Red Faction: Armageddon is composed of two very distinct games. One is an extension of Red Faction: Guerrilla; in this game, you destroy buildings and structures with reckless abandon, and new weapons allow you to wreak ridiculous amounts of carnage. The other game is a run-and-gun shooter full of endless monster closets and a boring, predictable story that seems pulled straight from a made-for-tv film script.
Unfortunately, these two games are inextricably intertwined, so it's impossible to pass judgment on one while completely ignoring the other. Armageddon is both terrible and wonderful, and that balances the whole experience out to just "OK."
Armageddon’s problems are particularly surprising when you consider they were strengths in its predecessor. In Guerrilla, you played a freedom fighter roaming the surface of Mars destroying buildings and machines in order to sabotage an evil, oppressive government. You could pick and choose what type of guerrilla actions you'd take part in to accomplish your goals, and, to an extent, you could control how you carried out those actions. Guerrilla wasn't a stealth game, but if you wanted to try sneaking in and silently sabotaging buildings from within using strategically placed explosive charges, you could do that.
Personally, I would almost always drive a truck covered in bombs into the middle of every enemy-infested level, make a run for it while that truck exploded in the background, then take out any remaining buildings (and survivors) with my hammer. That game's biggest problem was that it took too long to get anywhere, and the driving missions were a little boring. Other than that, you were pretty much a one-man A-Team in a fully destructible sandbox. Red Faction: Armageddon is not like that.
Here, the main story is a linear slog, mostly through caverns, where you fight endless swarms of aliens. The game's plot: a group of bad guys destroy the machines that allow terra-forming on Mars' surface, inadvertently unleashing a swarm of destructive aliens on the planet's surviving colonists. I'm fine with the suspension of disbelief necessary to understand why everyone still seems able to breathe on the surface and in the caverns of Mars, and the fact that you find plenty of shotgun ammo deep in the bowels of unexplored alien strongholds.
What I'm not as fine with is that to progress you have to kill every last alien you see in a room – that’s fine the first five or ten times, but after several repetitious hours, as the aliens just get bigger and harder to kill, the game starts to feel like an endurance run. Near the end of the game, they lighten up on that requirement a bit, but I felt like I was cheating when I would just run as fast as I could through caverns to get to the next checkpoint and avoid any more tedious battles.
Armageddon includes a riff on Gears Of War’s Horde mode, where you fight off waves of enemies in a multiplayer setting, but that just highlights both how similar the concept is to every other room in the main game, and how much more boring it is to have to do it on your own. Working as a team to accomplish a goal is great; doing it on your own in the single-player campaign: not so much.
However, the boring sections are broken up by brief moments of freedom. You occasionally come across an open cavern or a slightly larger room with plenty of destructible elements and pieces of scenery to fling around; that's when the game gets fun. Shooting enemies who can nimbly skip around the walls of a room and who are, without the game's generous auto-assist, almost impossible to keep a bead on is boring. But knocking out the supports for a building, and watching it tumble on your foes...that's always fun.
Armageddon's new hardware is what really make things work. I almost always had the Magnet Gun in my inventory; this brilliant tool lets you set two charges at a time, one as a magnet and one as an anchor that attracts that magnet. Setting an anchor way off in the distance and throw a magnet onto an enemy is endlessly satisfying. Marrying form to function, you can also set an enemy as the anchor, and then shoot a magnet at a nearby building or wall; the masonry will then come flying at your foe, either wiping them out completely or at least doing a fair bit of damage.
But the further you get in the game, the less you're able to use such tactics. Either you're overwhelmed with so many enemies at once that your only choice is to use explosives and a machine gun, or you're in too narrow a space to do anything creative. Then the game's unnecessary final boss – which is just the start of an overdrawn end-objective gauntlet – is a staid, stereotypical letdown.
There are other interesting weapons and abilities that are great to play around with; especially the singularity gun, which pulls in everything nearby that's not tied down and then flings it out at high-speed, and the Nano Forge, which lets you quickly reconstruct most structures you've already destroyed. With that handy bit of tech you do have to occasionally worry about literally losing the ground underneath your feet, but you never have to worry about getting stuck in an area because of blowing up too much of the scenery.
But all of these weapons and abilities enjoy a more prominent role in Armageddon's Ruin mode. Ruin mode is Wrecking Crew from Guerrilla, but better. While there's no simultaneous multiplayer in this mode, you can take turns with a friend tearing up pre-set environments. You choose the weapons, then you have a minute to cause as much destruction as possible. When the timer reaches zero, your score is tallied and weighed against both your local rivals and the game's leaderboards.
Armageddon's single-player campaign is an average shooter in too many ways. Ruin mode is worth checking out, and if it were a moderately priced downloadable game, I'd recommend it without hesitation. But while you do earn upgrades in multiplayer, you really have to play single-player to make real progress in accumulating those power-ups and abilities. And while Armageddon's single-player content isn’t bad, it is plain. The game feels like Volition started from scratch, but accidentally threw out too much of what made the last game great.