The fourth in the series, the game (Volition, THQ, Syfy Games) returns to Mars as different groups vie for control of the red planet. Some want to live on it in an Earth-like atmosphere, while others want to return it to its natural state.
You play as Darius Moore, an engineer/demolitions expert whose family has been battling for the future of people on Mars for years (and many games). Darius’s constant companion is S.A.M., a computer sidekick that helps him navigate his way through terrain both above and below the surface.
S.A.M. also acts as radar to pinpoint enemy locations and help find environmental help during battles. It will tell you the best way to defeat some overwhelming foes using items in the surrounding area.
The game plays as a third-person shooter with a wide array of weapons to choose from. More powerful weapons are discovered as the game progresses, which is good because the enemies get significantly harder along the way.
The typical array of pistols, assault rifles, grenade/rocket launchers, and shotguns can be found, but the most exciting weapon is the singularity cannon. This weapon, which fires a black hole that sucks opponents in before detonating, is visually exciting and extremely powerful to handle hordes of enemies.
Darius can carry four weapons at a time that can be accessed quickly using the D pad buttons. Plenty of ammo crates are found throughout the game and there are locations that allow players to change the four weapons out for others in the weapons locker.
There are also some mechanized weapons – an exo-skeleton with shoulder-mounted missiles, an armored walker and a flying combat unit – that really help clearing out areas in a hurry or handle major infestations of foes.
Weapons can be upgraded at stations as you collect salvage icons found throughout the game. Salvage is the currency used, and more powerful upgrades are unlocked as the action progresses.
And you will need all you can get. In addition to the human forces you’ll be fighting, the main foes are bug-like creatures native to Mars. They range from small, quick, lightly armored bugs to huge, powerful behemoths that will require heavy weapons and good strategy.
The Plague, as they are collectively called, comes in wave after wave throughout the underground tunnels in Mars. It appears they only have one mission – eliminate the humans.
Battles are intense and you’ll need to keep an eye on your backside. The artificial intelligence for the bugs is smart and will use paths to try to outflank or blindside you. You are on your own.
The combat felt extremely balanced and required judicious use of my weapons and ammo, and the surrounding environment to get to the next area. I never really felt like I was overpowering or that the bugs were too strong to get through. But they were challenging and required more than just run-and-gun techniques.
The interplay between Darius and S.A.M. was technical when it needed to be, but also light-hearted and funny during stressful moments. The deadpan delivery of S.A.M. contrasted humorously against the sometime frantic speech of Darius.
Unfortunately, that was really the only connection I felt the characters make during the game. There were other non-player characters, but I never could really care about them.
Sure, they were helpful in getting a mission started or providing tips, but there was really no empathy. Even after one major NPC character dies, I just shrugged it off as if they were just another background soldier.
The graphics are very well done and convey the proper sense of the surrounding areas whether on the planet surface or in the underground tunnels. Characters moved naturally and buildings were destroyed or damaged appropriately from the nearby combat.
Here is where one of the cool features of the game made itself known often. Darius carries a Nano Forge, which allows him to project a force field shell or a force blast, but also repairs damage to stairs and buildings.
This allowed me to use grenades and rocket launchers on bugs that were standing on stairs or catwalks, obliterating everything. Then I could rebuild them to get to the next area. It was also helpful during some fights as I could reconstruct walls to use as cover.
The one drawback depends on how you play your shooters. If you like single player action, you are set. But if you play shooters to dive into multiplayer action, “Red Faction Armageddon” will likely leave you wanting.
There are only two modes of multiplayer action available. Infestation mode allows up to 4 players to cooperate and battle the alien forces. Each player has access to only one Nano Forge ability, so players can combine effects for devastating effects.
Infestation is all about teamwork, but you can try to take on the hoard all by yourself. There are defending missions and survival missions available in this mode.
Ruin mode is dedicated to pure destruction. The object is to destroy as much of the environment as you can in the shortest amount of time.
This is a good way to find out how much damage your weapons can create. There is a challenge mode where players race against the clock and a free play mode that lets you just go crazy explosive on everything you can see.
There are no modes that pit player against player directly or let you control the bugs in a battle against the humans. It is a departure from the normal shooter multiplayer actions.
Despite the multiplayer letdown, “Red Faction Armageddon” is still an outstanding game that is very well represented and balanced. The story flows easily and the plot moves along quickly, but without feeling hurried.
Graphics are believable and flow naturally. The idea of destroying and rebuilding surroundings, while not new, is utilized well in the context of battles.
Combat is fantastic with the proper sense of urgency without feeling overwhelmed. It was also very hard to put down because I wanted to know what was coming up next and how I could beat those bugs.
As one of the most anticipated games of the year, it did not disappoint.
“Red Faction Armageddon” will be available June 7 in North America, and June 10 in Europe, Australia and the UK. It is rated M for Mature 17+ due to blood and gore, strong language, and violence. It can be played on the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. This review was done using a retail version of the game for the Xbox 360.