I found "Red Faction: Guerrilla" rather charming and enjoyable. Sure, it was far from perfect, with ugly graphics, so-so controls and an unbalanced difficulty, but damn if I didn't really enjoy knocking buildings down with a sledgehammer.
When I discovered that "Red Faction: Armageddon," the direct sequel, would be ditching the open-world map of "Guerrilla" in favor of more linear maps and structured missions, I was concerned that the charm would be lost. Early trailers and screenshots seemed to imply that the team would be turning this into a gritty, underground, alien-fighting action game.
As it happens, they have basically turned "Armageddon" into a gritty, underground, alien-fighting action game, but after playing it for about an hour, I'm totally fine with that.
Why Open-World Won't Be Missed
Thinking back on "Guerrilla," I can't say that I ever really enjoyed driving across vast, empty, Martian plains. No, the game really only got interesting when assaulting large military installations, bringing down buildings, piece by piece. "Armageddon" doesn't ditch that aspect. In fact, by making missions more focused, it gives the developers more resources to make the destruction, combat and graphics even better.
There's probably an official, fancy marketing term for the improved buildings-falling-down tech in "Red Faction: Armageddon," but I'm gonna go ahead and make up my own: Demolition 2.0. Which is way better than 1.0.
The basics of the demolition tech in "Armageddon" remain the same. You can still use a sledgehammer and explosive weapons to take out chunks building foundations, and if you take out enough of the supporting structure, the whole thing will collapse.
It seems the biggest improvements on this front were with the audio and visuals. In "Guerrilla," chunks of buildings would fall, but you never got a sense that there was any weight to them. It was almost as if everything was made of Styrofoam blocks.
In "Armageddon," a building collapsing in front of you feels like an event. The sound of each chunk hitting the ground is massive and a little terrifying, and added particle and smoke effects seem to complete the illusion of destruction.
Shooting Guns Is Fun Again!
The shooting mechanics in "Armageddon" also got a touch-up. While it's still a 3rd person game, the camera is pulled in closer than it was in "Guerrilla" and the guns feel like they pack more of a punch. Even the standard assault rifle, a peashooter in the last game, felt like a valuable implement of destruction. More explosive weapons, like remote mines and rocket launchers, are equally meaty and remain the ideal choice for taking down structures at long range.
The magnet gun, however, takes the cake for the most enjoyable new piece of your arsenal. Fire one shot into a wall and your second shot into an enemy. A beam will connect the two shots, basically causing a chunk of that wall to come hurling into said enemy with comedic results. Just about anything can be linked together, which turns a destructive environment into a potential ammo cache.
Volition: Keep Things Big
My time with "Red Faction: Armageddon" was enjoyable, though I do have one hope for the full release. The demo I played through was a mix of narrow, claustrophobic environments and large, wide-open spaces. The game really shined in the latter, as larger spaces allowed for more player choice, letting me carve my own path to an objective. In narrower spaces (like a sequence which saw me piloting a mech through an underground marketplace), the game felt much more like a me-too experience, easily ripped from any one of the dozen 3rd person action games of recent years. We'll just have to wait until its release in May to see how favorable that ratio of narrow to large is.