This isn't your dad's Mars. Things have changed on the red planet since the war for independence which formed the core of Red Faction: Guerrilla. Taking the starring role is Darius Mason, the man with an almost painfully rugged name whose lineage in the series stems back to his grandfather, Guerrilla's Alec Mason. The storyline of Armageddon is something like a missing episode of Lost in Space – Mason is tricked into reopening a mysterious shaft in an ancient temple, releasing a long-dormant evil race of aliens called the Plague, accidentally causing Armageddon on Mars by doing so. Both the colonist and marauder settlements are attacked by the aliens, leaving Darius to save the population. It's fine, just move along.
The first weapon I'm introduced to is the Magnet Gun, a brilliant idea that causes a staggering amount of environmental damage. The Magnet Gun will pull any building, crate, or piece of terrain in the direction you choose. Mason will fire at the object, then at a second object, and the first will tear itself from its original home and shoot toward the second, causing the rest of the environment to shake as it tears it apart piece by piece.
Later you can use this for more specific scenarios. Enemies hiding out at the top of a nearby building might be difficult to take out one by one, so the alternative is to rip the structural support out of the building and have it flatten itself. The damage you create is actually surprisingly cinematic: fire will shoot from broken pieces of building - even the audio effects that come with that destruction help to create the sense of an end-of-the-planet hub.
The other most important new weapon will likely be remembered by anyone who played Red Faction: Guerrilla, although it's changed quite a bit since then; the Nano-Forge. It sounds familiar because it's been in the Mason family weapons cache for a while. Originally it took on the form of a rifle-like particle weapon that could dissolve pieces of the environment, but now it's been re-interpreted in its look and function.
In Armageddon the Nano-Forge is used as a repair device that lets you re-create destroyed pieces of buildings, bridges and crates - an undo button for the game similar to the multiplayer-only Reconstructor from Guerrilla. This means Mason can construct cover on the fly, or create platforms to reach previously unreachable areas. You might break open a container, jump inside, repair it to create cover, regenerate health and then head back out into battle.
This becomes a complete necessity. While there appeared to be little or no human enemies in the demo, you can quickly find yourself in the middle of a battle against laser-wielding aliens, and with their tendency to bunch into corridors it's necessary to brush up your nano-fighting skills. One of the first significant fights you run into, a scuffle that pits you against a kind of giant laser-shooting metal spider (why not?), forces you to test out your skills with the weapon. Survival in this fight depends on continuously rebuilding crates around and in front of Mason to create a decent amount of cover against the bot. It highlights two of the game's main characteristics - creation and destruction.
Armageddon is a game built entirely around its creation and destruction weaponry, and it rarely turns its focus elsewhere. It also plays almost like a parody of the space marine conventions, and Mason rarely feels like anything more than a checklist of derivative game character tropes. He's big, bald, has a neck tattoo, and says nebulous lines like "they don't call it the red planet for nothing".
Red Faction: Armageddon doesn't attempt to escape these derivative features, nor does it try to really attempt to make them any more interesting. Whether the demo is a testament to what the rest of the game has in store is another question but, regardless of whether or not it's a derivative game, Volition's latest once again manages to offer incredible creative freedom to destroy anything in your path.
Red Faction: Armageddon is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in May.