Red Faction: Armageddon single-player hands-on
Red Faction: Armageddon is just over a month away from release. Based on a few hours I spent playing Armageddon's single-player component, my recent impressions of the game's multiplayer components were just the tip of the iceberg. It feels like Volition aims to deliver a much more focused, story-driven single-player experience than was available in the preceding chapter, Red Faction: Guerrilla.
Guerrilla took gamers to a future version of Mars where miners united to form "Red Faction," and fight oppression at the hands of their corporate overlords, the Earth Defense Force (EDF). Armageddon takes place fifty years later with players assuming the role of Darius Mason, grandson of Guerrilla's protagonist, Alec Mason. Though this latest Red Faction is still set on Mars, much of the action will take place in a network of caves below the planet's surface thanks to the destruction of the terraforming machinery that once made the planet's atmosphere safe. On top of it all, an infestation of alien creatures is making survival that much more difficult.
One of the first things that struck me about Armageddon was the shift away from its predecessor's particular style of sandbox design. Gone is the Grand Theft Auto-style open-world mission structure. Instead, Armageddon always gives Daruis a specific plot-related objective to complete. Although mission selection may no longer be left up to the player, the objectives themselves are varied. The upshot is that the player is never left wondering what he should be doing at any given moment, and that the objectives he's accomplishing are always driving the story forward. An escort mission could transition into sweeping-and-clearing a cave full of enemies or repairing damaged generators to restore power to a bridge.
Furthermore, each area of Armageddon is its own mini-sandbox, and the series' trademark penchant for destruction is still available in spades, albeit on a more focused scale. Though the caves create an enclosed space, most of the underground areas I saw were plenty large enough for towers, raised walkways, and buildings that could all be deliciously demolished.
Speaking of demolition, the twelve mostly over-the-top weapons that I got to play around with were quite varied and all seemed to have their own best uses. Up to four weapons can be equipped at any given time via weapons stations, and they can also be switched out for others found on the battlefield.
A handful of the weapons will be familiar to those who've played Guerrilla--like the giant hammer called the Maul, assault rifles, shotguns, and rocket launchers--but there are some pleasant surprises, too. The magnet gun, for example, lets players tag two targets (structures or enemies, or a combination), and then watch as those targets are rapidly pulled together. It's an especially effective tool for bringing down buildings or flinging a large alien around in order to save ammo.
As the player accrues experience, it can be spent to upgrade a large tree of abilities ranging from faster reload times and upgraded health to damage perks. There are also a handful of special abilities that Darius can earn and upgrade. For instance, Shockwave slows enemies to a crawl for a few seconds, the Berserk ability temporarily increases firepower, and Shell creates a dome-like shield made of nanites that repels enemy fire and eats up any enemies that enter its radius. The abilities are fun to use and can be quite handy in turning the tide of a firefight.
Perhaps one of the most interesting additions in Armageddon is Darius' ability to repair destroyed structures using nanotechnology. By simply aiming and holding down a button, everything from the smallest catwalk to the largest building can be restored to an undamaged state. Obvious applications include things like the aforementioned generator-repair, but it's also a handy tool for reconstructing the walkway to your next objective after a particularly destructive shootout.
Soldiering along on-foot can sometimes be a bit challenging, due largely to the fast-moving, projectile-firing aliens. Donning an Exo-Suit, basically an armored mech equipped with infinite rockets and machine guns, turns Daruis into a walking tank. The suit can be entered and exited at any time, and makes quick work of anything in its path.
As I played through a couple hours worth of Armageddon's early missions, I began to wonder if Daruis' journey would ever take him back to the surface of Mars. Just when I was reaching my limit of dark caverns, my concern was laid to rest as Darius headed to the surface to join Red Faction soldiers in repelling a huge alien attack. The battle on the surface was bigger than any I'd previously encountered, featuring new enemies that were several stories tall. Another drivable vehicle (of alien origin) also appeared in this section. Up until the time I had to put the controller down, Armageddon continued to mix things up with fresh enemies, weapons, locations, and even a vehicle or two.
If you liked bringing down huge buildings in Red Faction: Guerrilla, but were left a little cold by the thin storyline, somewhat generic enemies, and loose structure, Red Faction: Armageddon is a game you're going to want to keep an eye on. From what I can tell so far, Volition seems to be focusing on significantly improving those areas without neglecting the player-controlled destruction that made Guerrilla so fun in the first place.
Red Faction: Armageddon is coming to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on May 31, 2011.
Fire in the hole!