Behind Enemy Lines
Making a first person shooter set in the Command & Conquer universe must have seemed like a great idea at the time. Essentially Westwood have taken the lone wolf missions from the million selling real-time strategy series and given you a ground floor view of the action. Playing as the elite GDI commando Havoc you get to rampage your way through NOD lines, dealing with kidnapped scientists, hideous experiments, tiberium mutants and tactical nuclear strikes along the way. Settings vary from the rubble-strewn streets of an occupied village to the coastal defences of a NOD stronghold, and although the graphics are fairly primitive by modern standards they do an adequate job of bringing the C&C world to life in 3D for the first time. Missions typically begin with a pre-rendered briefing from your commanding officer aboard a GDI ship, although things rarely go according to plan and you will find yourself bombarded with additional objectives from the moment you hit the ground. Radio messages from your CO, local resistance fighters and other GDI units come thick and fast, and you'll find yourself being sidetracked to rescue trapped soldiers, take out SAM sites and blow up power plants along the way to your primary objective. Luckily a vast array of weapons is available to help you make it to the end in one piece, from your basic pistol and assault rifle to flamethrowers, chainguns, lasers, explosives and personal ion cannons. There's even a rather tasty sniper rifle, allowing you to pick off enemies from a safe distance.
I'm With Stupid
But however good the idea behind Renegade, the actual implementation varies from merely shoddy to downright atrocious. The game has evidently been programmed by a troupe of poorly trained circus chimps and the AI gives a whole new meaning to the word "stupid", making the braindead units of the original Command & Conquer look like Albert Einstein by comparison. Enemy soldiers seem to follow a philosophy of "if I can't see you, you can't see me", as a result of which they sometimes ignore you completely as you blast away at an exposed arm or leg from around a corner, or shoot them in the back as they reverse into you. This problem is even worse when it comes to vehicles, because if they can't find a way to reach you they simply stop dead and sit there impassively as you pump rockets into an exposed corner of their bodywork from the comfort of your hiding place. In some of the missions you have the misfortune to find yourself fighting alongside other GDI troops, and they turn out to be just as incompetent. The AI has no sense of self preservation, and soldiers will quite happily wander into the line of fire and then stand there getting toasted without even bothering to shoot back. While this just looks incredibly stupid most of the time, if your mission is to escort an NPC to the exit and he keeps running off ahead of you and getting shot, it soon becomes frustrating.
Save Often, This Is A Tough Mission
Westwood have compensated for the stupidity of their NOD troops by giving them powerful weapons and near perfect aim and then throwing vast numbers of them at you, particularly in the later stages of the game. This can make things incredibly difficult, especially as snipers and rocket troops can take you out in one or two shots, and as a result the developers have had to pad almost every room with health, armour and ammunition to keep you alive. The maps themselves are often completely linear, leading you from one mob of enemies to the next with little opportunity for detours along the way. Side roads are conveniently blocked off with barricades, and despite being a highly trained special forces type, Havoc is so feeble he can't clamber his way over a crate, jump more than a few inches off the ground or swim across the shallowest puddle. This means that areas which would be easily accessible in any other first person shooter are beyond reach in Renegade, leaving you feeling penned in. Adding some variety to the proceedings is the inclusion of vehicles, but again you are limited in where you can take them by the level design and only a handful are actually driveable in the single player campaign. The controls are simple enough - look around and aim the gun with your mouse and turn, accelerate and reverse with the standard movement keys - but something about the soggy physics and bland sound effects makes the vehicles seem insubstantial, so you never really feel like you're rumbling around in a mammoth tank.
Renegade's saving grace should have been its multiplayer support, with the innovative Command & Conquer mode effectively putting you into the middle of a first person real-time strategy game with up to 32 players. You can explore a full-scale C&C base, purchase vehicles to drive (from mobile artillery and stealth tanks to humvees and flamethrowers) and watch AI-controlled harvesters as they drive out to mine tiberium, adding extra credits to your team's income. Each side has its own unique selection of units, and players can cash in credits to switch to a more advanced troop class, from rocket soldiers and snipers to characters from the single player campaign, each with their own primary weapon and a pistol and explosives for backup. You can even become an engineer and run around repairing buildings, vehicles and other players. Ultimately the goal is to destroy the enemy base, and the loss of each building has much the same effect as it would have in a traditional C&C game, reducing the speed at which vehicles are produced, narrowing the choice of troop types available, disabling defensive turrets or decreasing the team's cash flow. Unfortunately Westwood have managed to foul up the network code as well, making Renegade a rather laggy experience at the moment. I've only ever found one server which consistently reports a ping of under 100ms, even though I have a normally reliable 512kbps cable modem connection. Most of the best servers are constantly full, and even with a relatively low ping players tend to warp around a bit at times, making sniping difficult. When the lag gets any worse you can end up being dragged backwards across the map or suddenly find yourself outside a building you just entered because the server lost track of your movement. And then there's the occasional random crashes, server drop-outs, unexplained disconnections...
To say that Renegade is disappointing would be a masterful understatement. The single player game is marred by incompetent AI, poor mission balance and some very linear maps, while the promising C&C mode is let down by dodgy network code. If Westwood can fix the multiplayer problems then it could be a lot of fun online, but in the meantime this is a game which is well worth avoiding for all but the most forgiving of Command & Conquer fans.
Renegade preview (October 2001)
Renegade preview (September 1999)