Red Faction: Armageddon

Intentionally or not, Volition’s 2009 game Red Faction: Guerrilla commented on present-day America in startling, subversive ways. Volition placed players in a populist insurgency that used improvised explosives to beat back wealthy occupiers seeking control of Mars’ geological resources. The parallels to the Iraq War infused the game’s signature tech feature, a terrific building-destruction effect, with debate-provoking depth. Two years later, scared by Guerrilla’s shadow, Red Faction: Armageddon seeks to provoke nothing.

Armageddon’s problem isn’t that it’s different from Guerrilla, but that it’s so similar to everything else. In the opening minutes of this third-person shooter, the hero mistakenly unleashes a long-dormant race of lizard-y, insect-y aliens. From there, most of the game is miles of anonymous caves, broken up into a series of missions where the central objective is always the same: advance while blasting away endless waves of insectosaurs.

Armageddon is assiduously generic. There are only a handful of alien species, so players dispatch the same baddies hundreds of times. Amid the variety of guns, there’s only one worth noting: a magnet gun that lets you fling enemies around the landscape, like Star Wars: The Force Unleashed in its simpler moments. The vehicle-based shooting exercises near the end of the game seek to break up the monotony, but they only emphasize how predictable Armageddon is. Likewise the meager multiplayer, in which you and your friends try to survive increasingly tough waves of aliens, and then you die.

Armageddon is the first game produced under a partnership between publisher THQ and the cable network SyFy. (A made-for-TV movie, Red Faction: Origins, premièred June 4.) Like an admiring little brother, Armageddon takes the cookie-cutter storytelling approach of SyFy’s B-movies to an extreme. The stock characters include a whitebread hero, his gruff-but-loving black friend, and a toothlessly sassy love interest. They all seem to be playing an improv-comedy game where every utterance has to be some shopworn genre cliché.

Script aside, this isn’t a poorly made game, or a bad one. The designers at Volition are proud enough to apply their considerable talent even on a bland-fest like Armageddon. They salvage the project, making it a perfectly serviceable time-waster—one you happen to play on your TV or PC instead of on your phone. The destructible buildings still collapse beautifully, though that feature has been somewhat sidelined. The action flow rarely stalls, and the player’s situation is always clear, thanks to well-organized visual space and clean interface design.

Everything Armageddon does, it does well, in the same way that a lobotomy victim might walk and talk just fine. Guerrilla’s dangerous boldness has been excised, and what’s left is an inoffensive marketing product meant to tie in with a cheap film and then vanish, leaving the world unchanged and unmoved.

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