I’ve been lucky of late to have the opportunity to play so many great Xbox Live Arcade games, and vehicle combat game Renegade Ops is definitely one of my favourites. The game was developed by Avalanche Studios who, as creators of the Just Cause games, are no strangers to digital mayhem and destruction, both of which are order of the day in Renegade Ops.
The plot is standard gaming fodder, with an almost Japanese bit of bonkers mixed in. A lunatic, who goes by the name of Inferno, threatens the world with destruction. The world’s leaders seek to reason with the madman. This doesn’t sit well with military tough-guy, General Bryant. Wasting no time he resigns his commission and decides to take down Inferno himself. The story is told, to great effect, through the ever-popular motion comic format, with static images being simply animated. As well as full comic-book style cut scenes, comic panels also pop up on screen whenever a bit of exposition is required. It may not be Shakespeare, but it gives plenty of reasons to shoot things and blow stuff up, so it works for me.
Renegade Ops sees an elite fighting force sent behind enemy lines led by General Bryant. His team consists of four operatives each with their own abilities, and players have the opportunity to choose which character they wish to play at the start of each game. Each character has a unique vehicle with its own unique upgrades.
The game is pretty accessible, giving players three difficulty levels. The casual level offers a simple play-through, providing novice players with infinite lives and no upgrades or levelling to worry about. The normal and hardcore levels provide more of a challenge to the seasoned player, limiting the amount of lives, and sending them back to the start of the level if they are all used up.
Basically speaking, Renegade Ops is a vehicle combat game played looking down on a 3D environment. The left stick controls the vehicle’s direction, whilst the right stick controls the direction of fire. Special abilities are activated with the left trigger, and the right trigger fires the secondary weapon, if available. The controls are very basic and easy to get used to, although the inertia of the vehicles and the way they slide did feel at bit odd to start with.
The action isn’t limited to ground vehicles. The helicopter sequences took me straight back to EA’s 16-bit classic, Desert Strike. Yep, Renegade Ops treads a familiar trail and yet still comes across as fresh. In this world of bold 3D graphics had we forgotten how much fun we had directing the actions of tiny vehicles? I think we had, and it’s full marks to Avalanche for reminding us.
The experience is pure arcade action with a bit of upgrade customisation thrown in for good measure. On the battlefield fallen enemies will often leave pick-ups like health, upgrades to the main machine gun and secondary weapons, but these are only temporary. Killing enemies also rewards players with experience points (XP), with extra XP awarded for damage streaks and completing objectives. Gain enough XP and the character will level up, earning upgrade points which can then be spent kitting out vehicles and weapons. Even if you fail a level, the XP earned can still be spent improving your vehicle, so maybe next time things will go your way.
Considering the tiny little vehicles, Renegade Ops is packed with detail. Everything is rendered very crisp and clear. It is a beautiful-looking game featuring the sort of effects usually reserved for top-end, full-price releases. The game presents players with lush jungle environments complete with atmospheric haze, realistic-looking dust, debris, fire and smoke. There are even flocks of birds flying around.
Whilst you can play though the entire game on your own, the game is designed to be played co-operatively with others. This can be locally, using the two-player split-screen mode, or with up to four other players via Xbox Live.
If I had to criticise the game, it would be on the sharp difficultly curve. After a few missions, Renegade Ops became nigh on impossible to proceed without help from another player. Of course every time I died I was able to spend my upgrade points earned before my demise, augmenting my vehicle and thus enabling me to proceed. But I would have preferred to have beaten the level a bit more naturally, instead of hitting such a wall of difficulty. Maybe I was just being a wimp, but it was almost a game killer for me and I imagine a few players could put the game down over this. The situation is made worse by the difficulty in finding an online partner to play with - you really need the help of a friend either locally or one that also owns the game on Xbox Live.
Renegade Ops is a throw-back to the coin-op isometric arcade shooters of yesteryear, except with shiny 3D graphics. It’s a modern take on an old genre and it works very well, another of those games that you could swear that you’ve played before, but haven’t. The inclusion of split screen makes it easy to have a social co-op game on the sofa with a mate around. It’s a looker of a game as well, with a lot of attention to detail on the screen. Definitely worth taking a look at the demo and seeing how you go from there.
Lasting appeal: 8