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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Red Faction: Armageddon

Rouge warrior.

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.)

Life on Mars?

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?