Hands-On Red Faction Armageddon and Tearing Down Walls with Volition's Dan Sutton

By Xav de Matos, Jan 20, 2011 1:40pm PST "I wish I could destroy that building again," I said to myself while playing a three-level demo of Red Faction Armageddon at THQ's "Gamer's Day" in New York last week. Immediately I remembered that, with the press of a button, I could. Aiming Darius Mason's over-sized bracelet, the 'Nano Forge,' I was able to reform the destruction I had caused only moments ago. As the building began to rebuild itself, I realized that this was going to be a wild and emergent ride.

Red Faction Armageddon takes place fifty years after the events of Volition's previous entry in the series, Red Faction Guerrilla. As the latest member of the Mason family, it's up to you--Darius--to rise up and revolt against a sinister evil. In Armageddon, evil takes many forms: as the cold, calculating occult leader Adam Hale (the odd looking fellow in the video above) and a menacing alien race that has emerged on Mars. But Darius isn't the typical do-gooder Mason family savior, he wants nothing to do with the revolution. Yet, here he is, forced to fight to freedom.

Essentially, the Masons are the Mars version of the Belmont family. "Darius Mason knows what his grandpa's legacy was but he shies away from that," Volition's Dan Sutton told me. "He was in the Red Faction but he dropped out. Now he's kind of a loner, he's a miner, he's the best at what he does. But he doesn't want anything to do with the population. This is kind of a story of him going from a loner to saving humanity, like his family's roots were. Whether he likes it or not."

Like Guerrilla before it, Armageddon is a playhouse of unique situations where players can take the simplest run-and-gun approach, or use all of tricks passed down through the lineage of the Mason family tree. Armed with the new Magnet Gun, for example, Darius can turn any environmental object into ammunition. "I think, if you play through the entire game with the Magnet Gun, you can unlock an achievement."

If using flying debris isn't your style, you can fire one end of the unlimited ammo Magnet Gun at an enemy and the other to any place in the world, sending the adversary soaring toward the second target. This also comes in handy using the Nano Forge's pulse-like, sucker-punch ability. Send an enemy flying toward you with the Magnet Gun and, as he comes face-to-face with Darius, hit a button to send a violent burst of energy toward them. The ability also allows you to punch through buildings and doors, much like Starkiller's Force Push from The Force Unleashed.

The first area in the demo was a playground, a place to familiarize myself with the weapons and abilities. The area was barren, save for a few semi-destroyed structures. Using the a Plasma Cutter weapon, I was able to slice a line though whole buildings. This, of course, sends the entire building crashing to the ground. For your hard-to-remove interplanetary, architectural stains, a simple shot of the Singularity Gun sends a black hole hurtling toward an area, before expanding and leaving everything in its wake a dusty pile of rubble.

Later, during an actual level, I squared off against a behemoth that fired a lethal laser (and/or la-zor) beam toward Darius with hopes of chopping down his family tree. Here things get immediately more interesting. As I hustled from cover-to-cover, the enemy would destroy my hiding spots. It took a moment but I realized that I could simply rebuild my safety zone before sending the baddie to whatever the future Mars version of Hell is. Like the Magnet Gun, the Nano Forge's ability to repair is unlimited. "It's one of those things that we want to encourage players to use throughout the game," Sutton said.

While man-made structures can be decimated throughout the game, there is no ground deformation in Red Faction: Armageddon. To Volition, its focus was to improve on what they started for this installment. "We decided as a group that we wanted to explore different options," Sutton explained. "The big thing is we have this awesome GeoMod technology for Red Faction Guerrilla and what we say now is, 'Now we get to play with it.'"

Whereas Guerrilla was an open world experience, Armageddon has slimmed down to a more linear experience. This, according to Sutton, was for several factors. "It was a focused story decision, for sure. A lot of feedback we got [from Guerrilla] was that people just did not get what was going on in our universe because, being an open world game you can go and do side-missions for five hours and come back [to the campaign] and be completely lost." Another reason was the game's setting, with Volition coming to the conclusion that there was only so much it could do on the surface of Mars.

"It's a red rock. There's no ceilings, there's no 360 degrees of destruction. That's what we wanted to do." Now, Armageddon takes place--for the most part--underground. "There are still some open world-type areas on the surface, you go back up there. You explore up there as well." The ratio, Sutton says, is 80% below ground and 20% above. The features that make Armageddon unique is better suited to a linear story experience, he told me.

Volition is attempting to tell a more coherent and structured story, wrapped around a game where the player can destroy and rebuild anything that man brought to Mars. Personally, I don't think linearity is a bad thing in games. I found myself getting sidetracked a lot during Guerrilla. The important part to me was the freedom to complete objectives the way I wanted. From my time with Armageddon, I barely noticed the open world was missing. The world might not be a sandbox but the environments within it certainly are, which is what I think is most important. But it's not all rosy.

Red Faction (as a series) has always done a great job of showcasing this social struggle and although aliens have been hinted at, I'm not sold on the concept.

From what I've seen, the aliens are just mindless cannon fodder. Hardly interesting--or, as Alice says, "As interesting as watching MS Paint dry." So why go there now? "We kind of felt like, after the first three iterations of the series, we kind of wanted to go in that direction. Bring more sci-fi elements into it. It's always been about sci-fi. It's always been grounded on Mars. We haven't really gone to that next level and it's just something that we really wanted to do."

But the action itself is a blast. The destruction is a joy, and any game where the rocket launcher is considered 'the boring weapon' is standing on the right side of quality. That would be enough, but Volition went and added crazy mechs to the thing too. In the suit of armor, Darius can slam through structures, fire targeted missiles, and even toss enemies aside. It's pure, unadulterated badassery at its finest.

Those looking to potentially snag a PC copy will be happy to hear that the game is being developed in-house, simultaneously with the console version (read: not a port, all the same features). "It is an impressive version. Honestly, I'd rather play the PC version over the Xbox and PS3 because of the technology. It is such a pretty game on the PC." Of course, as is now standard for THQ, Red Faction Armageddon will be on the Steamworks platform, taking advantage of its feature-set. It'll also have support for a gamepad (if you're one of those people). For multiplayer fans, Sutton says there will be competitive and cooperative modes included; he couldn't go into detail, but did say it was all separate from the single-player experience. I specifically asked whether the co-op would be story-based or a different mode to which Sutton responded vaguely, "It's a co-op mode in multiplayer."

Oh, and Guerrilla's famed ostrich hammer? It's not here; however, Sutton did tease a wacky replacement. "Let's just say we have a special weapon for everybody--kind of like how the ostrich hammer was unlockable--we have a very, very special treat for everyone." Sutton also promises it will be easier to access than Guerrilla's goofy gavel. And while the new weapon is confirmed not to be bird-based, Sutton says it is "creature-based."

From what I've experienced, Red Faction Armageddon is pure fun and builds on some great ideas introduced in the franchise's last entry. I'm looking forward to tearing it all apart and rebuilding it so I can do it again and again.

Red Faction Armageddon ships for the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 in May 2011.


Disclosure: This preview is based on an event hosted by THQ in New York City. THQ invited Shacknews to the event and provided one editor travel and accommodation to and from the three-day event for the purposes previewing the company's 2011 line-up.

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