After giving a 10 to Half-Life 2, a former colleague said that there are no perfect games, just those whose sum of issues is so small that you can easily ignore it, awed by the greatness of the gameplay and story. The game at hand does feature such superb moments, but on the other hand, its problems can’t be ignored, especially since they could have been easily avoided.
The fourth title in a venerable series, Red Faction: Armageddon puts Darius Mason behind the rifle, the grandson of the predecessor’s protagonist (Alec Mason). Darius, a magnet just as big as his grandfather ever was for disasters, fails to save the terraforming rig that was turning Mars into the second home of humanity among the stars. Years later, “helped” by a fanatic rebel, he also sets free an ancient Martian race, decided to eliminate any trace of humans from the Red Planet. Of course, Mason is on the other end, trying to overcome both monsters and the rebel traitor, involving himself into drama, love and betrayal along the way.
All fine and dandy in theory, but the story is too sterile. You don’t really care about the characters, a lot of it is too obvious and the story bits are served in cinematics; no in-game dialogues, not even too much talk over the radio. You see the movie, you have the objective, you’ll motivate yourself along the way with killing red monsters and happily destroying the environment. True, if you pass half of the 10-12 campaign hours, there are interesting changes of pacing, where the use of robots and vehicles alleviate the boredom of the repetitive action: shoot, tear down, rebuild bridges and platforms to get to another area just to go over mostly in the same order.
Like in any Red Faction game, the most interesting aspect is the environmental destruction, the feature that put the series on the map in the first place. The GeoMod 2.0 engine allows you to destroy only manmade structures (and monster nests, but that’s compulsory, not just fun) in two ways: using a huge hammer (Maul) to crush walls, metal, monster flesh and rebel heads, or the Magnet Gun. The latter allows for some spectacular actions and you’ll be overwhelmed with joy when you’ll throw an explosive barrel to destroy a building where a couple of enemies have taken refuge.
The Magnet Gun can be considered a cousin of the Gravity Gun in Half-Life 2: attach a magnet onto an object, a second one to another object and watch them get crushed, preferably with monsters in between. True, it’s harder to go on a magnet monster hunt in the midst of a heated battle, since these guys not only come at you from the ground and have an Olympic runner’s speed, but also from the ceilings and walls. But you can always use pieces of buildings to crush them when you don’t go for the usual fire arms approach.
The arsenal is varied and all weapons transfer into multiplayer, where the vortex creating Nano-Rifle disintegrates bugs very efficiently. From shotguns and some sort of… machineguns let’s call them, you’ll get to electromagnetic, plasma and other futuristic rifles, plus grenade and rocket launchers. There’s no shortage of ammo and, if needed, the maul is always there, as long as you have the precision. Guns are all the more impressive when you hear them; there’s no way you can mistake a shotgun for a plasma gun, grenades threaten your body’s integrity and it’s no fun to look a rocket “in the eye”.
The Nano-forge holds a special place, being a device that rebuilds all that you destroyed a few minutes ago to allow you to go to those high places. Moreover, as you accumulate Salvage, the device is improved both offensively and defensively, from a Shockwave that flings the enemies helplessly into the air to an electric shield that will repel melee attacks.
In order to choose the upgrades (spread out and accessible at certain stages in the story) there are dedicated stations (blue, since the red ones are used to swap the weapons) with a generous offer: more life, more fire power, better accuracy, clip size, more ammo from crates, the possibility to see the monster’s health bar etc. Each upgrade costs 1000 salvage and, even if you don’t get them all, each tier is well balanced.
Unfortunately, the target practice lacks variety: some 3-4 monster types in different sizes and life spans, plus some bosses that present a better challenge. On the same note, there isn’t much of an AI to speak of: bugs crawl on walls and ceilings and some of them teleport in an annoying mist; the human Marauders only dodge to avoid bullets, cover being anyway almost useless since any object can be destroyed. Still, Mason has the upper hand (especially in in-door fights with a boss), since he can rebuild crates to regenerate life behind them.