I don't want to waste any time here, I'm just going to tell you that Red Faction: Armageddon is fun. No matter what else I say about the game, I want you to know that above all else I had fun from beginning to end, and that's what really matters. The Red Faction series has always made its mark on gaming by using its surprisingly robust physics engine that allows you to alter the terrain in any way you desire, which up to this point has pretty much consisted of blowing buildings up and digging holes to bury yourself in. This may be the only defining feature of the series, but it's well done enough that it's still fun.
This time around, you're Darius Mason, a military grunt who is tasked with fixing the terraforming machines on Mars after a group of cultists destroy them, forcing the population to live underground. At least, that's what I think was going on; it was never particularly clear. There's something in there about releasing a plague of alien bugs that threatens the human population, some military stuff, and the fate of the human race, but it wasn't really at the forefront of the game because it's clear that the developers wanted to put more focus on the physics and gameplay than the story, which seemed like little more than a backdrop to the action. This is a bit of a disappointment to me, but it's not a game-breaker. One thing I really enjoyed, though, was the constant banter between Darius and his surprisingly dry-witted and sarcastic AI bot: Sam. It was a nice way to keep a smile on my face in between firework shows and it was one of the only memorable things about the campaign. Sadly, no other characters in the game are particularly interesting in any way, since 90% of the game it's just you and your AI, with her directing you to new places to blow up.
Sure, you'll be spending most of your time in a series of bland, repetitive cave mazes, but the level design is good and the enemy designs are actually really cool, especially the bigger, stronger bugs. The graphics are crisp and clear, the animations are surprisingly lifelike, the explosion effects are impressive, and the cutscenes are surprisingly well done! I mean, none of it is going to be winning any awards or anything, but I really think it's worth noting that the game looks really good despite its repetitive nature, and I didn't run into a single glitch or framerate issue throughout the entire game.
Adding to the cinematic experience is a cast of surprisingly good voice actors, especially your hero Darius Mason who's more charismatic than you'd expect for an ex-Red Faction grunt. The soundtrack is also pretty good, but I had to listen to it separately because I didn't hear any of it whilst playing, so a lot of my more action-driven times were mostly accompanied by a symphony of explosions and gunshots rather than pounding bass and instruments. Actually, speaking of gunshots, I'm really happy to see a game that remembers to warn you when your clip is about to run out on your weapons. As you shoot and get to the end of the clip, you hear a louder, more aggressive click with every shot, warning you that it's time to reload. It's a nice touch that I appreciated from beginning to end and I wish more developers would add this.
However, it's the physics and gameplay that really sucks you in, or in this case, magnetizes you. Red Faction: Armageddon doesn't seem shy about reminding you that it's a game first and foremost. You're going to be using a varied and unique arsenal to do all sorts of damage to your enemies and the environment, you're going to be piloting more than a few vehicles including a power suit and an airship, and you're going to be destroying a lot of property. You're also going to be blowing a lot of stuff up.
Did I mention you're going to be doing a lot of damage during your stay on Mars? I have to reiterate this point a lot because the entire point of the game appears to be to destroy as much stuff as you can in the most creative ways possible. Throughout the course of the game you get about a dozen really interesting and versatile weapons to use, including a portable black hole generator that sucks in enemies and terrain before exploding violently, and a magnet gun that allows you to chose an object (any object) and a destination (any destination) and fling that object at that destination. This weapon gives you a lot of options; if you want to use it to hurl an enemy at another enemy, or chuck piles of junk at a boss, you're not only welcome to do so, but encouraged to as well. Hell, I even got creative by bringing down entire buildings on a single enemy just because I could! You also get an arsenal of beam rifles, assault rifles, pistols, rocket launchers, and various propelled explosives. Some only hurt biological enemies, whereas others are better at disintegrating structures. I applaud the developers for giving us some creativity and variety in our weapons for once, rather than sticking to just realistic guns or just fantasy guns.
All this variety gives you a lot of freedom to play the game as you want. If you want to play it like a straight shooter, using only standard pistols and assault rifles, you can. If you chose to play the entire game using nothing but the magnet gun to cause all sorts of havoc by weaponizing the debris that's all over the place, you can do that, too. Personally, I enjoyed using a combination of all the weapons and skills because I wanted to get the absolute most out of my game, and I feel I did the developers proud.
I think it's worth giving Red Faction: Armageddon some credit for giving players a lot of freedom in spite of the fact that the game is really linear; so linear in fact that it sometimes is literally turned into a rail shooter. But don't let that discourage you, because the rail shooting takes up a very small portion of the game and although you're pretty much going from point A to point B to point C in a definitive pattern, there's plenty of room for exploration in between objectives. As you're playing you can press the back or select button (for Xbox or PS3, respectively) to light up the path, showing you exactly where to go. If you follow this path, it will show you exactly where to go and how to get there, but you'll miss out on a lot of hidden treasure and secrets. To me, this is another great way to keep the game linear and focussed while still give the player plenty of freedom to explore as he/she wants. There's no mindless wandering or meandering getting in the way of your next explosion. At any time, you can return to the action with a click of a button and I think this is yet another feature I think more games definitely need to incorporate, since I find I tend to get disoriented entirely too often in shooters.
As you play through, you pick up 'salvage', Red Faction: Armageddon's form of currency. You can find this in containers hidden all over the place (usually in those hidden areas off the beaten path), by killing enemies, or by destroying buildings. This salvage can be used to buy yourself upgrades such as more health, better melee abilities, or better nano-based skills. Don't worry though, you'll get plenty of money your first time through, so you will be able to get a solid number of the upgrades with ease. I especially like the added nano skills like the shockwave and the shield.
There's another feature new to Red Faction: Armageddon: the nano-forge. Since you're likely going to be flinging debris into lava pits, disintegrating it, or sucking it into a cosmic void, a lot of the world's structures are just going to disappear in your wake. However, the game also requires you use some of these structures such as bridges or ladders to get where you need to be. This is where the nano-forge comes into play, by literally allowing you to rebuild where the material used to be. If there used to be a whole building in that cave, you can walk up to it and press a button to send out nanoparticles to rebuild it from nothing! There are some problems that need solving concerning destruction and creation, but nothing that's going to tax your brain too much. It's a feature that is sadly underused, but it makes for a good introduction to the mechanic and I'd like to see it expanded in a sequel or DLC. In fact, most of the 'puzzles' in this game consist of finding a piece of broken equipment and fixing it using the nano-forge.
When it was all said and done, I'd spent about 12-15 hours on the campaign. This felt odd because the first 5 missions were completed in a matter of hours and I was somewhat disappointed, but the second set of 5 missions were so long that it more than made up for the first half being quick and anti-climactic. By the time I made it to the end of the campaign, I'd killed enemies in so many fun and creative ways that I could have sworn I needed a cigarette, and I don't even smoke. I was even surprised to see that the game actually seemed to remember some key things that I find too many modern games forget: great controls and a challenging but manageable difficulty curve. So many recent games forget to concentrate on controls that I'd almost forgotten how much a good, fluid control scheme can elevate a game's fun factor. I've played so many first person shooters that I almost forgot there was a time when 90% of your deaths weren't cheap or unavoidable, so it's refreshing to see a game that only kills you if you screw up or if you do something stupid rather than seemingly random headshot/instakills to keep you on your toes. This game actually gives you a decent health bar so you're not killed in a hit or two, but it takes so long to regenerate that you practically have to finish the firefight before you can rest and regain your health, unlike most modern shooters. This means that every battle is about strategy rather than patience, so it's not just a matter of hiding behind a wall for a few seconds and you're all better.
After you beat the game, you can then carry over all your weapons and upgrades to a New Game+ or the other two game modes: Infestation and Ruin mode. Infestation is a 4-player co op mode that plays much like a combination of Nazi Zombies from Call of Duty and Horde mode from Gears of War, with 30 waves of bugs to get through in increasing intensity. I actually found it pretty fun, even though it was pretty much the same as playing the singleplayer but with teammates to save you when you die. Ruin mode is a minigame tasking you with destroying as much stuff as you can in a limited amount of time. There are multiple maps to destroy and leaderboards to compete with, but it really didn't hold much appeal to me for more than a few minutes at a time. Both of these modes are great additions and a welcome alternative to competitive multiplayer, which I'm not convinced would work well here at all. I'm not sure if I agree what they did with Ruin mode, though. If you buy the game brand new, you get a code to unlock the feature, while if you buy it used you actually have to pay for a code online to unlock it. I know a lot of gamers will hate this, but I felt it was such a minor feature that I don't feel anyone will be missing it if they do buy it used.
This all sounds like a lot of praise, but I really felt this game deserves it. The campaign was pretty forgettable as far as plot and characters are concerned, but it was so much fun that I didn't care. I felt this was a nice change of pace from the bland repetitive shooters that most studios are putting out on a yearly basis, and instead we got a game that remembers it's a game by putting fun factor well ahead of all other aspects, and to me that's really what matters. Red Faction: Armageddon is a fun, lighthearted romp across Mars that has pretty much everything I want in a shooter. The physics are a lot of fun to play with, there are plenty of creative and unique weapons and abilities, and even the vehicle sections are a blast to play. I would honestly recommend this to pretty much anyone, even with its flaws.