For those who had no idea who Rogue Trooper was fifteen years ago, the first time he was made into a gaming product, doubtless little has changed. As of 2006, Rogue remains at best a cult following, relegated to the school of quality, off-mainstream comic book franchises that mass audiences take forever to realize.
One of publishing house 2000AD’s more venerable characters, alongside Nemesis the Warlock, not only has Rogue Trooper (RT) suffered from a lack of exposure both in print and on film, but he has also been victimized by a pair of rather unassuming games titles.
First rendered for 16 bit platforms like the Atari ST and Amiga in 1991, RT’s back in a new release from Rebellion and Eidos, to some degree keeping up with the times, albeit not in an overly successful manner, for just like its early 90’s predecessor (produced by erstwhile Krisalis Software), this one also confines itself to the mundane.
If you’re wondering who the hell Rogue Trooper is anyway, rest assured the basics are quite fathomable. RT’s a GI, not Government Issue, but a Genetic Infantry, a sort of supersoldier bred by science and the military to fight in conditions unbecoming natural-born troops. RT’s blue skin and glowing eyes foretell of his enormous capacity for the taking and giving of punishment, but beneath all that lives a warrior of strict code, loyal mostly to his similarly-engineered comrades.
Even so, RT enlists with one of desolate planet Nu Earth’s two main factions, the Southers. These are more amenable to liberal values, while on the opposing side are the Norts, a fascist regime bent on world domination and extermination of all things GI.
The new game does a reasonable job recreating the look of RT’s main characters, from Rogue himself to various story personas like treacherous, deformed generals and assorted sidekicks. Names of places and the plot in general follow 2000AD’s license with good faith, but that’s not where the problem lies.
That starts with gameplay, as RT’s essentially a non-stop fusillade of samey gun battles revolving around a very workable, but overworked, basic design that falls flat thanks to lack of variety.
A novelty nowadays, RT subscribes to a third person shooter mantra, similar to what we’ve seen in Konami’s brief but pleasant Kill Switch. Rogue gets to run around vast, although linear, levels on devastated Nu Earth, taking cover behind obstacles and exchanging rounds with his persistent Nort rivals. This can be quit exciting as many locations have good setups for gunplay, with RT leaping around the landscape, forever looking for that perfect spot from which to eliminate as many baddies as possible.
But when it dawns on one that there’s the entire game, it soon becomes a bit tiresome, especially since once more we have a case of game designers throwing the difficulty curve around like so much fluff. For the most part, RT isn’t a tough challenge, with most AI pre-scripted and unimpressive. Nort forces do try to put up a fight, but even taking cover’s a task they often fail in. Sadly, at certain points RT just hurls a bunch of unbelievably tough opponents at players, leading to frustration as even success guarantees only more of the same.
Several attempts at novelty do occur, with RT’s weaponry doing a decent job. In addition to a basic sidearm, Rogue packs his friend Gunnar, a former GI fallen in combat and now embedded in RT’s assault rifle for increased ability and dry wit. Yes, here the weapons talk back, providing assessments of performance and skill, but those too recycle too often. Firepower includes a sniper mode (there are no iron sights, alas), grenades, mortar and anti-aircraft launchers, shotgun and automatic assault rifle.
All the better weapons have limited ammo, which, just like health packs, must be bought on the run from Bagman, Rogue’s second chip-implanted buddy, who’s in charge of inventory. Rogue gets credits for kills and finding secret stashes, and in spite of its innovation and thoughtful nature, this system does get in the way of the more hectic fights.
Other gadgets include automatic sentry guns, mines and holo decoys, useful against the Nort army, which has no qualms at all about letting rip with armored walkers, gunships and hover mines.
And if any of these villains end up looking familiar, it’s because RT borderline lifts much of its inspiration from Half Life 2 and FEAR. Unfortunately, it isn’t as appealing as either of those two, nor does it last as long. We’re not looking at a thirty hour behemoth here, as most will finish the game (or give up on it) in a couple of days.
It’s also not the prettiest of products, even though frame rates remain solid throughout, and other issues like clipping or freezes are none-existent. Overwhelmingly, Rogue Trooper’s blue-tinged and drab, with functionality in mind more than graphic splendor. Just like its gameplay, here too more color and variety would have been a major relief.
Characters animate well, but feature reduced detail and variety, with Rogue only fighting a few types of Nort enemies, none spectacularly modeled. There’s very little in the way of effects or other visual frills, with the same applying to sound. Music’s too hushed to make a difference, and voice samples repeat ad nauseum, particularly the Norts, whose obviously British-sounding excerpts come to be exceedingly predictable. There’s some adequate weapon effects, yet explosions come across iffy at best.
Mulitplayer modes restrict Rogue Trooper further, with a mere handful of servers. Besides, due to the game’s lackluster countenance and absent PR impact, having more than five people online worldwide playing is an accomplishment in itself. Therefore, replay value is a problem, since upon completion, re-engaging RT has little allure. Extra stuff along the lines of art clips and Rogue Trooper knowledge can be unlocked, as can a harder difficulty setting attractively named Massacre. Those are forgotten easily like soda spray on a gamer’s screen in view of RT’s failure to compel play through the first go, let alone any future attempts.
At its core a competent rail shooter with a certain knack for adrenaline-induction, Rogue Trooper dooms itself by relying on the same trick without let, thus culminating in an uninspired end product. Its smoothness and apparently complete state (no patches necessary), together with developers’ attempt at novelty, still land it as far removed from memorable status as its paper-borne originator is from a Hollywood version.
Fun at times and a distraction from the arduous realities of this world, Rogue Trooper 2006 nonetheless falls victim to its own fallibility. Genetic engineered breakthroughs aside, it too will be unknown fifteen years hence.
Rating: * * *
Developed by Rebellion
Published by Eidos
Version tested: PC
Game review by Lee Alon