Renegade Ops ReviewPublisher: Sega
Platform: Xbox 360
, PS3, PC
UK Price (as reviewed): £9.99 (inc VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $14.99 (ex tax)
It’s been 20 years since they were first released, but still nothing has come close to capturing the violent, top-down brilliance of Jungle Strike or Desert Strike. Maybe developers have left the beast alone, not wanting to ruin the memories. Perhaps it’s more to do with the licenses being spread across multiple companies. Maybe the potential has stupidly been forgotten. Your guess is as good as ours.
It’s not such a problem now, though, as Avalanche Studios has put aside time from making DLC for Just Cause 2
to create Renegade Ops, a no-nonsense dual-stick shooter for PS3, Xbox and, in the near future, Steam.
Based on what you could call an old-fashioned gameplay system - the left analogue stick drives your vehicle and the right stuck aims your gun - and an equally dated isometric viewpoint, Renegade Ops already sounds like it should be holding itself up with a Zimmer frame. The story, which involves taking down a megalomaniac who calls himself Inferno, feels like something from the 1980s too.
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A dated set of attributes, indeed, but that’s partly why we have fallen in love with this gem of a game. What Renegade Ops lacks in cunning plot twists and procedurally generated gimmicks, it more than makes up for with the sort of gameplay that made the Mega Drive famous. It’s undiluted action anybody can enjoy - the deliberately tongue-in-cheek story complements its bold visual style and simple control system.
If there’s one of the game's features that isn't behind the times, though, it’s the visuals. It’s as if Just Cause has been shrunk down to miniature proportions, because the 3D engine pulls no punches. Each explosion, of which there are many, looks so real you wonder why they don’t singe your eyebrows. Buildings crumble into dust as you plough through them, while power-lines topple with a flash and a fizz. The top-down perspective, as well as ensuring a constant frame rate, also means you can absorb this action perfectly.
There are four selectable characters, each of which has their own vehicle with its own characteristics. Armand, for instance, has a heavily armoured vehicle that can take a pounding, but it’s not as nimble as some of the other choices, making it harder for you to escape if you bite off more than you can chew.
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Said vehicles can be upgraded via research points earned from levelling up. This means you can improve the cool-down period between each special attack, or you can add new skills. Using Armand as an example again, a few upgrades result in your invincible shield recharging more quickly. Towards the end of the tech-tree, you can upgrade to a battering ram that stops driving through buildings from slowing you down. Renegade Ops doesn’t offer plenty of upgrades, but there’s enough to keep you hooked, and the individuality of each vehicle helps a great deal with replayability.
Renegade Ops is therefore a little deeper than your average dual-stick shoot-em-up, but Avalanche Studio has focused on what makes the genre so grin-inducing - the action. Objectives rarely involve anything besides blowing up something, or some things, but that’s a good thing. A mixture of incredible visuals, strategic use of your special powers and an enemy AI that’s not afraid to cause you mental pain means the gameplay doesn’t get dull. Intermittent moments of flying a helicopter, apart from reminding us of our Desert Strike heritage, also serve as a welcome break from burning rubber and actually become some of the game’s greatest moments.
If anything, it's the lack of levels we found to be the game’s biggest problem. Unless you choose to play the game on Hardcore you can fire through all nine missions in four to five hours, skill depending.
We'll purge that thought now, though, because if you love games about simply blowing up things in a stunning fashion Renegade Ops is unsurpassed. It’s only made even better with local co-op for two players, or four players online, where it stands on its own two feet as a modern master class of the genre.