Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Even the most pacifistic video-game player has a favorite gun. Perhaps yours is the Lancer, the combination assault rifle/chain saw in “Gears of War.” Maybe you like the Gravity Gun in “Half-Life 2.” I’ve always been partial to the RYNO (“rip you a new one”) in “Ratchet & Clank.”
The video-game gun hall of fame has a new contender, thanks to “Red Faction: Armageddon” (THQ, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99; PC, $49.99). It’s called, simply, the Magnet Gun. Your first shot fires a magnet; your second shot releases an anchor, which attracts the magnetized surface. Shoot once into a ceiling, then once onto a floor, and you can cause a building to collapse into rubble in seconds.
It’s a wonderful new tool for the “Red Faction” universe, which has always thrived on large-scale property demolition. And it lifts “Armageddon” above the competition in the increasingly crowded shooter marketplace.
“Red Faction” takes place on 22nd-century Mars, which Earthlings have tried to terraform into a livable environment. In the prologue to “Armageddon,” however, a cult leader has destroyed the terraformer, driving the colonists underground. There they discover a new threat, awakening a hive of vicious, insectoid aliens.
From there, “Armageddon” turns into a fairly predictable bug hunt. Your character, Darius Mason, is sent deeper into the tunnels of Mars to eradicate the aliens (as well as Adam Hale, the cult leader, and his minions). Sometimes you have Red Faction troops backing you up; other times, you’re on your own.
Your arsenal is impressive. Of course you have your pistols, shotguns and assault rifles, but you also get new toys like the Nano Rifle, which shoots swarms of all-consuming nanoparticles, and the Singularity Cannon, which swallows monsters with a miniature black hole.
But the Magnet Gun is still the most effective. If you stumble across a building infested with aliens, you can crush them all by simply flattening the structure. You can hurl explosives into their midst and then set them off. If enemies are far apart, you can fling them together at high speeds, creating a satisfying squish.
Mason is also equipped with a “nanoforge,” which lets him form a protective shell around himself, launch energy fields at enemies, or even rebuild broken structures. On occasion, he can slip into a heavily armored exoskeleton and bash his way through infested areas. And a few high-powered vehicles really let him crank up the destruction.
As entertaining as all this mayhem is, it does get repetitious over the course of 22 missions and about 10 hours. There isn’t much variation among the aliens, and the journey underground usually takes place on a single, linear path. That will disappoint fans of the open-world exploration of the last “Red Faction” game, 2009’s “Guerrilla,” but it does ensure that the story keeps barreling forward.
Beyond the main plot, “Armageddon” includes an online “Infestation” mode in which players cooperate against ever-growing swarms of aliens. And then there’s “Ruin,” in which your goal is to destroy everything you can as quickly as possible. It’s not terribly rewarding as a game, but does serve as a decent stress reliever.
If you have an appetite for destruction, “Red Faction: Armageddon” will certainly feed it. But it has no nutritional value. Two-and-a-half stars out of four.