By: Noah Baxter
Renegade Ops, the latest IP from Avalanche Studios, has no illusions about what kind of game it is. I knew exactly what I was in for before I had the chance to press a button: a healthy dose of insane, over the top action. It will come as no surprise to those familiar with Avalanche’s earlier works, but this is exactly what I got. An inspired mixture of the Expendables, Metal Slug and Zombie Driver, Renegade Ops is a veritable buffet of manliness. Its glory is dampened by its (currently) weak online support, but otherwise this birds-eye shooter exceeds expectations on all fronts. I could wax lyrical over how much I love the game, and seeing as I have a soapbox here, I’m inclined to do just that.
So how do I love thee, Renegade Ops? Let me count the ways:
An Action Film Disguised As A Game
Renegade Ops isn’t just a game, it’s an interactive action film – a Hollywood blockbuster in all but practice. From the very opening cutscene my nostalgia glands were kicking into gear, pumping my veins with boyish ideals of manliness and childish glee. The comic-styled scene set up the game’s plot, a solid retro action trope from start to finish that gets everything right.
As with any good action flick, the scenario is somewhat familiar: the game starts by introducing us to our antagonist, a terrorist leader who goes by the name of “Inferno”. Hell-bent on world domination, Inferno’s first act is to destroy a city as a demonstration of his power. “This is my world now!” he claims as he forces the United Nations into the proverbial hot seat. Distraught, they decide not to respond in kind and instead opt to negotiate with the psychopath. Enter our hero, the rough and assertive General Bryant, who most emphatically disapproves of this course of action. Bryant denounces the decision as a farce, throws off his uniform and calls in his own solution: the Renegade Ops.
The Renegades, a tag-team of special military operatives, are who you control in game. There are four main drivers to choose from, each with their own special abilities to see you through each level. There’s Armand, the staunch, muscular character with a shielded tank; Diz, the leather-bound lady who easy-modes the game with her EMP; Roxy, the punk chick who can call in a devastating airstrike; and Gunnar, the nonchalant Lundgren homage with a powerful machine-gun. As an added bonus, those who own the game on Steam can also play as Gordon Freeman, a man who needs no introduction. It’s not exactly the appearance we were all hoping he would make, but his signature jalopy and loyal team of antlions make for a welcome addition to the team.
Starting from a rescue mission in a South American village, you crew the Renegades through nine levels to put an end to Inferno’s madness. You’ll drift around Mayan temples, kick up dust in Africa’s open terrain and speed through the winding streets of a European village as you corner Inferno into the depths of his secret compound. While they vary drastically, there’s one thing these levels all have in common – a polished, detailed aesthetic that prepares you for the explosive carnage you’re about to take part in.
This carnage is liberally applied, not to mention incredibly satisfying. Using your special techniques to take down tanks, battleships and armoured Juggernauts, you’ll experience some old-school action at its finest. The perfect example of this is your very first boss fight, which takes you across a bay in a helicopter to lay waste to Inferno’s private frigate. It was the sort of scene that I wouldn’t feel pretentious in calling high-octane, the perfect scene for the game to introduce itself with.
Even the voice-casting for Renegade Ops is action-packed, in particular the talent of Chris Fairbank as Inferno. Fairbank (who voiced the Old King Doran in Demon’s Souls) is the perfect supervillain, whole-heartedly delivering screams of outrage and anguish from an arrogant maniac. The other notable voice in the game belongs to Tom Clarke-Hill, who voices General Bryant. I’ll admit, I didn’t really think his voice suited a moustachioed Green Beret, but it definitely fit the bill for an overtly masculine action stereotype. I should also admit that I’m a little biased here; the amusing moment when I realised who the voice previously belonged to helped me see why it didn’t feel quite right for its new owner. Still, the voice acting did a great job in supporting the game’s heavy layers of action.
Bullet Hell on Earth
As you play the game, you’ll cause so many explosions that you can barely see through them all. At times this can make it hard to notice your impending doom, but it’s just another point that makes it all the more exhilarating.
You can navigate these conditions in one of two ways – with a keyboard and mouse, or with the recommended gamepad. I used a gamepad myself, which utilises the same mechanics as many modern arena shooters. The right analog stick is used to fire your standard weapon, with the left controlling movement and the left and right triggers activating your special ability and secondary weapon respectively. In general the controls are well implemented, though in the beginning they can be a little awkward. A lot of the earlier challenge in the game comes from getting used to how your vehicle handles over the terrain, but once you get over this bump, you’re in for a smooth ride.
For comparison I also gave they keyboard a trial run for a couple of levels. Having mouse control was great for shooting, but steering with the keyboard was somewhat clunky to say the least. Thankfully, those without a gamepad can choose to set up tank steering as an alternative, though I personally found it more frustrating than the default.
However you control your Renegades, you’ll spend most of your time following arrows and shooting your way to your next destination. A collapsible map plots objectives and side-missions, but is only really useful if you want to plan your own route rather than follow the arrows to the nearest objective. Once you reach said objectives, you’ll either have to kill, collect or conquer whatever it is that’s in your sights without getting yourself blown up. The only things that really mix up the standard flow of things are some cheesy quick-time punch-ups that take place in enemy bases, but this is by no means a bad thing. The whole point of the game is to get you from one action sequence to another, and it does this seamlessly.
Even the upgrade system that you use has non-stop action in mind, compelling you to grow each character and power them up to their full destructive capabilities. Although you have to restart a level if you run out of lives, you still get to keep all of your experience and upgrade points in order to keep your Renegades as tough as they can be.
More Bang For Your Buck
Another thing I love about Renegade Ops is how much enjoyment there is to be had from it. I’d better not misrepresent the issue, here: I played the game on “hardcore”, and it was a gruelling trial at times. With fewer lives to spare, less health to pick up and a tougher set of enemies to fight, it instantly became a brutal task.
Based on the fact that each level takes somewhere between fifteen and thirty minutes, I’d guesstimate that you could breeze through the game on normal in about four hours. This is not the case with the harder difficulty though; I spent roughly thirteen hours playing the campaign on hardcore, and I still couldn’t complete the last level. As a testament to its difficulty, the better part of my last three hours of play was spent dying continuously, with me only ever reaching the final boss once. Shamefully, I dropped the level down to normal, and I finished it in twenty minutes without losing a single life. To this end I wished there was some form of middle ground, but the challenge scaled quite well. Considering the only impasse I reached was at the very last firefight, I wouldn’t call it unfair.
Another way that Renegade Ops extends itself is by setting up a competitive side to things. There is a slight focus drawn towards the arcade aspects of the game, which enables you to vie for a place atop the online leaderboards. While I’m not that competitive, I caught myself getting into the swing of the idea come half-way through the game. Stringing together longer and longer damage combos, I ended up with a real compulsion to outdo the scores and skill ranks I’d earned so far, finding gratification in the most profitable routes of destruction. It gives the game a rare sort of flow – the kind I haven’t encountered since my “Stuntman: Ignition” days.
Even though there are some minor annoyances that come with them (especially the unskippable, repeated in-game sequences), the extra levels of challenge that Renegade Ops offers make it worth playing over and over again. It can be thoroughly addictive at times, to the point where the mere thought of shutting it off makes you savour every last moment of gameplay.
Multiplayer State of Mind
This is a sentiment that also crosses over to the game’s multiplayer modes. There are two ways you can play co-operatively, via split-screen or over the internet. As far as split-screen goes, you need two gamepads and the shortened field of vision can be really jarring. It’s serviceable enough though, and especially with a really well implemented Dynamic split option, it doesn’t disappoint.
The place that Renegade Ops really shines however is with its online co-op. I should throw a word of caution in here; the online support is absolutely appalling for the most part. The lobby barely functions, so the process of actually getting a game started can be a real struggle. When I looked for a solution online, most users commented that they had the exact same issues, and that Sega were barely offering anything in regards to a fix. It is still relatively early days though, so in the meantime I’ll keep joining lobbies by launching the game from invites (which for some reason seems to work fine).
If you manage to make it past the broken lobby, you’ll find it is well worth the effort. With three out of four players, my friends and I found it excessively rewarding. It was as though we’d been transported to a playground with a permanent drift-track and explosions on demand, and it was magnificent to behold. The difficulty also scaled well; some parts of the game took more skill to pass as a team, and other parts were made more satisfying by figuring out new strategies together. Despite the effort it takes to set up, the online aspect of Renegade Ops is without a doubt the “hugely enjoyable experience” that Sega claimed it would be.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
As Avalanche and Sega’s first IP for the digital storefront, Renegade Ops makes a fantastic name for itself. An uncanny amount of fun, I’d consider the game a steal at the $15 that most stores are asking for it. As if that wasn’t good enough, there’s also a promotion for co-op play that nets you four copies of the game for $30, half the price you and your friends would pay individually. I couldn’t in good faith steer you away from such a deal, so if you’re looking for a completely gratuitous co-op experience, I can tell you you’ve found your game.
Set up for DLC and a sequel, I’m incredibly keen to see the franchise expand. As long as the PC support picks up some of the slack I’ve seen so far, I’ll gladly continue to praise the game for what it is; a true action throwback for the ages.
I’ll be holding my breath for a patch someday soon, but in the meantime I’d better redeem myself with a hardcore finale. Wish me luck!
Renegade Ops Technical Summary:
- Play Time – 18 Hours
- 5.1 Sound – Yes
- Widescreen – Yes
- Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Demo – No
- Control Scheme – Keyboard/mouse, Gamepad (recommended)
- Availability – Steam, GreenManGaming, GamersGate, GetGames, Sega.
- Bugs – Crashed on Alt-tabbing once or twice. Crashed on beginning level 2 if I pushed anything before landing. Minor graphical glitches, common at the start of level 7. Crashed on exit a few times (most recently after playing split-screen co-op). Online lobby more or less broken.
NOTE: Renegade Ops does not support Windows XP.
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