Perhaps it's just a sign of the times. When the original Red Faction emerged, back in the prehistoric mists of 2001, an angry political plotline was one of the game's notable features. Sure, most of us were preoccupied with the fact you could blow ruddy great holes in the levels - seriously, you can walk right through them and everything! - but the quasi-communist symbolism was interesting nonetheless. The series has evolved over the past decade, but for the past three games there's always been a dash of that activist spice, that tingle that makes you want to scream "THE UNION FOREVER!" while bashing your boss's brains in with a hammer.
Today, things have changed. Political apathy has spread to the Illinois offices of Volition Inc, and as a result this latest Red Faction is no longer concerned with taking down The Man, man. Instead, Armageddon finds you scrabbling about Mars's underground caverns, battling hoards of massive insects and attempting to deal with the naughty cult who's responsible for their unwanted presence. The impressive terrain destruction is still present and correct, but the politics have gone AWOL.
Or have they? Perhaps I'm missing the subtlety of Volition's vision, and the whole thing is a metaphor for life after the Credit Crunch. The gloomy caverns represent the dank housing we're forced to inhabit, and it's dark because none of us can pay our energy bills. Insects are the major threat, because we've all got to deal with the roaches that infest our neglected council flats. And the cultists? Why, they represent the Chuggers in the street, the pests in weird clothes who hound us for cash when we're already broke - our wallets barren, our overdrafts tumescent.
Either that, or someone's been playing Dead Space.
In any case, I don't really care what's motivated the change-up, because the initial signs are that the new direction is working well. Our hero and link to the past is Darius Mason – grandson to Alec Mason, star of Red Faction: Guerrilla. It's not entirely clear what role the eponymous Red Faction will actually play this time around, but Darius' character already seems fairly well-defined: he's a cocky adventurer type who's destined to have all sorts of misery heaped upon him.
The latest playable demo of Armageddon kicks off with Darius being confronted by a mob of extremely pissed-off miners. It seems that our man may have inadvertently released the aforementioned killer bugs, and the pickaxe-lovers are none too happy at the prospect of death by Space Woodlouse. Guns are drawn, bullets start flying, and Darius decides that discretion is the better part of valour – fleeing into (well, down) a rabbit hole that leads to a labyrinth of tunnels. Needless to say, these caverns are teeming with the killer insects that have everyone so upset.
Darius is caught between a rock and a hard place, and what with this being a Red Faction game, the only solution is to blow both to smithereens. The demo moves swiftly, with the player scrabbling through the caverns and the infested ruins of a colonial outpost, desperately searching for the path to safety. At every step of the way there are masses of insects to dispatch – little critters who crawl on the floor, snipe-y creatures who launch projectiles from the corner of the room, and strange, electrically-charged monsters who seem to have the power to teleport. The design of the insects themselves are relatively familiar – they look like they strolled out of Xenomorph College with a Diploma in spiky mandibles – but the sound design supporting them is very slick, filling the game's echoing warrens with sinister chirrups and clicks.