Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (tested)
The original Red Faction released back in 2001 touting its Geo-Mod "destructible environment" technology. Back then, the idea of destructible environments was a fairly new premise, but these days it's virtually a prerequisite for any shooter worth its salt. Red Faction: Armageddon, the fourth game in the franchise, offers not only the best destruction engine this side of Frostbite 2.0 but a fairly nifty mechanic that does much to shake up an otherwise vanilla third-person shooter: reconstruction.
In the heat of battle, the environment will crumble around, beneath and even on top of you, but you now have the ability to reconstruct any shattered man-made structures in seconds. This is all thanks to your wrist-mounted Nano-Forge tool; simply hold a button and watch ramps, bridges, cover and indeed entire buildings reassemble before your very eyes. It reminds me ever so slightly of the building mechanic of the LEGO games (to give a rather loose comparison). But this ridiculously far-fetched technology really does add a new dimension to the third-person shooter. Using the Nano-Forge, you can reinstate a fallen building so you can gain a better vantage point, repair damaged pathways or simply put something solid between you and the mammoth Berserker that's charging right at you. But just as easily, your foes can bring your creations crashing down around you in spectacular fashion, either with explosive firepower or with their gargantuan bulk. It can make for some particularly frantic firefights, and it's generally an absolute blast.
There are also some great new weapons that really take advantage of the destructible-environment gimmick. The Magnet Gun, for instance, allows you to deploy an anchor to a target and then to magnetise another position, which typically results in some serious environmental carnage. There's a concentrated Plasma Beam that disintegrates any targets that you can focus it on for long enough. And my personal favourite, the Singularity Cannon causes a black hole that sucks in objects within a certain radius – without discriminating between enemy or structure – before detonating. Of course, there are the usual rocket launchers, dual-wielded handguns, shotguns and automatic rifles too, so there is a wide variety of ways in which you can dispatch your foes.
A sci-fi shooter set on a colonised planet Mars in the year 2170, the plot is perhaps the weakest element of Armageddon; it's simply not as engaging as the genre's best. You play Vin Dies… er, Darius Mason, grandson of the protagonist from the previous game, Red Faction: Guerilla. Initially, you're tasked with freeing Martian settlers under the occupation of cultists. You see, in the previous game, a device called the terraformer that generated an Earth-like atmosphere on Mars was destroyed. Subsequently, the surface of the planet is mostly uninhabitable, which drove most colonists underground. Of course, it transpires that there's another sinister threat that also dwells down below the surface…
It's a shame that the universe of Red Faction isn't as gripping as some of the other sci-fi franchises out there, because the voice acting and character models of Armageddon are actually pretty decent. But in this game, the story undoubtedly plays second fiddle.
Armageddon gets it right where it counts, though, and that's with decent gameplay. Despite admittedly little variation in environment and enemies (it's set on a barren red planet, after all, and you'll only engage in battle with two factions, each with only a handful of enemy models), developer Volition's still managed to create a shooter that rarely gets boring. Throw in some nicely paced Exo-Suit and Heavy Walker Tank sections – 'vehicle' set pieces that throw a tonne of firepower in your hands and see you crashing through buildings and enemies alike – and you've got yourself a campaign that's a blast to play in spite of its lacklustre plot. Oh, and by picking up the in-game currency, 'Salvage', at every opportunity, you can spend it on upgrades at stations dotted around each map. These upgrades increase the damage of your weapons, increase your health, decrease recoil and so on, and they carry over to the game's extra modes.
There are no adversarial multiplayer modes to speak of, but there's the obligatory Horde Mode clone entitled 'Infestation', where you and up to three other players face off against waves of increasingly difficult enemies. It's not up to the standard set by Gears of War 2, but it's quite fun nonetheless.
Armageddon's unique additional offering, however, is Ruin Mode – a leaderboard-driven game type that tasks you with causing as much environmental damage in a set timeframe as possible, with your best times posted online against those of your friends. Like Bulletstorm's Echoes mode, you're rewarded for creativity, experimentation and variation in wreaking havoc. It’s a fun distraction, but hardly a revolution.
Red Faction: Armageddon's lore won’t win you over like that of the big sci-fi franchises like Halo, Mass Effect or Dead Space. But its genuinely fun play mechanic does much to prove that there's at least some life on Mars. The extra modes may not hold your interest for long, but Armageddon's campaign constitutes an entertaining weekend romp.
Lasting appeal: 6/10
Overall score: 7.5/10