Version tested: Xbox 360
With its unpretentious action and wilfully dumb storyline, Renegade Ops is a shameless throwback. It's also ridiculously enjoyable and strangely refreshing. Strange, because it wasn't so long ago that Live Arcade was awash with top-down twin-stick shooters and the resulting overkill extinguished community passion for the genre in just a few months.
So why does Renegade Ops soar where the virtually identical Assault Heroes was merely functional? A large part of its success is down to the fact that developer Avalanche (of Just Cause fame) understands the tactile feedback necessary to make an action game sing. It also walks the fine line between knowingly cheesy retro affectation and just being stupid.
That latter point is perfectly illustrated by the opening cut-scene. The villainous Inferno detonates a nuclear bomb in a city then holds the world to ransom. The faux-UN of the game squabbles and capitulates, but that clearly won't do. Bryant, a mutton-chopped military hero who looks like Groundskeeper Willy but talks like Shaft, throws his medals to the ground and sets off to solve the problem his own way. This, inevitably, means pitting a tiny squad of quirky renegades against Inferno's vast army of henchmen.
It's a set-up that could easily have been ripped from the attract sequence of a 1987 arcade cabinet, and the bold comic-strip style visuals sell it well. It manages to be both parody and affectionate homage, and thus establishes the shameless tone that will see the game through its nine lengthy, explosion-drenched stages.
There are four wonderfully clichéd characters to choose from, including the obligatory Feisty Punk Chick and Large Black Man With The Biggest Gun, though beyond the selection screen you only ever see their vehicles. The point of difference comes in their special attack, with options including an EMP pulse, air strike or powerful cannon. This supplements the standard machine gun attack, plus a trio of secondary weapons: rail gun, rocket launcher or flamethrower.
Whichever vehicle you choose, you'll speed around lavishly detailed maps leaving plumes of dust in your wake. Collisions with smaller structures - shacks, huts and the like - send your vehicle smashing straight through, with the building collapsing behind you, while civilian cars detonate as you rampage over them. Oil barrels explode, of course, as do the numerous enemies that roar into view to try to stop you reaching your objectives.
Written down, there's nothing there that stands out, but with controller in hand Avalanche's muscular execution makes it hugely enjoyable. From the rapid staccato of your initial gun up to the heavy budda-budda-budda pulse of its upgraded shots, the game feels right. There's weight and power, but also agility and nimble movement. Simply moving and shooting form an immediately pleasurable input-and-response feedback loop, so while it's possible to get a little tangled in the physics, it's a game where the basic core mechanics are enjoyable in their own right.