It's more than two years since Westwood announced Renegade, a first person shooter spin-off of their best-selling real-time strategy series Command & Conquer in which you will play an elite GDI commando. With the game finally nearing release, we took it for a quick spin at EA Europe's offices in deepest darkest Surrey to find out whether it can live up to the hype or if it's just another sloppy Westwood money-spinner cashing in on past glories.
War Is Hell
When we first saw Renegade at ECTS '99 it was looking mighty impressive, with a tech demo that showed off vast outdoors vistas and an intricately detailed buggy driving around on the grass, complete with independently animated shock absorbers. But since then the state of the art has moved forwards and the game's level of detail seems to have moved backwards. Luckily atmosphere makes up for some of the eye candy shortfall, and the game does a good job of making you feel like you are involved in a wider conflict. One of the missions we played sees you taking part in a beach assault, tasked with blowing up defensive turrets with explosive charges to clear the way for more landings. While you battle your way inland NOD transport helicopters drop in reinforcements, buildings collapse around you, and gunships can be seen attacking destroyers off the coastline. In another mission you find yourself stranded in a ruined city overrun by NOD forces and must team up with the local resistance movement to fight your way out through the abandoned streets. Enemy infantry holed up in bunkers block your path and snipers open fire from the windows of scarred houses as you scurry along side alleys and try to sneak past vast tanks as they rumble down the rubble-strewn roads.
It's not all good news though. The game is due for release in mid-November, but the version we played back at the beginning of September still required a lot of work, particularly when it came to the AI, which sadly fell into the "thick as two short planks" category. Hopefully things have improved somewhat since then, but until we see the final version of the game next month we won't know for sure. Some of the weapons were rather disappointing as well. The sniper rifle was very satisfying to use, picking off enemy troops in the distance with a neat zoom function, but by contrast the flamethrower was utterly useless. Not only did it look incredibly ugly in action, firing a stream of pixellated sprites at your enemies, but it also seemed to cause very little damage against even the softest of targets and apparently couldn't set people on fire either. As there was only one computer running the game we were also unable to see any of the multiplayer modes. In theory Renegade should be a lot of fun online, with a unique C&C mode being promised which mirrors the gameplay of the original real-time strategy games. Harvesters collect tiberium which is then used to unlock higher level character classes and buy vehicles for your team to drive around in, with the ultimate goal of destroying your enemy's base. It sounds very promising, but to date few people outside of Westwood have actually seen it in action.
Renegade has been in development for four years now and was originally expected to be released way back in spring 2000. The impressive graphics we saw two years ago have devolved somewhat, with the spectacular open rolling terrain making way for chunky valleys and flat slabs of rock. But while the game's visuals are hardly cutting-edge today, if Westwood can iron out the AI problems and pull off the innovative sounding multiplayer modes, they should still be on to a winner that may appeal to first person shooter addicts and fans of the C&C real-time strategy series alike.