Renegade Ops Review

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Date Released: September 14, 2011
Date Reviewed: September 26, 2011
Genre: Top-Down Shooter
Players: 1-4 Players Online, 1-2 Players Local
Length: 3-5 Hours
Replayability: Great

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Introduction

Renegade Ops is the 2011 downloadable top-down action game developed by Avalanche Studios for the Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation 3 and PC platforms. Designed as a throwback to comics, films and arcade games from the 1980s and 1990s such as Jackal and Desert Strike, the end result is a highly playable title with great production values and a surprising amount of depth and challenge.

Concept

Renegade Ops is a vehicle based shooter from a somewhat angled top-down perspective, as if players were in the clouds above the action. This allows everyone playing to witness a large amount of the screen when sharing the same television or monitor. If in multiplayer, the screen splits as if to give both players their own view if they wander too far from one another, similar to ToeJam & Earl. In an online session, this does not occur as the camera follows the person playing from their platform.

If players choose the Normal or Hardcore difficulty settings, the character will level up depending on the points received. What this does is let one modify how that specific vehicle works in-game, with options varying from how fast it is to how strong their weapons are to special powers such as health regeneration. However, none of this makes the game significantly easier and the player is still required to play well to complete each mission. If whomever is playing rather not use these, then they can select nothing to equip or play the Casual difficulty instead, which has no character leveling at all and unlimited lives.


[Cast of characters from left to right: Armand, Diz, Gunnar, Roxy and General Bryant. Inferno’s eyes can be seen in the background]

Story

Inferno, a terrorist with an unknown history and seemingly endless wealth of military supplies begins sending threats throughout the world demanding complete control of any region he wants. With all major world leaders deciding on negotiation instead of retaliation, the brash General Bryant decides nothing will change unless he leaves to take matters into his own hands with a reckless group of renegades willing to stop at nothing to stop Inferno. Although this setup is fairly standard, the outcome is somewhat unexpected and has a very satisfying conclusion that leaves room for a sequel.

Although the character designs all have solid art direction and the ones pivotal to the story have great dialog and are very enjoyable for their specific roles, no one is seen outside of vehicles in-game, only in cutscenes. The major missed opportunity here is that none of the playable characters have speaking roles or anything known about them outside of their appearance. As none of this would have really effected the overall product, it is not an issue, but it is fairly disappointing considering how unique all of their designs are from one another.

Renegade Ops largely takes place in third world countries that are in danger of being destroyed as examples of the terrorist Inferno’s power. With nine stages in total, each lasting around 20 minutes apiece, most level themes are shared for two or three missions with the final portion of the game being entirely unique. The levels themselves do not become redundant as they are all played in different contexts to make them feel completely unique from one another; For example, one mission takes place in a desert during the early morning, the next is an oasis near sunset.

[If players split up in local co-op play, the screen seperates and bends to hint as to which direction they can be found]

Gameplay

The left analog stick controls movement while the right aims and shoots. The face buttons are sparsely used and the ones found on the top of either controller are for secondary attacks and special character-specific abilities. Movement is fairly unique as the vehicles need to turn in the direction the player moves the left analog stick, but is easy for just about anyone to fully understand within five minutes of gameplay. The different types of terrain also effect how players will move, but the game encourages reckless driving as spinning around and landing properly awards bonus points. If the player lands on the hood of the vehicle instead, they will have to wait until the game resets their positioning while they are helpless to oncoming attacks.

Each mission has different objectives throughout play, the primary ones all have timers leading to whatever the current goal is. Some also have secondary missions that are optional and happen while the main objective is taking place, causing the player to gauge as if potentially jeopardizing the overall mission is worth the extra points. As each level is very large, potential players would expect the map to be vital, but this is not the case. Using an arrow indicator that changes size depending on how close the objective is — Similar to SEGA’s own Crazy Taxi — This points in the correct and fastest road to travel in order to reach the location. Also like Crazy Taxi however, is that it does not always give the fastest route if hills, towns or fields are there instead of roads, allowing the player to experiment making their own pathway to save time.

[Some missions have upgrades that let the player drive  in helicopters instead.  Few missions require them]

The scoring system is unique in that every time the player causes large amounts of explosions they will receive a bonus points meter that counts down if nothing else is shot at or the vehicle takes damage itself. Every time another explosion occurs, the points are multiplied but the counter empties faster. Although within personal play I have only managed to multiply my score by around 20, it is possible to multiply it 50 times over.

Enemy units vary from foot soldiers, to basic cars, tanks, mortar trucks, helicopters and even trains. As the game progresses, each of these enemy types changes with different kinds of weapon and armor as to keep each mission fresh. Although basic bullets only partially hurt vehicles, missiles will cause massive loss in health even through splash damage, while fire continues to burn unless the character (player or foe) goes into water, moves the flames to something else or uses their hydraulics to remove them with a large amount of speed.

[When in multiplayer, each player’s vehicle has a color-coordinated reference point under them]

The player can switch their secondary weapons with boxes throughout the levels and each playable character also has a special ability unique to themselves such as a sheild that can reflect attacks or a burst of energy that disables all enemies weapons for a short amount of time, allowing the player to always have some sort of advantage even when the action seems overwhelming, which is often.

Online functionality in Renegade Ops is fairly standard to what is expected with the genre in 2011. Players can connect with three other people from around the world to play a mission together with little to no lag, even when everyone splits up and causes explosions from all around the map, latency issues are very rare, even on fairly weak connections thousands of miles from one another. Mission scores and damage multipliers from personal or multiplayer sessions are instantly uploaded to a scoreboard and compared with friends or family connected to your profile right from the level selection screen seamlessly.

Sound originalreviews

Sound direction is also quite strong with each bullet shot or explosion caused sounding as if it all is happening in real life and are altered correctly depending on how far they are from the player’s view. Different structures or vehicles have different sounds when they fall apart or explode depending on what material they are made out of and how or where they are impacted will change this too.

Although character voice work is fairly rare, it is all very well done even if the writing is purposely cheesy. The dialog is extremely similar to anything found in an overly macho American film or comic from the 1980s or 1990s but is very light on swears. Even if characters like Inferno and General Bryant are fairly standard conceptually, the actors that portrayed them made them very likable and memorable. If the player for some reason does not want to hear the people, they can simply turn down the voice volume, which is different from the sound and music volume.

Music is a different case. Not by any means bad outside of the great credits theme, the soundtrack is fairly uninspired and perhaps even gives a dull impression of the title at first. It all fits with what is happening at that particular moment and feels similar to something expected from an epic action movie, but during gameplay it never really stands out as something the player would want to listen outside the context of the game.

Graphics

Detail in Renegade Ops is outstanding when compared to other downloadable games on the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. Each location is lush and colorful, even in the desert or at night, especially with the action being as fast paced as it is. Little effects, such as shrapnel blowing off of metal, wood or whatever else moves surprisingly realistically and flame and smoke effects are comparable to some of even the highest budget retail games. The graphical artists went above and beyond in many regards, such as how dust kicks up depending on how fast your vehicle is going, how it lands or how a building falls apart in sections correctly depending on how the player hits it. The fact that only three years ago the same platforms had largely just card, board and emulated arcade games from over 20 years ago speaks miles by itself.

Cutscenes are exclusively in 2D and are largely inspired by graphic novels. Similar to other games with the same mentalities such as Motorstorm Apocalypse, the characters are normally static images with mild use of animation and lighting effects, but do not look cheaply made in any way and are illustrated wonderfully. Although these are only used before and after a mission begins, each one is short and enjoyable enough that it does not retract from the action. During the actual gameplay, General Bryant or another character will give you your objectives through a small image at a corner of the screen. The last level in particular uses this while Inferno and others speak to you and sets the tone wonderfully.


[Even with a large amount of action on screen, the framrate never drops below 60 FPS]

Special Notes

Gordon Freeman from Half-Life fame will be a featured character in the PC version of Renegade Ops through the Steamworks service. His special ability is the use of antlions that run throughout the level and attack your enemies.

Although not discussed as of writing this review, downloadable content is confirmed to be in production. While new levels are possible too, it is likely more characters, perhaps even ones from SEGA IPs will become playable.

Conclusion

With incredibly cohesive design and large amount of gameplay options, Renegade Ops remains an extremely playable title to just about anyone. The game can get overwhelming at times, but the odds are always fair and the end results are usually very satisfying, especially if the player is interested in playing again and again to improve their score. Elements are in place for people who just want to play without worrying about being on the leaderboard or the game becoming too hard. Renegade Ops is designed by people who grew up playing similar themed games and is not just a worthy tribute, but a much higher quality game than almost all of them in practically every regard.

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Formats: Sony PlayStation 3 via PlayStation Network, Microsoft Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade, PC via Steamworks

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