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Volition unleashes unparalleled levels of environmental destruction yet again in the new Red Faction...
It's no coincidence that our scriptures foretell the utter annihilation of humanity in a whirlwind of self-consuming chaos. Armageddon is simply the logical conclusion of a self-destructive species, and what Red Faction really understands, is that fundamental human compulsion to smash things to pieces. Take your sledgehammer to a wall and a satisfying 'thunk' precedes the explosion of rubble and dust that billows out into the ether; another blow to a supporting pillar and the whole structure comes crashing to the ground, obliterating the painstaking work of a meticulous Volition Inc. artist in a few short seconds.
But while Red Faction: Armageddon continues the tradition of free-form environmental destruction established in previous games, in many ways the new title represents a radical departure for the series; Volition's latest is a strictly linear experience, eschewing the free-roaming gameplay of Red Faction: Guerilla in favour of a tightly-scripted, story-driven campaign. Set roughly half a century after the events of the previous game, you play as Darius Mason, noted smuggler and mercenary, and grandson of Guerilla protagonist Alec. The surface of Mars has been rendered uninhabitable after the destruction of an atmospheric terraformer during a meteor strike, and colonists have been driven underground, forced to occupy a network of tunnels and caves beneath the surface of the planet. Unfortunately, they're not alone down there, and before long a war-like race of blood-thirsty aliens starts tearing everybody to shreds. Naturally, it falls to Darius to save the day, not least because he accidentally unleashed them in the first place, by opening up a sealed shaft in an ancient Marauder temple.
Our play-through begins in a subterranean sewage system, and winds through a series of dank man-made outposts. A relentless stream of laser spitting xenomorphs and quadrupedal crawlers swarm out of alien spawn pods along the way, and while it's possible to keep them at bay with your arsenal of shotguns and grenade launchers, using the destructible environment to your advantage is often critical to survival. Every non-organic structure in the game can be strategically destroyed to create cover or box-in enemies, and if you find yourself caught with your back up against the wall, you can simply knock a hole through it and run away. Salvage can be harvested from the debris of wrecked structures - this is Armageddon's in-game currency - and is used to upgrade your stats or unlock performance enhancing perks.
With so much destructive power at your disposal, you often unintentionally destroy parts of the level that are critical to progression; later on in the sewers, a treacherous walkway high above a cavernous crystalline pit presents an excellent offensive opportunity: blowing it up causes all the aliens perched on it to tumble to their doom, but also eliminates your only path to the next area. Thankfully, Darius is imbued with Nanoforge powers that allow him to instantaneously re-materialise any broken structure, so you're free to blow it up and rebuild it repeatedly, cackling gleefully as the unfortunate extra-terrestrials plummet into the louring gloom below. The Nanoforge can also be used to unleash devastating area of effect attacks, and gets upgraded with new abilities as you progress through the game.
Adding to the creative possibilities of Armageddon's deconstruction/reconstruction mechanic is the new Magnet Gun, which allows you to fling enemies and other objects through the air by firing one shot at your target, and a second at its intended destination. While it's possible to smash enemies into hard surfaces using the weapon, the infinitesimally destructible nature of the games structures means that you can also tear chunks out of the side of buildings, and crush enemies with huge piles of flying rubble.
Towards the end of the sewer section you come across a prison block which has been ravaged by the alien hordes. It's here that you're first introduced to the exo-suit - a bipedal mech that can charge through walls, and slap xenomorphs into the air with a flick of its mechanized wrist. Similar to the mechanical walkers of Guerilla, the exo-suit has a formidable machine gun on one arm, and adds a brace of heat-seeking missiles to the other. Due to the darkness of the environment and the endless onslaught of enemies in the prison section, it's easy to get a little bewildered by the constant action, especially with the building crumbling around you as you break through walls from cell to cell. Although a handy guidance system traces out the path you need to take, it's still possible to get rather confused and a little lost at points; in a way this adds to the oppressive Aliens-inspired atmosphere, lending a palpable sense of panic to the experience, but it might just prove frustrating for some players.
The level ends in a battle with a hulking acid-spitting brute. Out of your exo-suit you're vulnerable to its corrosive projectiles, and have to dive out of the way whenever it charges towards you. Although you can do some damage with conventional weaponry, it proves far more effective to use the Magnet Gun against the beast, pulling sharp electrified spikes off the ceiling and into its flesh.
In addition to the single-player campaign, a new solo score attack mode has been created for Armageddon. Ruin Mode has you demolishing as much of a level as possible for points within a short time limit. The single level on display lasted roughly a minute and featured an array of enormous towers and explosive vats; there were no enemies of any kind, just a selection of destructive weaponry with which to lay waste to the environment. Sequencing together chains of destruction results in score multipliers and time bonuses, and by chipping away at the base of one tower it's possible to make it topple onto another, in a wave of domino-like demolition. Although the single level on offer rapidly lost its lustre during our play-through, a wider selection of arenas and the prospect of competing against friends for high-scores might well extend the appeal of the mode. Volition is also planning a wave-based online co-op mode for the game, but is keeping details firmly under wraps for the time being.
With a range of playable modes and an impressively dynamic destruction engine, Red Faction: Armageddon offers its own distinct take on the third-person blockbuster shooter. The decision to adopt a more linear structure in the campaign signals a return to the Red Factions of old, and Volition is clearly seeking to address criticisms levelled at its last game by producing a more tightly-structured story this time around. We can only hope that Armageddon's entertaining mechanics and enjoyable new magnet gun will be matched by a similarly inventive single-player experience that doesn't descend into yet another me-too roller-coaster ride.
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