We all get dealt a bad hand in life from time to time. It could be something bordering on life changing. Or most likely an inconvenience that we’ve blown out of proportion in a dash of hysterics. At times like this it’s all about empowerment and self-control, and what better way to celebrate this approach than with good coffee and some old-fashioned violence.
With a pot of naturally flavoured caramel coffee (it’s as good as it sounds), I launched Renegade Ops from the dashboard as the last glimmer of sunlight left the Manchester skyline. And goddamn, was I in for treat.
It begins with a bold-headed lunatic screaming his demands at the nations’ leaders via a satellite link. His name is Inferno, and having hopped straight from the pages of a comic book, he now wants the world to bow before his gigantic army, one that he must have previously hidden behind a few trees somewhere, or under someone’s sofa cushions when they weren’t looking.
Our leaders give in to his demands to avoid the instant destruction that is now a mere button press away by this madman. But no, there’s one man that won’t take some clichéd dialogue and back down. His name is General Bryant. Putting on his best Samuel L. Jackson impression, an enactment that no one questions throughout the story, he tells the yellow-bellied so-called leaders of the people to get stuffed. Storming out of the conference room, he hires a group of mercenaries and takes on Inferno’s entire army.
What a guy.
Renegade Ops is a teenage boy’s wet dream. Everything is super-sized; from the personalities, to the weaponry, and to the idea of so much destruction by a few hands. It’s an ’80s kids cartoon turned up to 11. They could show Stallone’s Expendables a thing or two. The game is one explosion after another, as you mow down hordes of enemy soldiers and tanks, driving at full speed over the open – and rarely linear – landscapes, slamming through the terrain and down a hillside, mimicking the infamous scene from Jackie Chan’s Police Story, all the while spraying an endless stream of machine gun fire at anything that is wearing red.
Jumping into an armoured jeep as one of the four Renegades, each with a unique ability, your dropped straight into Africa to fight your way into Inferno’s hidden layer. The vehicles you’ll man are driven via the right-stick, using a control style similar to Halo’s warthogs, with the machine fired by the left-stick. As a twin-stick shooter there’s a risk of repetition, but what Avalanche Studios have done is humbling: they’ve kept everything simple.
Set over nine chapters, you must complete set objectives within each location to move on. This ranges from rescuing slave workers, taking out mortars or saving local villagers from being torched. Over the course of these missions there’ll be, again, a lot of explosions, bullets fired and soldiers set on fire. And while some of the topics may be close to the bone, it’s never done in an insensitive way, as the whole straight-up good vs. bad play-off feels fresh. It’s even funny at times, the dialogue short and witty.
As mentioned, simplicity is key to Renegade Ops‘ success. The top-down view provides enough visual range to survey the open map landscapes without losing depth and detail onscreen. All the vehicles move with precision and speed too. You’ll soon be boosting along dirt paths and taking sharp corners. The weaponry packs a punch thanks to a combination of good audio, subtle vibration feedback and graphical effects. Very little can’t be driven straight through and you’ll never get stuck in the scenery, helping to provide a constant, flowing experience.
Run over some cannon fodder and a red trail will be left behind. Sparks fly as bullets spray metal plating, and visual touches compliment the additional weaponry, such as the railgun and rocket launcher. It all comes together without a single frustration. Avalanche Studios have crafted and fine-tuned the core gameplay to precision, never adding unnecessary elements.
This meticulous attention to creating a core mechanic is evident in the combat. While the game is 3D, it works over a 2D plane. The result is that you aim where you want to fire and the turret will adjust the line-of-sight for you. When piloting a helicopter, for example, there’s no additional controls to change between low and high fire. Aim at another helicopter and you’ll shoot on a straight path, point at a foe on the ground and it’ll shoot down.
The four characters can be levelled up by gaining experience via highscores and damage combos. Each level grants points to be spent in unlocking additional skills that’ll add armour, weaponry or increase your unique ability’s power. However, the levelling up is a little unbalanced as some of the early skills are better than the higher level ones. Other than this, there’s very little that is done wrong.
The helicopter can sometimes clash against rising ground, but thanks to the focus on removing all frustration, these clashes do no damage. So even if the helicopter doesn’t auto-adjust its level to an upcoming cliff it’ll bounce with no inconvenience. At one point my vehicle got in the way of a friendly tank, and rather than crush me, it automatically moved me aside. Even the escort mission was enjoyable – that’s how well balanced the gameplay is.
And whilst there is local split-screen and online co-op, which is a great addition, it’s a missed opportunity that there was no Death Rally-style racing mode, where up to four players could have battled it out for first place.
Renegade Ops came out of nowhere. It’s one of the most stress-free, funny and downright playable titles of the year. For those that grew up playing titles like Choplifter and Desert Strike, and have often thought what a current-gen version would be like, well, Renegade Ops is the answer you’ve been looking for; and the saving icon is a floppy-disk. Brilliant.