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Red Faction Armageddon preview: Breaking new ground


There used to be a building here, I reflect as I put down the controller, ending my preview session of Red Faction Armageddon. I think back to what just happened: how the tower first collapsed after I disintegrated its base with my plasma rifle, before I pulled out my magnet gun and propelled a giant globe at the wrecked building, shattering the remains to pieces. For good measure, I aimed my singularity launcher at what was left and fired off a "black hole," ensuring that nothing would be left.

Like Guerrilla before it, Armageddon has been designed for emergent gameplay -- those uniquely entertaining scenarios that arise spontaneously out of a game's openness to the player's own creativity. It's the sort of fun that relies heavily on awareness of the entire gameworld, and thankfully Armageddon has the right toy box to inspire the level of engagement necessary to create the over-the-top destruction. When the "rocket launcher" is the most uninteresting weapon in a game, something's being done right.

Sure, Armageddon is, in many ways, the same game as its predecessor, but it appeared much more polished to me. The switch from Guerrilla's open-world design to a more linear one may seem regressive, putting greater limitation on the emergent gameplay, but, according to Roje Smith, of developer Volition, "It allows us to give the player much more focus in the experience -- not wander around and get lost in a huge environment."

"In order to really tell the story in Armageddon, it had to be much more linear," he added.

Gallery: Red Faction Armageddon (1/20/11) | 15 Photos

But is this a story worth telling? THQ certainly thinks so, as it continues to develop the Red Faction "universe" through a series of transmedia projects. Personally, I'm not sold on the generic "fight the aliens that are trying to kill you" plot as a compelling narrative, but, thankfully, one of the natural developments in the game's story happens to be an excuse to introduce large, overpowered alien bosses -- another prime target for your toys.

One battle has you facing off against a menacing creature that fires a devastating laser beam from its mouth. The burst destroys cover, forcing you to stay mobile throughout the deadly encounter. Because a direct hit from the beam will kill you, this fight encourages the use of one of the Armageddon's best additions to the series: the new repair ability of the otherwise destructive Nano Forge weapon. With this function, you can restore buildings, pathways and anything else that may have been obliterated during the chaotic combat to its original form. Repair can be used infinitely, and it quickly becomes your best friend. In this boss battle, losing cover doesn't signal "game over" -- you just have to rebuild it.

In another section, I felt overwhelmingly empowered as I ran across a bridge while building it. Creation is the one power that makes you feel more godly than wielding the force of mass destruction.

Of course, breaking stuff is loads of fun, too, and in Armageddon there are so many ways to do it. The magnet gun is probably my favorite, as any object becomes its ammunition; of which the environment offers a limitless supply. Destroy a wall, use its debris as ammo, and then rebuild it, so you can blow it apart again for more munitions. Even the enemies themselves are viable "shells" for the magnet gun.

If you tire of shooting stuff, the standard sledgehammer is as trusty as ever, a perfect melee weapon for close-quarters combat. You're also equipped with a sort of "Force attack," with which you can rip open walls or toss enemies around with ease. And then, there's the mech armor.

Jumping into one of these robot suits to burst through walls with its dash ability is pure fun in and of itself, but when you follow that up by unleashing a target-locked missile salvo onto a half dozen enemies? I'll leave it at "awesome," and you can add the expletive.

Armageddon seems to offer more of the unreserved, chaotic action that fans of the previous game's campaign fell in love with, but the series is still looking to emerge as a contender in the multiplayer market. THQ isn't ready to fully open up about Armageddon's multiplayer component, but Smith did suggest that it would be "much more similar" to the campaign than Guerrilla's disparate offering. "I can only hint at the co-op modes ... and the destruction modes that we have."

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