This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Red Faction Armageddon.
Oh, don't look at me like that, it's a slow release week. I picked up Red Faction: Armageddon yonks ago when it came out, but then something more interesting came out, then another thing, and it kind of got lost in the shuffle for a while, like my wristwatch in your mum's cooch. Which I suppose communicates right off the bat that I'm not exactly rolling around on the floor with Red Faction: Armageddon frantically pulling at its clothes, but I would say it's definitely worth talking about. After all, if a man previously of fluctuating but basically-stable health suddenly suffered a massive coronary as all his arms and legs flew off, his doctor would probably want to talk about it.
The title was the first tell-tale heart murmur. "Armageddon" is one of those words from the subtitle bucket, like "Chronicles" or "Resurrection," a word you stick on the end of your sequel name to communicate the fact that you have less creativity than a pencil sharpener.
Red Faction: Armageddon is the final game of a trilogy that started with Red Faction: Guerrilla. Don't worry, you didn't just turn over two pages at once. You play Darius Mason, the grandson of Alec Mason from Guerrilla, who is engaged in conflict with an evil cult leader who was apparently defeated once before by Darius' dad. And everything indicates to me that Darius' dad's actions were the events of a second, intervening game that wasn't actually made. In which case, what frightens me is that someone at THQ looked at Darius and Darius' dad and decided that Darius was the more interesting one. Mason senior must have been a geography teacher who defeated the cultists by diligently doing his taxes at them.
Anyway, Darius is a Martian combat engineer with the biggest guilt complex this side of Olympus Mons. He's sent in to stop the cultists from destroying the terraforming machine that means they can all breathe (I'm guessing there's no intelligence test to get into this cult), but he fails and spends the next three years in a cave taking responsibility for some crazy guy's actions that he was trying to stop. Then the same crazy guy tricks him into unleashing a horde of murderous insect monsters on the people of Mars and he accepts the guilt for that, too. You egotistical fucking prick, Darius Mason. I bet you take responsibility for the sun setting in the evening 'cause you didn't give it the proper encouragement.
You're probably thinking this plot sounds kind of all over the place, and that's partly why it feels like this is a trilogy whose second installment pulled a Leisure Suit Larry 4. All these points kind of speed by unelaborated at a breakneck pace, suggesting they were hoping to have a whole other game to flesh it out.
One major thing that goes unexplained is why Armageddon is a linear shooter when Red Faction: Guerrilla was a sandbox. Whatever problems Guerrilla had, its characteristic destructo physics suited a sandbox, great fuel as it is for the directionless fucking around that is the milk to the sandbox Rice Krispies. And only in a sandbox could you at any time get sick of the whole business, bash a man-sized hole in the nearest wall and run for the hills. In Armageddon, the destructo physics are just kind of there, perhaps to remind you of the previous, better game, and to seriously piss you off whenever you fight enemies with explosive attacks. Not that it's without evolution. Darius now has a magic flashlight that lets him rebuild everything he's just whimsically destroyed. We really aren't on the same page at all, you and I, are we, Red Faction: Armageddon? Actually, thinking about it, maybe that's the cause of Darius' guilt complex - he's terrified people will realize he doesn't know shit about engineering and he's really just the guy who owns the magic flashlight.
Now, combat, on the other hand, he knows a lot about. And to the game's credit, it's quite active and free-flowing, although the game does its best to sabotage it. "Why not rebuild the terrain in front of you and use it as cover?", it says. Err, thanks, I'm good, game. I wouldn't place too much reliance on cover that disintegrates when you rest your tea on it. And for most of the game you only fight insect monsters who either jump behind you or charge up right for a full-on mandible mambo. The weapons are kind of all over the place, too, mind. There's a monster in front of you, quick, what do you do? Smack him with your gun? Knock off his antennae with a sledgehammer? Use the handblast thing like you're Tony Stark? Stomp on his beetle bollocks? Some might call this variety, but I call it a lack of focus and now you've taken too long to decide and he's laid his next brood in your eye socket. Well done.
Mind you, I was a keen repeat customer to the magnet gun. This is a thing that lets you fire two hooks who are still in the first giddy weeks of being in passionate love with each other. So once they're both fired, they speed towards each other as the music swells, bringing with them whatever terrain or enemy they happen to be attached to. It's a sound strategy - and, perhaps more importantly, a right laugh - to make a targeted monster bounce up and down off a stucco ceiling like a salivating yo-yo, but it has the same problem as the biscuit buildings in that it's just kind of there. The potential exists for interesting physics challenges like puzzle bosses, or perhaps a sequence where you have to force an assembly of stubborn schoolchildren to applaud an unpopular classmate. But Armageddon can never seem to get past, "shoot the dudes", as far as objectives go, either on foot or one of its fleeting scripted vehicle sections that occasionally pop up and then pop right down again. I suppose there's also, "destroy the thing and fix the thing", but explain to me how this makes sense: at one point, Darius has to fix three generators in order to make a forcefield turn off. Did these people buy generators from the mirror universe?
Fair warning, I'm going to spoil a lot of the plot now, because I can't take the piss as much otherwise. You know last week when I said relationships in games only either start at the end of a game or exist solely to murder the prettier half? If there's a speed record for this process, Armageddon probably sets a new one. Near the end, Darius snogs his love interest and she's literally dead before a minute has elapsed. Lucky he didn't go down on her, she might have spontaneously combusted.
By this point, the game's primary antagonist had been dead for about two hours, so just as I was wondering what the hell else I could possibly have left to do, the game pulled from its arse that all the insects will instantly drop dead if Darius repairs the terraforming machine that the cultists destroyed three years previously at the start of the game. Darius goes to the terraformer in an alarmingly-fast off-screen journey, and his magic flashlight fixes it inside five minutes. Then the aliens die, the skies clear and there's a rainbow. Erm...not to dampen your sense of victory, Darius, mate, but why didn't you do that three years ago right after it broke? You dumb...bald...twat!?
Forget what I said earlier: you feel as guilty as you fucking like. And you too, THQ. This game's plot is like an audiobook that someone left in their trouser pocket during the wash.
- Red Faction: Revenge of Chronicled Armageddon Revelations Reloaded: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Personally I find destroying a house loses its charm when the owner can rebuild it in one second by shining his headlights at it
- All my girlfriends die on me too because I murder them