I finished Red Faction Armageddon on Monday. I finished it in a better mood than I was in when I started it a few days earlier. This is a game that gets much better as it goes along.
More importantly, it's a game that defied my expectations. Hell, it defied what I could have sworn its creators told me it was going to be.
So if you're thought about getting the new Red Faction, I think you should know a few things about the game, things some might consider light spoilers, but that I'd consider essential info about what you might be paying for...
It doesn't all take place underground. The video here, captured from the game's second level, shows the Red Faction Armageddon that we were advertised. It's a subterranean (submartian?) game that trades the big-sky expanse of 2009's open-world Red Faction Guerilla and moves its shooting and building-destroying below the surface of Mars. I could have sworn this is how the game was pitched to reporters like me by the game's publisher THQ and its development studio Volition. Were they worried about spoilers? Why not tell people that, in the second half of the game, you're atop Mars as often as you are below it?
The video here is an example of the above-ground, on-foot sections. Unlike Guerilla, Armageddon never lets you roam free, choosing your next base full of buildings to blow up and bad guys to kill. But, as you can see, its not as claustrophobic as it might seem. In this video I'm using the game's magnet gun, a device featured in Armageddon's downloadable demo. It's my favourite new game weapon in a long time. It basically makes you Darth Vader in that scene near the end of Empire Strikes Back where he's ripping stuff off walls and then tossing them at Luke Skywalker.
It does feel too much like an attempt to justify Red Faction movies. Anyone who enjoyed the expansive set-up of Guerilla - you're a freedom fighter/terrorist with a whole open world to create mayhem in - will feel constrained in Armageddon's caves and will bristle at the narrative justification for squeezing you into them. Did the plot dictate this game design or the other way around? Either way, the logic of the plot crumbles like so much Red Faction debris and the characters, chatty as they are, feel like they're starring in an OK action movie. This all feels intentional and extraneous for those of us who were happy with a Guerilla that lacked those elements.
There is virtue to fighting underground. As confined as the cave-fighting feels, it proves to be more intense than the skirmishes in the last game. It works best when you embrace the magnet gun, utilizing it to rip things off walls to hurt the enemies fighting in front of them. You won't have as much to wreck underground, but that's OK, because...
The vehicle levels are spectacular. There are several vehicle levels in Armageddon, all of them as action-packed as the one I'm showing in the video here. They're all in the back half of the game. They all evoke the sense of empowered destruction that emerged during Guerilla's best moments. They're a fundamental part of the game that was, I believe, absent from any of the promotion for it. A pity, since they shine.
And when you beat the game, you get this.
I got through the solo campaign in eight hours on my game clock, probably about 11 if you factor in deaths and restarts. I played some of the game's handful of above-ground score-attack destruction levels and dabbled lightly with its version of the waves-of-enemies mode that riffs off of Gears of War's Horde mode.
I don't know if this whole package is what fans will be looking for, but it was much different than what I thought I was going to be playing. I didn't want to keep that surprise to myself. Since I expect this to be a divisive game, I wanted to arm you with more information. I hope that helps.
Red Faction Armageddon will be out for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on June 7.