running at less than high-definition resolutions.
The explosions are glorious.
The campaign may be a little all over the place in terms of pacing and level design, but the other modes are pure, mindless fun. Ruin Mode takes all the enemies out of the world and puts you in a timed arena, challenging you to wreak as much havoc as you can in a short time. It's simple, easy to understand, and really shows off the destruction mechanic.
Infestation mode is Red Faction's take on survival, where a team of up to four players holds out as long as they can against waves of enemies, killing them all or trying to protect a structure from falling. Both modes are where Red Faction shines; there's no weak story to ponder, no drawn-out levels – just you, explosives, and an abundance of stuff just begging to be torn asunder. It requires a lot of team work, too, with players purchasing upgrades and carefully choosing weaponry that they know will complement one another. Yes, there's a competitive element to it in the sense that everyone is competing for kills, but the later waves require intense communication. You still get all the spectacle of blowing stuff up, but now you get to experience it with your buddies.