Version tested: Xbox
After the unfortunate Dredd Vs Death debacle back in 2003, the world hasn't exactly been waiting with bated breath for the next 2000 AD spin-off to roll off the Rebellion production line. But, with some harsh lessons learned, the one-time starlet of the UK development scene (back in the Alien Vs Predator era) has turned things around, with several decent games under its belt (notably the award-winning - yet generally under-rated - WW2-based Sniper Elite). Following on from the gradual return to form, the swaggering arrival of the slick action-adventure that is Rogue Trooper underlines the growing confidence within the Oxford-based developer-cum-comic-publisher.
Based on the famed graphic novel series, Rogue Trooper is a simple, unpretentious third-person shooter where you follow the adventures of Genetic Infantryman, the Rogue Trooper, as he seeks to track down the traitor general who sent his "brothers in arms" to their death. It's generally undemanding, short and sweet, slick, polished and boomtastic from start to finish. It's not going to change anyone's world, but Rebellion deserves credit for coming up with a technically admirable product that's true to the comic spirit and full of great moments.
But before we get underway with the nitty gritty, just why is the Mohicaned Rogue Trooper so pissed off anyway? Ok, so the general of the other biologically engineered clone troops has been a traitorous swine and was responsible for the betrayal and subsequent massacre of his entire regiment. But let's take an unreality check here: they're clone troops with encoded bio-chips that house their digitised personalities. Why not clone some more (surely the idea), plug in the chips and get after this rubber-lipped goon?
Prepare a welcome for the "genetic freak"
Instead, we're supposed to feel his righteous indignation and tackle the brutal Nort war machine (on Nu Earth, you understand) on the way to kicking the butt of the nefarious Jagger mutation behind all this skullduggery. It's vengeance a go-go, which in short means another opportunity to upset your neighbours with endless gunfire and huge explosions.
Right at the heart of all this clone trooper warfare is the ability to plug personality chips directly into the bodies of any clone. You might imagine that plugging in multiple chips into a single trooper would confuse the bejesus out of it, and be the source of much unintentional split personality comedy. But, instead, Rebellion has used it as a cunning upgrade system, meaning that as you discover more of your fallen clone buddies, you can swipe the chips from their stricken torsos, plug it in somewhere else on your body and - presto - new specialist abilities.
Being a typical third-person run-and-gun extravaganza there's plenty of security to override, so it's no great shock when you gain Helm's hacking abilities (in your helmet, naturally). Also, seeing as you're expected to be a bit of a one-man army for most of the game, you also get a helping hand (or arm) of sorts, with the ability to set up Gunnar (imaginatively) as an intelligent sentry gun while you scurry off and do something else. But it works in other areas too. Bagman, for example, is a salvage expert, and his personality chip makes it possible to gather up all the best bits of the assorted junk that's left over from all the scrap metal you create in combat, giving you a currency with which to buy ammo and the various upgrades with later on.
Come get some
A few levels in, you're even blessed with a handy Holo Decoy, last seen 10 years ago in Duke Nukem 3D, and every bit as useful as you place a distraction somewhere to draw the fire of the numerous sniping gits stationed way up high. It's all pretty intuitive, too; a quick tap of the B button brings up a four-way menu, enabling you to quickly select whichever aid you require with the d-pad.
In fact, the controls are one of the strong points of Rogue Trooper. Underpinned by the regular two-stick system for camera/movement, a context-sensitive system (similar in flexibility to Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter) allows you to pull off many otherwise fiddly commands with ease. Combat commands, in particular, benefit from the decision to be able to quickly and easily wall-hug any appropriate cover points and either 'blind fire' over the top, or go for a slightly riskier aimed shot that still gives you a fair chance of dispensing a volley of lead on target.
It's not all good, though, with Xbox owners forced to use the dreaded black and white buttons to fire grenades and mines (why oh why). Meanwhile, changing weapons is handled badly, with the player forced to manually select their weapon by cycling up or down a text menu with the d-pad and hitting confirm before they can swap over. Not only does this cause unnecessary confusion in the heat of battle, it's a completely inelegant system that could have been avoided entirely if the weapons simply changed over automatically when you hit the up direction. The added need to confirm is the last thing you need when half a dozen Norts are busy raining death down up you.
Perhaps inevitably, there's also an element of stealth in Rogue Trooper, with the ability to sneak up behind careless enemies and kill them in one, swift motion (particularly cool against giant mechs), but it's no Splinter Cell, so don't fret if you're already cringing at the mere mention of the 'S' word.
Despite the niggles, the game does feel indelibly accessible for the most part. This does mean, though that the game treads a fine line between huge user-friendliness and being plain easy to the more experienced among us. Not only does Rogue Trooper make it a breeze to shoot from behind cover, but also makes the enemies relatively weak and yielding for the most part, and lends the player a hand with other hand-holding ideas such as a semi-auto-targeting system which, to be frank, doesn't exactly demand much in the way of accuracy to score a kill. Whether you use the basic pistol, the machine gun, shotgun, mortar or beam rifle (which has a nifty chain attack), clusters of enemies just fall like nine pins. It's fun when there's a degree of strategy to the proceedings (such as when you're pinned down by a rocket-firing mech and you've got two snipers trained on your position), but such incidents are all-too rare. For 95 per cent of the time, Rogue Trooper is a fairly standard procession through dozens of almost identical enemies, each with standard AI routines that are as transparent as they come.
Throw in a pretty generous checkpointing system, the ability to buy an infinite amount of ammo and medipaks and you'll easily clear most of the levels in half an hour or less (some clock in at 10 to 15 minutes). For those of you that want your games to last a little longer than seven hours, we'd suggest giving the normal difficulty a miss (there is no easy setting) and plump straight for hard. If anything, Rebellion should have called normal 'easy', and hard 'normal' because that's what it felt like to us, but even then it's never exactly the most challenging game ever made.
Norts and ones
Whereas most shooters make it important to conserve ammo and health, Rogue Trooper makes you feel like you're romping through with all the cheats switched on, and it's frustrating that after a game as demanding as Sniper Elite that Rebellion felt the need to dumb down the experience almost the entire way through. Who is the audience, exactly? Old school Rogue Trooper fans in their 30s, who'll be schooled in similar harder games and find it too easy? Or is it focused on the masses, the attention-deficit teens, who have all the time in the world to throw at games, and therefore also whizz through it? We realise most games are focused far too much at the hardcore minority, but it seems Rogue Trooper may end up pleasing neither camp by being much more accommodating than it needed to be. The sense of tension and achievement is lost in a blizzard of fallen Norts.
In its favour, it helps that Rebellion regularly changes the emphasis between on-foot genocide and the occasional explosive on-rails section, or the chance to man emplacements or grapple with super-powerful weaponry. Being able to dish out explosive death to enormous futuristic aircraft is not something you'll tire of in a hurry. In fact, one of the more impressive parts of an on-rails shooting section reminds us of the Halo 2 E3 teaser trailer from 2003, and hints at the potential of future Rogue Trooper/2000AD games if someone throws more resources at Rebellion (checking out the end credits, it's pretty apparent how few people actually worked on the game compared to some other developers out there).
In fact, on a purely technical level, Rogue Trooper's not bad at all Apart from the occasional evidence of slowdown when the explosions get a little too ambitious (such as when the EMP Trooper starts wiping out your comms system temporarily) the game looks pretty impressive. Certainly, fans of the comic should feel gratified that the Rogue Trooper universe has come to live in such a vibrant fashion. Although the location types arguably don't change often enough (red planet rocky, futuristic urban... you get the picture), when they do, it's a pleasantly unpleasant dystopian vision of the future that should sit well with the fans - and if it doesn't, you can make your feelings known to the same people behind the comic. The rest of us will just admire the smoky vibrancy of Nu-Earth and the ability to shoot holes in the Norts' gas tanks, guffawing as they flee and explode in a mass of flaming death.
In fact, some of the set-piece animations are worth the price of admission alone, such as the stealth kills on what can only be described as Dalek-alikes, ripping wires asunder in the pursuit of valuable salvage. Better still are the finishing moves on the mechs, complete with full machine-gun-toting blasts of death into their escape hatch. In terms of the art and animation, it's a damned fine effort, really.
Multiplayer wise, there's not much to it, sadly, with five co-op maps on offer. Online it supports up to four players, but doesn't exactly help that no-one in the entire world is playing it right now (despite it being on sale), but if you can rustle up some like-minded friend (two-player split-screen offline, four-player online/System Link), then there are a five objective-based maps. A couple of 'Progressive' maps task you with taking control of a landing pad at the top of a Nort base before your lives are depleted (16 by default, customisable), and the timer expires. Others task you with legging it out of the map alive before the timer runs out or there are another couple of 'Stronghold' maps where you have to defend the injured GI against the Nort forces within the time limit. Things are certainly a tad more challenging and fast-paced, but the maps are fairly small and you'll quickly hunger for more substantial multiplayer thrills. Still, as a freebie extra, you can't grumble.
The best thing you can say about Rogue Trooper is that (despite some clunky control decisions) is almost always good fun. Thanks to well-paced design you'll certainly never feel like downing the pad in abject frustration, or out of plain boredom: it's the gaming equivalent of popcorn sci-fi action movie fodder. It's technically on the money, has all the right plot twists, but is never that demanding, plays things safe and stays too firmly encamped within the boundaries of the formula to be deemed a classic. Still, for the price of a rental it's well worth checking out over the course of a weekend.
6 / 10