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Red Faction: Armageddon

Going underground.

It's been ten years since developer Volition first debuted its environment-trashing GeoMod technology in the original Red Faction. Over that period the series has fidgeted uncomfortably from first-person shooter to openworld adventure and now, with Armageddon, to third-person shooter.

All the above have featured the ability to blow bloomin' big holes in the scenery. But even in 2011, GeoMod still feels like a great idea in search of a game.

For this latest do-over, the action picks up 50 years after the events of 2009's Red Faction: Guerilla. We're introduced to Darius Mason, Red Faction soldier and grandson of Alec Mason, the hero of Guerilla and apparently just one in a long line of men whose surname has led them to save the Martian colonies with a sledgehammer.

Half a century is just enough time for pretty much everything to change, and in a short introductory level we discover how Darius was caught out by a voodoo-faced cult leader during a terrorist attack. They destroy the terraformer keeping the Martian atmosphere stable, and everyone is forced to go and live underground like Wombles.

Fast forward another few years and Darius goofs yet again - this time by taking a freelance job which involves stomping around an ancient underground temple in a mech suit. He unleashes a subterranean race of Martian creatures which immediately swarm through the colonies, eating everybody and making a right old mess.

So, yes, Darius is a bit of a dim bulb, another video game hero with a nice line in pithy quips but a terrible weakness for going wherever he's told and doing whatever he's asked - even if the person asking is a hooded growly character who might as well be called Brian Baddy.

From this starting point the game deviates little from the path you'd expect. Armageddon is easily the most anonymous and generic title to bear the Red Faction name, with virtually no new ideas to call its own.

You get your orders from a sultry voiced female AI or a gruff black sergeant. Audio logs offer snippets of backstory or oh-so-poignant messages left by devoured colonists. There's a mine cart ride. Mech suits. Turrets. Is there a boss monster with glowing weak spots? Go on, take a guess.

In fact, the creatures themselves are a good indication of Armageddon's dearth of imagination. Apparently designed to look like every alien you've ever shot in a video game ever, they come in conveniently colour-coded sub-species, ranging from small scuttling headcrab things to cloaked teleporting stabby things to hulking tank-like things.

My stats tell me I shot 5564 of the buggers during two complete playthroughs, but if you asked me to draw them now, mere hours after putting the controller down, I'd come up blank. They vanish from memory before their exploded digital entrails have faded from the screen.

Most galling is the decision to move the action underground, which effectively neuters Red Faction's sole distinguishing feature: demolition. Guerilla was poorly paced, and struggled to fill its vast Martian landscapes with gameplay, but it's revolutionary tale did at least create a situation where bringing buildings tumbling down was both logical and fun.

The option to demolish the scenery is always impressive, but sadly never essential.

In the tunnels, that's not the case. There are moments where you need to use your arsenal to destroy structures, or your Nano Forge device to rebuild and fix damaged stairways so you can get back on course. But for huge swathes of its playing time Armageddon is simply another over-the-shoulder shooter, albeit one where stuff generally falls apart in a more visually pleasing way.

If anything Geo-Mod is more hindrance than help in this game, as you're more likely to destroy stairs and walkways you need to traverse, forcing you to restore them with the Nano-Forge before you can progress.

By the end of the game Geo-Mod might as well be gathering dust. A lengthy series of vehicle sections leads directly into a protracted grind through snaking tunnels with absolutely no scenery to destroy, even just for fun. By this point you could be playing anything from Dark Sector to Dead Space, and any hope of Red Faction finally carving its own niche disappears.