Plentiful explosions for the ten-year-old in you.
On start, if you just let Renegade Ops sit for a moment before pressing a button, a motion comic plays that spells out the plot of the game; a villain calling himself Inferno, who is definitely not Cobra Commander, has blown up a city and threatens to blow up more. Angered that the U.N. or N.A.T.O. (or whatever) capitulates, General Tough-As-Nails quits his commission to round up his own band of vigilante heroes to beat the crap out of the clandestine military organization that is definitely not Cobra.
It’s pretty much the perfect plot for Renegade Ops, a vehicular twin-stick shooter that feels a lot like playing with Hot Wheels cars armed with machine guns (Pew-pew-pew!). The top-down view also reminds me of Super Off Road with no track and lots of explosions (Ka-blowie!).
The first level has a fair tutorial section, introducing its mission primary and secondary objectives, marked with red and grey arrows. The arrows lead you from encounter to encounter, though they sometimes have pathfinding problems if you go under a bridge. Tarry too long with the secondary objectives, and a timer appears on the bottom of the screen. If the timer runs out, the game ends.
Your regular weapon is an upgradable machine gun, with a secondary weapon that varies from missiles, which take a chunk of enemy health, to a flamethrower that slowly takes away life after being hit, to a railgun that can be charged for extra damage. You can choose from four cars, each with its own special ability that recharges slowly over time. The real highlight is when you get to use a helicopter, firing down from above at your enemies on the ground; the first boss fight, where you fire down on an enemy submarine, reminded me of classic arcade cabinets like 1942. However, this happens rarely, with most of the action taking place on the ground.
Jumping in and playing Renegade Ops on normal difficulty, I was struck by how hard it was. I was quickly blown up, repeatedly, and Normal affords you only five lives. No continues, though you can restart any level you’ve reached. It gave me pause and made me think that maybe the default difficulty level of Casual was accurate. With infinite lives and reduced enemy health and damage, it was certainly easier. But me, play through a game on casual mode? Pfaugh! I would have to eat my gamer pride. I pressed on.
What I discovered on my second attempt at normal difficulty was Renegade Ops’ light RPG element. The more destruction you cause, especially linked together after destroying a large vehicle, the more experience points you gain. You can expend the points between levels on vehicular upgrades to your health, weaponry, and special weapon. The experience continues to add up even if you don’t finish the level; Renegade Ops expects you to grind until your vehicle matches the difficulty of the level.
This is fun, once you soup up your car enough to keep from being completely owned by the first level, but quickly reaches a point where your car is too powerful for the game to be challenging. Circle strafing around a tank to have it blow up seconds later is awesome in theory but, after the fifth one in a row, starts to lose its shine. A difficulty graph would look something like an exponential curve starting out at stupid-difficult and moving downward and plateauing into baby-soft ease. Hard difficulty level remains fairly challenging but still has the problem of being repetitive.
Multiplayer, either online or splitscreen, is where the gameplay really shines. In Co-op only, the repetitive nature of many of the tasks are cut down when you have multiple players blasting through a level. However, there were no games available online at present (on the PS3 version) unless I hosted one, and it was only possible for me to host a level I had already reached in the single-player version. Once the game started, it started to look like the whole game had been designed with multiplayer in mind.
Secondary objectives which had been impossible suddenly were much more reachable, and enemies that had taken a long time to defeat were much more manageable, with the general pace picking up much quicker. It was possible to have up to four players join, but I wasn’t ever able to find more than one at a time.
The local splitscreen mode at first felt a little cramped, which made me glad it was limited to just two players. Halfway through the first level, I switched it from a static to dynamic display. The dynamic display started with both cars on the same screen, then when they diverged, the screen split at that point in whatever direction they were moving, and the split moved based on where the cars were in relation to each other. Both I and my “I suck at driving games!” girlfriend thought the dynamic mode was awesome. It should be noted that my girlfriend had a lot of fun blowing things up as well (Pew-pew-ka-plow!).
Renegade Ops looks great and clearly had some money thrown at it. The motion comics are professionally rendered, if a little stiff, and the voice acting is professionally hammy, suggesting the A-Team and G.I. Joe. I couldn’t stop imagining every line by the villain Inferno being delivered by Cobra Commander. The throwaway plot has less depth than a children’s wading pool, but for a game that reminds me of playing with Micro Machines, it fulfills all the desires of my inner ten-year-old boy to kick ass.
The game itself has a lot of polish for a budget title, especially compared to other twin-stick shooters. There are a few problems with texture drop-in, with trees and or other elements popping in moments after everything else at the start of a level or during an in-game cut-scene. The 3D rendered world and vehicles looks great, and the explosions and special weapon effects make it clear that blowing stuff up is the priority. The most satisfying part of the game for me was watching the animations after I drove through a shack, tent, or flimsily built house, and watching it crumble afterward in my wake.
The nine levels on normal difficulty mode took about six hours, though that could be shorter if a player didn’t try to fulfill the secondary objectives. While there was no available extra content on the PS3 version, the game released on Steam on October 26th with Gordon Freeman’s buggy from Half-Life 2 as exclusive DLC. The game has little replay value, aside from trying to beat it on higher difficulty modes.
Renegade Ops is a fun, if repetitive, vehicular twin-stick shooter that looks great, has a satisfyingly dumb story, and lots of cool explosions. It’s a little weak solo, but you could do far worse than spend six hours with a buddy, gleefully blowing things up together.
Review based on PS3 version. Code provided by publisher.