Preview

Red Faction: Armageddon

Lee faces Armageddon

Darius Mason is in a spot of bother. Not only has he unleashed a rash of rather angry insectoid monsters, he's also incurred the wrath of Mar's humans. So, while everybody wants to shoot him, everything wants to eat him. It's an unfortunate situation. But then the Mason family have never been particularly lucky.

Darius is the descendant of Alec Mason, the gruff-voiced chap from Red Faction: Guerrilla. Alec may have seen his brother gunned down and had the role of resistance leader thrust upon him, but at least he had a gang of freedom on his side. Darius isnt quite so fortunate.

The human inhabitants of Mars now live underground, away from the planet's uninhabitable surface. They've tunnelled through subterranean rock to carve out a life for themselves. But Darius dug too far. He listened to the wrong people. And, as a result, a long-dormant species has been let loose, threatening to eliminate the remaining human colonists. The remaining human colonists, meanwhile, are threatening to eliminate Darius.

So that's the set-up. We've moved from the vast expanses of Red Faction: Guerrilla's open-world, to dark, linear, monster-infested tunnels. From Grand Theft Auto to Dead Space, if you will. Except that's an unhelpful comparison.

While Armageddon contains the odd nod to Visceral's action horror, it's really only in a vaguely aesthetic way. Sure it has little, four-tentacled crawly critters and tall, humanoid, scythe-armed monsters, but the comparisons end there. Armageddon is a completely different type of horror game.

This is largely thanks to the guns. If our latest preview session is anything to go by, Armageddon may have some of the most satisfying weapons I've ever experienced. Alongside the standard shotguns, assault rifles and handguns (now dual wield), you've also got remote explosive grenade launchers, plasma beams and your old-faithful hammer, all of which can rip great big chunks out of both monsters and the scenery.

Then there's the Magnet Gun. Oh my. Destined to appear in an endless slew of Top Ten Weapons features, the Magnet Gun is all kinds of fun. Pick up this bad boy, shoot it at a wall or a pillar or anything you like, really, then fire another shot over by your intended target and watch as everything gets ripped from one place and flung at the next, crushing everything in its path.

You may have seen videos of the Magnet Gun in action - all well-placed shots and perfectly executed destruction. But it doesn't really work like that. Not for me anyway. I found myself just spamming it at anything and everything, all while chuckling in delight as iron and concrete and rock threw itself around dramatically. Brilliantly chaotic mayhem. Brilliant fun.

But there's another weapon that makes the Magnet Gun seem like a piddly pea shooter. It's the LEO exo suit. Now, mech suits have been around for ages. They were even in Guerrilla. And they're good. They're fine. But the one here is a monster. You can even afford to cast aside the built-in cannon and missile launcher, because the suit's shoulder charge is fantastic, perhaps the single most enjoyable thing in a demo packed with them.

A click of a shoulder button sees you crashing forwards, leaving everything in your wake mashed. Not just enemies, either, but walls and columns and staircases and... everything. Remember, this is a relatively narrow, corridor-based game. You have a radar and a thumb-click navigation hint to help you navigate the dark tunnels. But step into an exo suit and all that goes out of the window. With this, you can make your own doorways.

The only possible downside to all this is that it's hard to inject fear into a game that dishes out monstrous power so freely. So to counteract this developers Volition throw a constant, endless, relentless stream of monsters at you. Big gangly ones, small creepy ones, glow in the dark green ones, laser shooty ones, hulking boss ones - scores of them, spawning from large, gloopy sacks in the tunnels and catacombs. They're up the walls, pouncing from behind, roaring around corners. They're everywhere.

What this creates is a kind of frantic unease, as you spin around blindly, desperately trying to keep the buggers off of you. It may not be particularly scary, but it's incredible intense.

It's to the game's credit that I've got this far without talking about Armageddon's destruction engine. While it was the showpiece feature of Guerrilla, here it arguably fulfils it's potential by merely existing. What I mean by that is that it's not something around which the game is built, it just offers what, in a perfect world, every game would: an entirely believable environment that reacts realistically to the forces exerted on it.

Even within the confines of the tunnels, you'll still encounter constructions that, once the supporting struts are blasted away, will crumple and fall. Notably, such is the chaotically catastrophic combat, you can completely destroy even the bridges and walkways that lead you to the next part of the level. More than once, as the dust settled on a battle, the path I had to follow had been completely disintegrated. It's here that Darius' Nano-powered repair abilities come into play.

You have a couple of ways you can repair things. A quick tap of a shoulder button tosses out a repair grenade enabling you to rebuild structures from distance. Or alternatively you can keep your finger down, thus making Darius hold his hand, magically rebuilding everything immediately in front of him. The developers even promise that in the heat of a fight you can effectively use this tool as an ammunition generator, using the Magnet Gun to fling out girders and such at will.

But as nifty as this is, it's destroying things that's most fun, an act presented in its purest form by multiplayer mode Ruin. Basically a stripped-down version of Wrecking Crew from Guerrilla, Ruin gives you two minutes to rack up as many points as possible by destroying as much as you can. Contained within a small map, it's relatively easy to top the 2 million mark, but progress beyond there is a struggle. A gloriously compulsive struggle. Within minutes, Ruin had usually nonplussed journos desperate the top the leaderboards. It's brilliant.

There's another multiplayer mode too. But THQ won't let us talk about the fact it's a co-operative game with up to four players attempting to survive waves of attacking enemies. No, we're not. Not even a little bit. Even though you can read about it on the game's Wikipedia page.

So there you have it. Red Faction: Armageddon is shaping up to be fantastic. Truly, I haven't had as much fun with a preview build in a long, long, time. At this stage I've seen enough to know that the fundamentals are all present and correct. The only real concern is that perhaps the game won't be able to sustain its frenetic action, that the fast-paced bombast may lead to desensitisation, or perhaps that the attempts at horror will fall flat. We'll see. But one thing is for sure: Red Faction Armageddon will give you an insatiable appetite for destruction.