This one-man army could use a little help.
Few things disappoint like the buffet at the Holiday Inn. I mean, they really make it sound like this amazing four-star meal, but when you show up, it's all cold cereal, unripe fruit and runny eggs. I don't know what's worse - the meal itself or the letdown.
The same goes for Westwood's new Command and Conquer Renegade. Having been promised a smorgasbord of tasty online violence smothered in C&C sauce, I'm sorry to report that Renegade arrives at the table a tad undercooked. Though peppered with some spicy gameplay, the instability, sparse frags and limiting player classes had me back in line at KFCounterstrike before the waiter could say "Fire in the hole!"
Now, I realize that comparing these two games seems far from fair, and indeed, Renegade has a lot more in common with Tribes 2 than it does with CS. But the fact is that despite some interesting concepts and cool team dynamics, Renegade will probably not become a canonical online multiplayer game like Counterstrike or Unreal Tournament.
The zesty C&C gravy flavors every bite of Renegade. In the single-player campaign you assume the role of a GDI commando named Havoc. As Havoc, you single-handedly wipe out scores of NOD scum, reduce their structures to rubble, and, of course, rescue the GDI scientists so they can work out the finer points of weather control.
The game uses scripted events, radio transmissions, and staged battles between NOD and GDI soldiers to simulate the feel of being on a 'real' C&C battlefield. When things heat up, it actually seems a lot like being dropped right into the middle of a massive C&C firefight. This is the game's greatest asset, and fans of Command and Conquer will really dig the attention to detail when it comes to units, buildings and overall flow.
However, Renegade is very linear. The single player campaign plays like those levels in every C&C where you have a limited number of troops and must make it from one end of a maze to another - except here there's only one path. At every juncture, you run into four or five GDI guys who try to help you out against a swarm of enemies you wind up defeating single-handedly. On to the next segment of the level, rinse and repeat.
To aid you in your bloody trek through the lands of NOD, the GDI constantly airdrops vehicles. Unfortunately, the vehicles seem to run on octagonal wheels and aren't nearly destructive enough. None of the vehicles move fluidly except for the mammoth tank, and it moves really slowly. At least you get to squash enemies too dumb to move out of the way...
...which are most of them. The AI is less than thrilling; in fact, enemies often just stand there getting shot or beeline right towards you. So that's how Rambo did it...
NOD soldiers aren't the only casualties in the single-player campaign; my patience was shot repeatedly. Early in the campaign (like the first two missions), the game crashed repeatedly. Fortunately, the game warms up towards the middle and most freezing ceased, and Westwood has released a patch to address some of these issues. Still, we want nearly flawless play out of the box, not bugs to patch.
While the single-player is quite cookie-cutter, the multiplayer is where the game really leaves its mark. In addition to the ubiquitous Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes, Renegade features the unique C&C Mode, which pits the forces of NOD against the GDI army. The match is won once all of one side's buildings are destroyed or a beacon of mass destruction is placed on a certain pedestal.
Each side is armed with infantry units from the C&C universe such as flame-thrower soldiers and grenadiers, and armored by such recognizable vehicles as the NOD dune buggy and the GDI medium tank. Every player starts out as a regular infantryman and can become a few other basic units like the engineer or shotgunner for free. However, all other units and all vehicles cost 'credits', which are accrued fairly slowly by your Tiberium refinery and your harvester, which is always going out and mining tiberium, just like in the C&C RTS games.
C&C Mode features weak, medium, and strong characters to choose from. The weak ones are standard soldiers and engineers, the medium ones are officers (rocketeers, snipers and laser-gunners) and the high level units are all heroes (railgunners, uber-snipers, and super-laserers) from the C&C universe. Aside from the engineers and their higher level counterparts (the Technicians), each unit has a pistol, a gun specific to their character, and timed C4. The pistol and timed C4 are nearly worthless, leaving one gun to use until you die, buy a vehicle, or change classes.
Such a one-dimensional class system makes melee fighting dull and impossible if you want to be an effective tank killer (for which a rail gun or rocket launcher is preferable). Though you are rewarded nicely for being a good little repairing helper bee, it's just not much fun.
C&C Mode does have other things going for it, though. As a team-based multiplayer game, it offers some serious co-op mechanics. The best chance to stay alive and succeed is when a team works together. If you have a fast connection and are patient enough to reach the higher characters, the game can be a real hoot. Since the universe is so strong, you can kind of plug in and play without questioning everything.
Two air units, the NOD Apache and the GDI Orca, will be made playable via another patch. These units will hopefully add some much needed chaos to what are currently slow, hide and seek style vehicle battles.
Graphically, Renegade accomplishes its mission. The faces are particularly impressive, as are some of the skin textures and pyrotechnics. However, the environmental textures are pretty weak, and some of the structures look pretty disappointing (the GDI Advanced Guard Tower is indefensibly silly looking).
Renegade's sounds are a mixed bag. The music in the single player campaign is standard C&C, but is left out of the multiplayer campaign. The weapon noises and explosions are good, but I can't get over this ridiculous sound the game makes when you kill another player. It's sort of a 'Boink.'
Having cut up and digested every edible aspect of this game, my stomach rumbles for something a little more substantial. As a fan of C&C, there's definitely something appealing about running amuck in the thick of the battle. However, as a critic it seems to me that the fun, chaotic nature of C&C has been lost in the transition from RTS to FPS. While the strategy series is a study in gameplay refinement, Renegade is a somewhat typical FPS and sacrifices the needs of the solo gamer for the benefit of the clan.