You've made an enormously popular action game built around huge open environments that you can rip to pieces with vehicles and explosives. In a genre where escalation is vital to keeping people's attention, where next if you want to deliver your own brand of bigger, better and more badass?
According to THQ's Volition studio, developers of Red Faction: Guerrilla and this latest instalment, the answer is "underground in some caves". It sounded like a step backwards when we first heard about it, but within minutes of seeing Armageddon for the first time our doubts are partially dispelled.
It's been a couple of generations since the end of Guerrilla and the expulsion of the oppressive EDF from Mars, but fighting has continued between the Red Faction - led by Alec Mason, his followers and descendents - and other groups like the Marauders. With the terraforming process partly busted by all the fisticuffs, everyone's fled underground to rebuild society.
Rebuilding society seldom if ever works in videogames, however, and Armageddon is no exception - no sooner have people got things up and running than they awaken a dormant alien threat in the heart of the planet that surges upward, ensnaring infrastructure with huge, demonic red tendrils and spewing mobile alien infantry of various kinds in the direction of the terrified locals.
We pick up the feet of new protagonist Darius Mason - grandson of Alec - as he leads a convoy of survivors away from the threat, even as they all grumble that it was his fault. (It's always the player's fault, right? We're looking at you, Mr. Freeman.)
We don't even know who the aliens are at this point, but the story will come to that apparently. In the meantime we get to admire their handiwork - like a civilian hanging skewered and dismembered on a chain-link fence, eviscerated by the alien flora.
It's at this point that Armageddon starts making a case for its new home. Sure, it says, Armageddon is more linear and story-driven and takes place in enclosed environments, but this is a benefit: there are loads of cool vehicles, but you don't need to drive them miles across the planet surface to get to things; there are big rock walls surrounding you, but they are vast and climb and descend for miles around you, allowing the developers to position buildings and other goodies all around.
Nor is the environment any less destructible. In the section we see, Darius needs to get rid of the alien infestation, which is absorbing and eroding a vital mining facility. Fortunately he has something called the magnet gun, which works by locking onto an object and then firing it across the level to whatever you target with it.
It's not a gravity gun - you don't suck the object toward you, it is propelled from its original position - and it's not hamstrung by any obvious restrictions, meaning you can select the wall of a building and have the masonry pulled out and flung halfway across the world to punch a monster in the face, or rip a building from the side of a cavern.
You also have a nanoforge ability that allows you to repair objects. This can be used to create natural cover or projectiles that can then be propelled by the magnet gun - restoring concrete road dividers from piles of concrete dust, for example - and it can also be used defensively. If you're in trouble, why not blast a hole in a wall, run through it then repair it behind you?
It's not the only new technology developed by the people of Mars since the end of Guerrilla, either. Another new nanoforge ability produces a shockwave that traps enemies in stasis in midair, allowing you to do what you want with them. You could melee them, shoot them with a rifle, simply leg it to get away, or perhaps use the magnet gun to throw something at them. Like a barrel. Or a house.
If you prefer the direct approach there's the Singularity Cannon, which creates a miniature black hole that sucks up everything around it, breaks it down into nanites and spits it out in colourful chunks and particles. That'll teach you for being an alien, alien. As with Guerrilla, it's easy to combine the effects of multiple weapons - like freezing a quill-firing Ravager alien with stasis and then black-holing it to death.
This is just as well, because there are lots of aliens and they have different tactics. Creepers are early contenders for most annoying - they scuttle along, overwhelm you with speed and numbers, and whenever they're not scratching at your shins they're spitting acid on you. You can at least stamp on their heads.
Despite being underground rather than on the surface, then, there are still plenty of ways to wreak massive damage on the infested environment, and damage is often wrought at greater speed because of your increased firepower.
At one stage Darius jumps in a Red Faction exoskeleton - an agile, fast-moving mech with rapid-fire railgun, lock-on heat-seeking missiles and fierce melee skills, and he busts through buildings and rock formations like he's wading through plastic ducks in a paddling pool. Explodey, disintegrating plastic ducks.
More on Red Faction: Armageddon
Face-off: Face-Off: Red Faction: Armageddon
Review: Red Faction: Armageddon
Hands On: Red Faction: Armageddon Multiplayer
Unlocked frame-rate and tearing aplenty.
Volition says that there are lots of different environments underground - we see beautiful blue ice caverns and more familiar dark, brown versions, and we're promised a lava level - but that some of the game is set on the surface too, where it is survivable but very inhospitable, ravaged by fierce and unpredictable storms.
Otherwise a lot of details are still to be confirmed. There will be multiplayer but it won't be revealed until the autumn. There will be upgrades, probably based on salvage (a la Guerrilla), but no details today. There will be side missions, but nothing today. It's the same for vehicles, beyond what we've seen in the demonstration.
One thing we do get to see now though is Red Faction: Battlegrounds, the downloadable PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade game in development at THQ Digital. It's a twin-stick, top-down multiplayer vehicle combat game played out on a single screen by mechs, tanks and other armoured vehicles, and it's designed to offer a pick-up-and-play distraction in the run-up to Armageddon's release.
It looks fun. There are various pickups like proximity mines, remote charges (cf Guerrilla) and a singularity bomb with a huge blast radius, and there are nine arenas in the shipping version, which will support local co-op multiplayer and online games of deathmatch, team deathmatch, king of the hill, capture the flag and flag frenzy (pick up flags, drop them off at bases). It should tie in with Armageddon too, so if you unlock Trophies or Achievement you receive some sort of benefit in that.
Oh, and if you like DLC with your DLC, you will be interested in the two planned support packs for Battlegrounds - an Armageddon pack featuring some of the vehicles from that game and an Origins pack, which will build on the TV mini-series Red Faction: Origins due out next year, itself destined to fill storyline gaps between Guerrilla and Armageddon by focusing on the Mason who lived in the middle, Jake.
It's a comprehensive package, reflecting THQ's newfound love of multimedia and its determination for Red Faction to grow into a huge franchise rather than a popular, medium-sized one. Armageddon may be going from Guerrilla to the real underground, then, but make no mistake - Red Faction still aims to tear it up.
Red Faction: Armageddon is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in March 2011.