Most gamers like drama in their games, right? Some suspenseful music...quality voice acting...a scare here, a laugh there... I’m pretty sure everyone would have passed on my experience with the Red Faction: Armageddon single-player campaign.
My one-year-old son - Donovan - enthralled with the little green lights on the front of my floor-standing Xbox 360, decided to give said device a hug. He knocked it over, effectively aborting my mission...which was about three hours into the campaign. Upon rebooting the game, some sound effects were omitted and the game wouldn’t recognize when an objective was completed. I was literally stuck. Add to this that the menu doesn’t feature the ability level select, so one manual save slot and a corrupted auto-save were my two options...and apparently the weird glitch carried over to my manual save.
After clearing the console’s cache and deleting all associated content, I finally discovered that the disc itself had been scratched by the lens. Apparently the sectors that were affected were for ambient music, the shotgun’s sound effect, and Black Market (the first Infection mode map). So Nick and I fired up some co-op Infection to see if I could live without those.
Turns out I can. Because, you see, this game is really fun. In fact, Infestation made the game for me. The single-player campaign (about half of which I played) has some interesting sights to see, but aside from a really cool wreck-and-rebuild Geo Mod function it isn’t anything all that unique. Travel here...get ambushed...survive. The horror themes that Volition tried to push several months back are present, but they’re nothing to write home about. The campaign is about as scary and predictable as another entry in the Halo series.
Which is why throwing up to four people into a map with waves of increasingly aggressive aliens is the wild card, and for me it makes Red Faction: Armageddon a package worth looking into. It’s as fun an insane as you can remember a co-op game being. The controls are familiar, character movement speed is spot-on, and each player can choose their own options - such as sticky reticule, toggle/hold options, and even mapping different weapons to their d-pad.
Getting into a game is simple. Choose offline (single player only), System Link / LAN, or Online / Live. Choosing the online route grants you the choice of hosting a public match, hosting a private match, or matchmaking - basically, finding any random open slot. A customization menu allows you to choose either one of four characters or simply “random”; if you specify a character, then matchmaking will try and get you into a game where that character is available. Otherwise, you get randomly assigned a different skin (each game is allowed one of each skin). Since they all have the same abilities and weapons, this is not a dealbreaker at all.
Once a map loads, you have several seconds to quickly map four weapons to your d-pad, and to specify a Nano Forge ability (pretty much limited to different shockwave-type attacks that recharge). After that, you get a quick countdown timer, and the walls come alive with Martian bugs for you and your partners to squash. Seeing the Nano Forge in motion is a blast, and the magnet gun is a thing of beauty (think: tether launcher). There aren’t many things more entertaining and exhilarating than seeing a lumbering Berserker alien get pulled away into the depths of an underground mine, or better yet: getting swiped off a ledge by a surge of rubble. Should your aim be off and the Berserker manages to pummel a co-op partner into the ground, you can revive them up to six times. Doing it quickly is important, though, because they are on a timer...and they can be finished off by enemies.
Infestation maps (which are quite detailed and larger than they initially seem) have one of two objectives: Survive, and Defend. Survive is as simple as it gets, but in Defend maps you’re tasked with keeping designated structures from being destroyed. The blessing here is that it distracts enemies from just attacking the players. The curse is that there’s more than one way to fail. Honestly, though, keeping everyone alive is trickier than keeping the structures repaired, which literally consists of aiming your reticule and tapping a button to send a burst of repairing Nano energy at them.
Your performance in any mode of Armageddon - even the main campaign - grants you salvage points, which can be used to upgrade your abilities. The only catch is: even if you’ve unlocked them, they can only be used in campaign levels and Infestation waves that are designated as being high enough. So, basically, you can’t unlock every ability while playing the campaign, and then go sweep through the beginning Waves of Infestation. It keeps things challenging.
Also: once you’ve reached a certain Wave on a certain map, you can always start back there again. If you join an online match and beat a Wave that you hadn’t before, then it marks that one off on your map select screen, but you still have to beat the Waves before it in order to use it as a starting point. With thirty Waves on eight maps, there is plenty of reason to keep coming back.
For rainy days without the internet, Ruin mode is a neat distraction. Choose your weapon and annihilate as much as you can, as fast as you can - it’s that simple. Online leaderboards showcase the best scores. My time with it was pretty much just a trial run to witness the awesome destruction that the Geo Mod engine can wreak. Nick seemed to have a lot more fun with it. Currently, Ruin mode is only available by purchasing the game new.
For now, Red Faction: Armageddon remains a keeper. Which means that I won’t be giving it to my younger brother, nor trading it in for retail credit. The gameplay is airtight, Geo Mod has raised the bar on destruction, and persistent character progression makes every mode worth playing, even if the lack of campaign co-op stings yet again.