Armageddon suffers from a smattering of other, minor issues too – the most notable of which is the number of tiny cutscenes that insist on taking control away from the player for the tiniest of reasons. Pulling a lever? Cutscene. Saying a single word to an NPC? Cutscene. It forms a cumulative annoyance that gets harder to ignore the more you play.
Even the longer cutscenes are rarely worth the effort. THQ has hyped up Armageddon’s story a lot in the run-up to launch, with developer Volition discussing the claustrophobia of the environment, the guilt that Darius suffers and so on. As soon as you start playing, however, it’s clear that the destruction potential is the real star of the show. The plot is just a sideline, and one we would much prefer if it was faded into the background a little more.
There are strokes of brilliance that help to balance out these little niggles, however, such as the ability to repair structures with your nanoforge beam and ‘repair grenades’. It’s a ludicrous concept, of course, but it ensures there’s no danger of running out of debris to lob around, and it creates some unique in-game moments too.
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One early section, for example, saw us defeating a swarm of aliens climbing a staircase by ripping it to shreds underneath them with the magnet gun – handrails were swept across the path and concrete pillars were hovered and dropped onto tougher enemies. Great fun, but there was the problem of how to get downstairs afterwards – until we started running full-pelt and spraying the area with the short-range repair beam. Cornering in mid-air and summoning steps to appear beneath each foot is both enjoyable and empowering; the type of activity Red Faction: Armageddon does well, even though it could do better.
Away from the single-player campaign, the Infestation and Ruin game modes explore the potential of Armageddon’s destructible terrain in a co-operative and arcade setting respectively. Both modes are a lot of fun, but while Infestation’s wave-survival mode is likely to have more longevity due to the multiplayer aspect, it was Ruin that offered the most fun. In fact, we would go as far as saying it was our favourite part of the entire game.
Ruin’s secret is that the concept is so deliciously simple; you have one minute and your pick of four weapons with which to cause as much destruction as possible to a small area. Beat the target score and you’ll unlock the next level, which usually offers a bigger and more complex area for you to work against – as well as a higher score. Success relies on a triumvirate of abilities; choosing the right tools for the job, identifying the best targets and knowing enough about the engine to topple towers quickly.
The fact remains, however, that even the concentrated, explosive joy of Ruin mode is still held back by Armageddon’s overall aesthetic. That’s not the only factor restricting it – there’s still the consolified upgrade interface and clumsy movement controls – but the drab visuals are definitely the major issue. Familiarity and practice can compensate for the fact that the camera is just that little bit too close for comfort, but nothing can change the fact that Armageddon is so unexciting.
It’s a shame, really. If it weren't for the endlessly brown, generically sci-fi and personality-deprived caves of Mars, Armageddon could be hugely enjoyable. Titles such as Dead Rising 2 and Just Cause 2 show that gamers don’t always need compelling story-driven adventures, not as long as they have toys to play with and somewhere to experiment. Armageddon only has half of that equation – a lack that’s not enough to ruin the game or make it a bad-buy, but it's enough to recommend other games first.