The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 49 | Renegade Ops video game review

Leaving Proof 49 | Renegade Ops video game review
Published on Tuesday, September 20, 2011 by
Renegade Ops
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Shooter (vehicle-based run-and-gun, twin stick control mechanic)
ESRB Rating: T for Teen (Blood, Language, Violence)
Platform Reviewed for: PS3
Also Available On: XBox 360, Microsoft Windows PC (PC version release date TBA)
Price: $14.99 on the Playstation Store, 1200 Microsoft Points (~ $15) on the Xbox Live Marketplace

I’ve been following the development of Sweden-based Avalanche Studio’s Renegade Ops since seeing an early build previewed at E3 2011. The high angle isometric-view twin-stick shooter reminded me very much of Konami’s Jackal (released in North American arcades under the title Top Gunner), a childhood favourite from the 1980s. I’ve been looking for cheaper, simpler, and less time-intensive gameplay experiences lately, but the forced, faux-retro graphical aesthetic and/or archaic gameplay conventions favoured in many downloadable run-and-gun shooter games leaves me cold. The preview had me hoping that Renegade Ops would be a game that would be rooted in proven and eminently enjoyable classic gameplay, but with graphics and control responsiveness firmly rooted in the present. For the most part, the game does not disappoint.

Story

Renegade Ops‘ story, such as it is, could have come straight from an episode of the 1980s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cartoon. A diabolical terrorist leader who goes by the name of Inferno is holding the cities of the world for ransom, threatening to blow up random population centers if the leaders of the world do not meet his vague, supervillain-y demands. While the United Nations wrings its hands over what to do, the tough-talking General Bryant, tired of being hamstrung by politics, resigns his commission and forms an elite team of military veterans intent on taking the fight to Inferno. The team’s four members don’t get any dialogue or backstory, but I had fun filling in their backgrounds based solely on their names and appearances. There are a couple of twists to the plot, but all in all, it’s really just there to provide an excuse for the action. Of course, you can say this about the story in most shooters. The difference between Renegade Ops and most other games in the genre is that it realizes this fact, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Graphics/Visuals

Avalanche Studios brings a welcome level of AAA visual polish to the downloadable title. The models and textures employed in various environments, from tropical jungles to temperate woodland villages to African savanna, are highly-detailed. The player-controlled and enemy vehicle models are easily distinguishable from each other, even at long camera distances. Various particle effects, such as explosions and electrical crackles, are expertly rendered. The UI and various visual cues are effective while remaining unobtrusive. Missions are punctuated by minimally animated comic-strip style cutscenes. They’re nothing to write home about (and there’s a noticeable amount of panel re-use), but they’re not bad-looking either.

Sound/Music

The game’s sound effects are quite well done. Gunfire and explosions are viscerally satisfying, each player-controlled vehicle makes a distinct engine-revving sound, tires squeal when you do a high-speed spin-out, and certain approaching off-screen enemy vehicles can be easily identified by their audio signature (tanks have a low-frequency rumble, helicopters are heralded by the familiar whup-whup-whup). The voice-acting is appropriately over-the-top for a game that relishes 1980s-style cheese, although the egregious re-use of samples throughout different missions can occasionally result in a jarring sense of déjà vu. The game’s musical score is decent and does an okay job of filling in the audio during the brief respites between battles, but it’s not something you’ll find yourself humming after a gameplay session. It’s certainly nothing as memorable as Jackal‘s classic Stage 1 theme music or the mind-melting “Midi Metal” of Jungle Strike.

Gameplay

It’s in the gameplay department that Renegade Ops really shines. Despite the generally simple mission goals (most of which are variations on “blow shit up”), there’s a surprising amount of variety in the tactics a player can employ in accomplishing them depending on their choice of character/vehicle. Each vehicle handles differently: Armand’s APC is slow but stable at low speeds, Roxy’s light strike vehicle is fast and nimble but needs an expert hand to control at high speeds, while Diz’s armoured van and Gunnar’s tactical utility vehicle inhabit a middle ground between the two extremes. Each vehicle comes with a machine gun (with unlimited ammunition) as a primary offensive weapon and more powerful, ammo-limited secondary weapons can be picked up in-game. Each vehicle also has a special, limited-use ability unique to that vehicle: Armand has a force field that repels all attacks, Roxy can call in a devastating airstrike, Diz can generate an electromagnetic pulse that disables all enemy weapons within a set radius, and Gunnar can use his vehicle’s gun as a fixed “heavy gun” that deals more damage than in its regular mode. In select stages, players are also assigned the use of helicopters. In all but the lowest difficulty setting, characters can level up and earn persistent upgrades that players can then use when replaying missions. I had a lot of fun using a leveled-up vehicle to just blow through stages that previously gave me so much difficulty.

I found the game to be fairly challenging during the first playthrough, even at the Normal difficulty setting. Wading in guns blazing rarely works and I found that some experimentation was required to find the optimum tactics to defeat some of the larger enemy vehicles. Enemy AI behaviour patterns can be easily surmised by the observant player, but it still takes some work to exploit them. Collision detection is okay for the most part, but I found myself occasionally frustrated by being caught on certain environmental features. Vehicle controls work well, but can be maddeningly annoying when trying to back up, as there’s no real way to put your vehicle in reverse and you will need enough space around your vehicle to execute a U-turn or a cumbersome three-point turn. Fortunately, the game detects when your vehicle is stuck for an extended period, and will re-spawn your vehicle in a nearby open area with no penalty. The static camera angles work well, although there were the very rare occasions where I found myself wishing there was a way to rotate the camera so I could better extricate myself from an unseen environmental obstacle.

The gameplay can get repetitive, but given the relative brevity of the game’s nine missions (most of which can be finished anywhere between ten and 40 minutes depending on how you play), shooter fatigue will likely only be a problem for those who try to finish the game in a single sitting.

Notable Bugs/Issues

Full-screen cutscenes take quite a while to load and play. A couple of times, I thought that my PS3 had frozen, due to the lack of a loading screen (the game only presents the player with a blank, black screen while a cutscene loads).

The game also seems to have some potentially serious bugs linked to online play. While in the online lobby waiting for a 4-player match to start, the game froze. After resetting my PS3, I noticed that the persistent upgrades I had earned for the character I was using in that game had been wiped out. This happened a second time soon after. In both cases, I ended up deleting my game progress data to start fresh (since there isn’t a way to have multiple game progress saves). A quick scan of the GameFAQs message board for the game confirms that these incidents weren’t isolated cases. It also appears that the online leaderboards haven’t been updated for a while now (my personal high scores have surpassed the high scores listed online, but my scores aren’t even showing up in the ranking).

The Verdict

Renegade Ops is an excellent “neo-classic” game: its gameplay fundamentals are rooted in the best run-and-gun vehicular shooters of the 1980s and early/mid-1990s but it also has all the visual appeal of a modern 7th generation console title. The documented problems with the online gameplay are troubling (and hopefully Avalanche Studios will soon come out with a patch of some sort to fix those issues), but the single-player experience alone is worth the $14.99 for fans of classic games like Jackal and Jungle Strike and other players looking for frenetic run-and-gun shooter action.

Recommended.

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