Renegade Ops Review (Xbox360)

So, Renegade Ops. C’mon SEGA, Avalanche, you could’ve thought up a better title than that. It couldn’t sound more generic if they tried. Even now I’m trying to think up a more boring name and I simply can’t, it sounds like it’s been pulled out of the Tom Clancy name generator. It should have ‘Splinter Cell’ or ‘Ghost Recon’ before it. At least there’s no bloody colon.

While the name’s enough to put people off, the pedigree of the developer can bring them back again. Avalanche is the studio behind the superb Just Cause 2, arguably the best sandbox game in existence. Renegade Ops is presumably a side-project before Just Cause 3, but I was hopeful it could be at least as crazy fun as the studio’s previous work. And to an extent, it is.

An average day at the office

The story’s utterly bonkers, acted in the most over-the-top manner possible, told with more explosions than at least 1.5 Michael Bay movies, and illustrated with proper comic-book cutscenes. The evil terrorist known only as Inferno is doing very bad stuff, a general called Bryant is unhappy with his government’s appeasement stance and so leaves to take the fight to Inferno using only his substantial beard as a weapon.

Oh, and four mercenaries who look interesting but never have anything to say. This is a shame really, as while you get a nice portrait your character remains deadly silent, so you never really get to identify with them. Lucky the game gives each character a special ability (and, superbly, some tactics on how to use it properly before you choose) or you might as well be playing with a Micro Machine. These special abilities range from utter destruction to disabling vehicles, and are all useful in various ways – just remember to watch the cooldown timer for each. An EMP blast will recharge quicker than a massive air strike for example.

The game itself is a top-down twin-stick shooter, and a damn ridiculously fun one at that. You start off with a jeep, a special ability and a pathetic machinegun which slowly increases in power as you survive and destroy. You can add a secondary weapon like a rocket launcher or flamethrower, but otherwise it’s left stick to move, right stick to aim and fire. Occasionally you get to try out another vehicle like a helicopter (giving me Desert Strike flashbacks, all you early ‘90s gamers), but mostly you’re just blowing things up in your trusty assault vehicle.

It’s also pretty hard on ‘Normal’. You only get 5 lives which disappear fast, and as you lose all your gun upgrades when you die it just gets even harder. On ‘Casual’ though it becomes insultingly easy, giving you infinite lives and weaker enemies – in fact I didn’t die once. You really have to play Normal, especially if you want to upgrade your character RPG-style (although I don’t think you can do this mid-level sadly) which there’s none of on Casual. It’s incredibly frustrating to play through an entire checkpoint-free map again if you die, as is not being able to change difficulty even between levels. Getting back to early ‘90s gaming again, if it wasn’t for graphics Renegade Ops could’ve strayed right out of the Super Nintendo era. Still, get used to playing conservatively and it does become doable, and it’s undoubtedly mad arcade fun.

While arcadey and straightforward, there’s still a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay. Maps are fairly large and often have multiple objectives. Primary objectives have a time limit but it’s usually quite generous, and there’s time enough (with a bit of strategy or maybe a partner) to get the secondary objectives, such as freeing prisoners. The maps are also quite open, with multiple ways to get to every location and plenty of shortcuts and secrets to find. It’s a bit of a shame you can’t pause the game to look at the map, but the in-game one does its job (if you can see the damn thing).

It’s destruction that Renegade Ops specialises in however. Things blow up with a pleasing regularity, and you can even drive through buildings and watch them crash to the ground. There’s always a harder enemy in the wings to explode even more spectacularly, and rather coolly the more powerful they get the slower they are so your nippy little death-machine is in with a chance even against tanks.

The graphics are very lovely, and I’m guessing the game’s running on the Just Cause 2 engine which was equally impressive. It’ll also explain why Avalanche have once again gone for a tropical island setting. It’s nice but doesn’t really fit in with the story, which sees the mad supervillain sending in nuclear missiles to destroy wooden huts and where the people’s idea of defence against tanks is putting some planks up against the door.

Take the story in your stride and you’ll have an absolute blast, and even more so in multiplayer. Renegade Ops seems built for co-op play, and even allows split-screen. Players can work together to do the objectives and it makes things a lot easier when enemies have more than one person to shoot at. Easier but still fun, unlike the Casual mode.

There’s a lot of replay value from the multiplayer, which is good because it’s all over a bit too quickly for my taste. There’s only nine chapters, and on single-player it won’t take you longer than 30 minutes to get through each chapter (hence the lack of a save system). Getting a better score, upgrading your vehicle with better weapons and powers, and that excellent multiplayer all add up to a decent package, but not necessarily one that’ll last you a long time.

This, kids, is what us oldies call “split-screen multiplayer”. It used to be quite popular back in the day

Still, no matter the size it’s still immense amounts of fun, whether on your own or with a partner (there was potential for innuendo there but I just couldn’t quite grab it). It may be a simple old-school arcade twin-stick shooter but the huge maps, secondary objectives, and fun things to discover like being able to collapse buildings by driving through them elevate Renegade Ops to must-play territory.

Must-buy though? Now there’s the question. The demo’s out so you’re free to try it, and things don’t really change that much over the nine levels so you’ll know if it’s a game for you. If you like crazy shooters and have a friend on standby to play with I can’t think of a reason you wouldn’t have as much fun with Renegade Ops as I did. Yes, I even liked the nutzoid story. What can I say, I’m a sucker for impressive beards.

Top Game Moment: Being shot at from all sides from garrisoned structures and then discovering you can just drive your jeep through them.

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