Release date: May/June 2011
The level begins with the game's star, Darius Mason (grandson to Alec Mason of Red Faction: Guerilla), fleeing for his life. He's just been duped into unleashing an alien horde from a mysterious underground shaft in a Marauder temple, deep underground on (in?) Mars. We never see any people, but we can hear them cursing Mason in the tunnels ahead as they flee from what he's let loose from the planet's depths.
The aim of this mission is to reach the surface in one piece. Even though Mason's only just popped the cork on the alien nest, they've managed to get everywhere ahead of him and made a good start at destroying everything and wasting miners.
The aliens might have a bit of a Dead Space look to them, as does the darker, claustrophobic setting, but seeing as they generally go down easily the comparisons don't last long. Red Faction: Armageddon is maintaining a heavy action vibe in place of any leanings towards survival horror. Your weapons will cut through most aliens so easily they're not scaring anyone to be honest.
Early on, a fine variety of monsters can be seen gnashing their way towards you in the dark. Standard greenish ones scuttle towards you (leaving them open to a context-sensitive melee strike), red ones like to hang off walls and spit fire at you, while another will teleport around you and charge up an attack with red lasers warning you of its imminent intent.
There's a wide range of weaponry available to send the Martian nasties to their messy deaths. Four weapons can be assigned to the d-pad. The standard assault rifle will take down regular enemies down in less than a full clip and has a reliable feel to it, with stable cross-hairs. The shotgun packs a mighty wallop that takes down most wall-clingers in one go. Other weapons include the sticky grenades that can be detonated remotely and a plasma beam that melts through anything once it warms up.
The Magnet gun is the main talking point for Red Faction: Armageddon. This can be used to throw around aliens, rocks or even huge chunks of buildings. You fire it at one target then fire a second shot somewhere else to send the first target crashing towards it. The weight of the moving object is taken into account too, so if you send a concrete pillar towards something, chances are it'll destroy anything in-between too, causing some awesome destruction.
With this being a Red Faction game, it's obvious that environmental destruction is a key focus and one that seems to be as fun as ever. You can get carried away though and destroy your route, such as a staircase. This is where the new Nano Forge comes in. This is used to repair any broken areas caused by yourself or earlier incidents.
Use a nano-grenade from your infinite supply to fix patches on the go while you focus on shooting, or hold down the nano button to hold out Mason's hand to repair wider areas (see below image). Walkways can be repaired as you walk on them, which keeps the game flowing nicely and works much better than making you stand there while everything glues itself back together.
The Nano Forge can also be used offensively, with a few upgradable abilities bought with salvage found throughout the game. A force-push sends out an energy ball to repel aliens, or you might opt for the uppercut move that suspends them in slow motion while you riddle them with bullets.
There are lots of extra features and enhancements to unlock later in the game, such as: weapon stability, faster reloads, extra health, enemy health indicators, better dodging, increased stopping power, better explosives, stronger melee strikes, shields and more.
All of the gameplay from today's single-player story session takes place underground and it was good to see a little of the variety we were promised from the setting. Of course there were an awful lot of caves and caverns with red rocks, but there were also crystal chambers with huge white spikes just begging to be brought down on approaching alien necks. The man-made locations included barracks and a multi-levelled prison that was made extra interesting what with it being on fire and swarming with alien-spewing pods.
Fortunately, for this latter stage, you're given a large armoured walker, loaded with infinite machine gun and rocket fire. Armoured suits are always fun, if not almost always exactly the same in most games. RF:A does have the advantage of its excellent damage model to allow you to rip through the buildings though.
The main problem with this particular section was the poor lighting making it extremely difficult to tell where you were meant to be going at times. When combined with the camera repeatedly bumping into your back in these tight confines (not an issue outside of the suit) it got pretty annoying. Even second time around I had difficulty navigating my way out of the prison section.
The demo concludes with a boss fight against a large berserker alien. Unsurprisingly his main attack is charging at you (I know, mind-blowing) and occasionally throwing up acid all over you. We can forgive the unoriginal design of the alien thanks to the way you take him out. Sure, you could do it the hard way by slowly forcing every last bit of ammo into its face. Or you could have fun and pull buildings on top of him.
Using the magnet gun you can send the surrounding structures crashing into him. Ideally you'll want to use the crackling electric pylons that cover the cavern's ceiling. It takes a while, but it's great fun timing your dodges to avoid his charge and sending a steel crate his way, face-first, instead.
An all too brief glimpse of where the Red Faction series is heading, but even at this early stage we can say that you're going to have hours of fun using the magnet gun to smash the new alien threat. As for the new underground setting we'll have to wait for the full version to see if it can hold our interest throughout, the same goes for the story itself which was limited to a couple of good-looking cutscenes during this play-test. Darius Mason is proving to be quite likeable though, despite his generic shaved head, ex-military looks. His voice is more that of a regular guy than gravel-gargling military meathead and might just be the ticket to keeping us interested in more than chewing through a planet's insides.
Fans of the series might miss the open-world freedom, hell, some of us still miss the FPS games. But this more linear, action-heavy approach might be what the series needs. Plus, any game that lets you throw a building at aliens is always going to be fun.
Stay tuned for more hands-on coverage with Red Faction: Armageddon as we'll be bringing you Brendan's coverage of the Ruin and Infestation modes very soon.