By Chris Matel
A series known for giving players unique, destructive ways to interact with Mars' geology and terraformed infrastructure, Red Faction has found success in leveraging functionally destructible environments. Though the perspective and characters have changed over the years, it's the tech which has always been the driving idiom, and knowing as much, after the series debut, Volition learned to back up their solo adventures with both playful and popular ways of getting more than one player in on the action at a time.
Moving back underground to the mines of the Red Planet, Red Faction: Armageddon once again tweaks its formula from the last release in the series (Guerrilla) not only with a new camera angle, but a change to its supplemental modes of play as well. While more in-depth details of the game's single-player campaign are forthcoming, most of the content behind the curtain can be picked up from Armageddon's “Infestation” and “Ruin” alternatives. Familiar twists on established ancillary gameplay, each look to capitalize on new weaponry, more enclosed environments, and alien enemies to supply extra content in addition to the more narrative-focused campaign.
You may assume the role of Darius Mason in Armageddon's story, but by selecting Infestation Mode on its title screen you're introduced to a survival style of gaming with a side-fiction—and, yes, you could call it like Gears' Horde Mode, even though that was just a derivation and popularization of already established gaming. With three friends at your side, it's up to Sergeant Frank Winters, Snipes (Winters' younger brother), Corvallis, and Snake to stave off 30 waves of alien insurgents in closed-off arenas borrowed from the main game.
Armageddon's version of survival gameplay, however, allows you a safety net after completing each wave. So instead of blaming your buddy (or random matchmade stranger) for thwarting your hard-earned progress and resetting the wave counter, you can just berate them as you restart from each each respective checkpoint. As you progress through the infestation, better, more devastating weapons and skills unlock for your employment. On-field ammo boxes have to be shared between your teammates, but their re-spawns are generous as long as your team is competent and has a penchant for heavy ordinance.
From my experience at a recently held THQ-hosted event, four fairly with-it players can blow their way to the 21st wave without much consternation. Our group scrambled to revive teammates every once in awhile, but smart planning and wise implementation of our rocket, grenade and remote mine launchers, along with a non-explosive weapon of our choice, left us reaping rewards of salvage since friendly fire isn't a factor. The only map we played had us backing one another up in an underground arena separated by three parallel hallways of various paths and dead ends, but close proximity to one another and volleys of explosives kept us alive no matter how much chaos shook the camera in dim lighting.
Based on what we played, Infestation was a frenzied way to get friends together and kill off aliens in fully destructible surroundings, thanks to a feeling of explosive power. When compared to other contemporary versions of the survival situation, however, Infestation was fairly light on features. Besides each enemy killed only counting as a single tally and not as a different score based on size or toughness (like in ODST/Reach's Firefight mode), there weren't any other accompanying qualities like challenges or match replays. Simply get in, get it done, and move on.
Multiplayer Designer Roje Smith mentioned pitch black variants of the five included maps, where the only light sources comes from your team, supposedly adding difficulty. Also, a castle defense subset of rules is offered, making use of the awesomely destructible architecture; but even then, additional features would be expected for the game to compete in a genre where basic survival has been done and Horde mode is the looming reference and de facto standard.
Another way to add more salvage to your bank, in order to help you cash in on better abilities and attributes, is by playing Ruin mode—a more simplified version of Guerrilla's Wreckage suite with its variable options and challenge-oriented mini-game structure. Conversely, Ruin's rules consists solely of destroying buildings in quick, efficient order for big points before a timer completely runs out. Different weapons are more effective in different maps, but collapsing towering structures with the touted magnet gun by pulling two facades together, effectively toppling that which they support, or disintegrating stanchions with the nanomite rifle seemed to get the job done well enough. As expected, scores will be posted online with in leaderboard form to see if your friends (or the world) are better at demolitions than you are.
As someone who found Guerrilla as not just a tech demo, but a well-rounded game with a wealth of fully fledged options, including a competitive multiplayer element where going through obstacles left campers without shelter, Armageddon's extra modes of play came off as somewhat less ambitious. Perhaps this is what fans are clamoring for, and maybe it's the kind of content that sells, but as the game creeps closer to it's May (31st, 2011) launch, it's hard to stomach we won't be able to go hammer-to-face against one another in match-style play.
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