The 'Red Faction' Series Is Now a Shell of Its Former Self

Someone ruined one of my favorite franchises, and I'm mad as hell about it.

Remember how awesome Volition, Inc.'s Red Faction: Guerrilla was? If you don't, here's a helpful excerpt from me circa 2009:

"With the amount of options available, Guerrilla's mission structure is limited nearly exclusively by the player's skill and imagination.... Formalities like mission briefings and morale scores soon become irrelevant, a garnish of text atop an entree of excuses to lay waste to anything man-made."

Long story short, Red Faction: Guerrilla's only "shortcoming" was its surfeit of freedom. With only a passing semblance of overarching coordination to drive the player's efforts, Guerrilla lent itself to wild flights of destructive fancy.

Apparently, someone somewhere in the Red Faction pecking order got it into their head that this is a bad thing, as Red Faction: Armageddon, Volition's follow-up to Guerrilla, solves this "problem" by removing practically everything that made its predecessor great. Armageddon is third-person action by the numbers, with none of Guerrilla's innovation to be found.

Picking up 50 years after Guerrilla's endgame, Armageddon introduces players to an entirely new face of Mars. Unfortunately, it's the boring interior face, a monochromatic cave system that consists of one single continuous tunnel winding through the bowels of Mars like a boring, mineral-rich intestinal tract.

Populating the Martian craw are two factions: the human colonists, driven from the surface of Mars (and from their own at least half-interesting plot-related motivations) by a deus ex terraforma exploda in Armageddon's opening minutes, and a newly discovered race of indescribable horrors that was apparently trapped beneath the Martian surface by an ancient civilization advanced enough to know that it was too stereotypical to let loose.

Generic death-cultists hatch a plot to destroy the generic monsters' generic cage, a generically genocidal swarm emerges, and our generic hero must traverse the length of the Martian interior to find their generic queen and put an end to the generic menace. If you think this sounds very, very specifically like a few levels of Gears of War with LEGO buildings, then get your ass to Champaign, Ill., because Volition needs someone like you to help their writing team with quality control.

"But hey," I'm sure you're asking. "Isn't Red Faction just about destructible environments? All Volition really has to do to stay true to the franchise is slap a few improvements on the Geomod engine, throw together a few maps with opportune combinations of structures and future codes violations, and call it a day, right?"

No, no, a thousand times no, I say! Context is king here, and Red Faction: Armageddon is bereft of it altogether. Destructibility is only the potential for fun; without other critical elements tying the whole thing together, Armageddon becomes a house of cards that falls apart at the slightest wind.

Despite a storyline that tries to hinge on it, the fundamental sequence of action and consequence rarely shows itself in Armageddon as more than window dressing. In the persistent world of Guerrilla's Mars, a building once killed stayed dead, causing either grief or jubilation depending on that building's usefulness to the player or the enemy. This was equally relevant for questions such as stealing civilian vehicles or killing innocents—either action, as well as several others, made measurable differences in how the player was treated by the world at large.

Not only does Armageddon's painfully linear structure effectively eliminate this, but even within its miniscule levels, the problem of persistent destruction is also done away with altogether by a one-button nanotech solution that players can literally engage at any time to rebuild collapsed structures on the fly. This ability consumes no resources and is only disengaged during brief, plot-related moments, and its ubiquitous inclusion makes the prospect of destruction—the one claim that Armageddon can still reasonably make—even less substantial than it already is.

And then there's variety, or more specifically its lack. Armageddon's real, distinguishable internal differences are few; a handful of enemy types, even fewer weapon types (and fewer still once the aforementioned nanotech solution's upgrades make most weapons redundant), three vehicles, and two distinct environments make it an exercise in repetition.

Stepping back from previous successes is a difficult thing, one ill-advised without at least some plausible barrier between one's current lack of ambition and one's past accomplishments. Volition could have made an iOS app, a Facebook game, a few more Guerrilla DLC packs... anything but Armageddon, a sadly appropriate name for what their latest effort threatens to do to their best franchise.