Games 6/7/11: Red Faction: Armageddon, Kinect Fun Labs

Red Faction: Armageddon
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Volition, Inc./THQ
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, strong language, violence)
Price: $60

When 2009’s “Red Faction: Guerrilla” took a series of first-person shooters and dropped it into a third-person open world that let you destroy basically everything brick by brick, the result wasn’t just a wildly successful reinvention; it was one of the year’s most fun games.

That, in turn, makes “Red Faction: Armageddon” — which keeps the third-person perspective but loses the open world in favor of a linear trip through a mostly dank underground — something of a letdown despite the fact that what it does is refreshing in its own right.

Specifically, it isn’t a cover-based shooter like seemingly every post-“Gears of War” third-person shooter has been. There’s a crouch button you can use, but “Armageddon” would rather just force you to run, gun and go wild the way shooters used to do before they lost their nerve.

In fact — and true to the “Red Faction” brand — “Armageddon” would rather you destroy your enemies’ cover instead of hide behind cover of your own. And while this game doesn’t provide the wealth of scenarios “Guerrilla” provided, it beats that game in terms of means.

Take, for instance, the Magnet Gun, which you fire at two separate targets to make them crash together like impossibly strong magnets from across a crowded cavern. You can fire the Magnet Gun at any combination of enemy or structure, and because “Armageddon’s” destruction engine is absolutely unbridled, what you imagine happening — say, the bottom floor of a building flying through the roof and into a hapless enemy who is hurtling through the air at the same speed — will probably happen.

Take, also, the Singularity Cannon, which fires black holes that suck away anything or anyone not fused to the ground. Considering how much of “Armageddon’s” scenery is fair game for destruction, that adds up to some seriously impressive storms from a single shot.

For traditionalists, “Armageddon” also includes the usual explosives, while “Guerrilla” fans will appreciate the return of gaming’s most destructive sledgehammer. An in-game currency is good toward unlocking additional abilities, including a power that’s not unlike (and certainly no less damaging than) a “Star Wars” Jedi’s Force push. The mech suits from “Guerrilla” also return in a limited role.

Oddly enough, “Armageddon’s” other big trick is the ability to rebuild all that destroyed terrain on the fly with the Nano Forge gadget. A few gameplay scenarios have you repairing certain structures to advance the story, and the trick occasionally works in a pinch to create cover when blazing guns won’t do. Mostly, though, it provides a means for you to tear the place apart and still have a way to get up stairs and out the door when it’s time to move on.

All these toys make “Armageddon” fun in spite of some significant drawbacks — in particular, a flat storyline that takes you through a lot of similar-looking environments and pits you almost exclusively against an enemy of bug creatures who aren’t nearly as interesting as “Guerrilla’s” human opposition. Even with all these tools and methods, “Armageddon” tends to drag in spots while you move from one familiar-looking area to the next.

But the worst news is reserved for those who loved “Guerrilla’s” competitive multiplayer, which “Armageddon” lacks entirely. There’s a co-op (four players, online or offline) Survival mode that’s reasonably fun, if uninspired, and a Ruin mode that tasks you with destroying an area within a set time is enjoyable when the strict times aren’t getting in the way. But neither mode, both of which are set in the same areas against the same enemies with the same intelligence, has nearly the legs of “Guerrilla’s” open-world warfare.

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Kinect Fun Labs
For: Xbox 360 (Kinect required)
From: Good Science/Microsoft
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)
Price: Free

When Microsoft first unveiled Kinect in 2009, it hinted at the possibility of some wild tricks that go well beyond simple motion control. By itself, “Kinect Fun Labs” isn’t a complete validation of that promise: As a collection of experimental gadgets, it isn’t really a complete anything. But “Labs” provides the first opportunity consumers have to go hands-on with some of the ideas it teased two years ago. In “Kinect Build a Buddy,” for instance, you can scan a real-world object (a toy, for instance) with the Kinect’s camera and bring that object to life as a laughing, dancing, jumping being. “Bobblehead” and “Kinect Me,” meanwhile, allow you to scan yourself in and let the software transform your face, body and clothing into a bobblehead doll or video game avatar, respectively. The software is far from foolproof — expect some surprising results in the hair department, especially if your lighting isn’t ideal — but it works, and some of the surprising detail the camera picks up (including detailed facsimiles of your clothing’s color, patterns and images) is really cool. “Labs” doesn’t have any functionality beyond general amusement and the ability to download and share pictures and videos of your experiments online. But for the price of zero dollars, the simple thrill of putting your hands on the future is enough. Considering how expandable “Labs” is — additional gadgets are marked as coming soon, with more almost certainly on the way — there’s no telling how interesting this could get.