Game Description: Rogue Trooper brings the cult science-fiction hero to your Xbox for 3rd-person action and next-generation stealth. On the hostile planet of Nu Earth, a brutal and futile war is being fought. Among the soldiers sent there to die, there are many legends; one in particular involves a lone blue-skinned warrior: The ultimate killer, the last survivor of the massacred Genetic Infantrymen. Bred for war, he takes revenge on both sides -- appearing out of nowhere to take out whole platoons, then fading back into the shadows. He is the Rogue Trooper, and he may be the only one who can end the war for good.
Rogue Trooper's comic book origins suit it remarkably well. Perhaps unlike the grand baggage that came with the Judge Dredd licence and helped make Rebellion's Dredd vs. Death a critical underachiever, Rogue Trooper only benefits from effectively embodying its source material's bold presentation and lack of pretension. I love, for instance, that the fallen comrades who live on as biochips to aid our hero, Rogue, are unashamedly named after their use value: Helm is attached to Rogue's helmet, Gunnar to his principal firearm, and Bagman to his backpack. Almost comical, you might say.
The four-voices-in-one-character banter that ensues isn't nearly as galling as one might imagine and creates a clever allusion of camaraderie in what is essentially a very lonely, last-man-standing action setup. And while this is ostensibly a conventional third-person shooter, there's a refreshingly no-nonsense feel to play (epitomized in the bullishly efficient and fast-teaching tutorial levels) that is carried off with enough satisfying fun to absorb any criticisms that the game is too generic.
But it's the thoughtful, sympathetic design that really distinguishes Rogue Trooper. The game is dotted with many nice touches and shrewd design choices, from the pivotal (a gun's crosshair will display a small skull-and-cross-bone icon when in position for an instant-kill headshot, and a gas tank graphic when targeting an enemy's explosive oxygen backpack) to the incidental (the loading screen reads "Analyzing Route" instead of "Loading" and maps the journey being made to the next level area.)
The principle gun weapon (Gunnar) could be accused of being a little too empowering, as it discourages the player from risking more tactical approaches to combat (such as setting mines or picking off enemies with stealth kills) which are actually well catered for in the level designs. Yet Rogue Trooper wisely mixes up its emergent battlefield possibilities with more clearly directed situations, such as sneaking behind an enemy stronghold to release a group of ravenous animals on their captors, or introducing enemies that require specific attack patterns to overcome. Overall, a nice action-strategy balance is provided across the board, and, crucially, not just for perfectionists.
The satisfaction of clearing an area with a skilful and methodical mix of stealth kills, head shots and maximum destruction grenade throws is largely analogous to that experienced in any game of this kind. As ever it's an exquisite feeling, but the difference here is that Rogue Trooper enables such a performance to be staged on a first attempt and not only by expert players. The leniency of the health and power-up systems, the utility of the targeting mechanics and the reliability of finding and using suitable cover in the heat of battle all meld together to make supremely satisfying set-pieces achievable by just about any reasonably capable player.
Some may accuse the game of being too easy to play through, but there is a kind of lenient discipline instilled through the game flow; an understanding of whether I handled a situation successfully or not, but without punishment. I feel the pang of failure when entering the power-up screen for a mid-battle health and ammo boost, but it's nothing that's going to spoil my game. It connotes the feeling of being a soldier far more enjoyably than a slender health meter and a thousand quick-save restarts could.
Rogue Trooper is a little short-lived, and what's worse is that it suggests the end is about to happen far too prematurely, therefore leaving the player expecting a denouement at least mid-way through the game, which makes the narrative feel protracted from that point on. It never totally runs out of steam, however, thanks to some successful atmospheric shifts and the excellent pacing within levels that know when to take things slow and steady and when to pour it on thick. It's a restraint that gels smoothly with the moody but unobtrusive soundtrack and the smartly subtle gameplay variations—be they effective (stripping Rogue of his Gunnar rifle; short climbing sections) or mediocre (shooting down airships on a gun emplacement; only-for-effect non-player-character back up).
The game even offers a more than competent multiplayer mode, which doubles up as a self-testing challenge mode for solo players. Options may be limited by the modern benchmark standards, but it carries over enough of the main campaign's dynamism to remain an enjoyable bonus. I confess to not having taken Rogue Trooper online, but wouldn't be surprised if the experience was just as solid as the rest of the game.
It may not be the most lightning fast and intense action game you'll ever play, but with its accessible and satisfying gameplay tweaked to near perfection, Rogue Trooper makes a satisfying case for its easily dismissed genre. It's also the best kind of licensed videogame: one that earns merit as a game first and foremost, drawing players willingly in to the intellectual property's background as a result. That I was compelled to read every single unlockable entry in Rogue Trooper's NU Earth Encyclopaedia speaks volumes.
It would be a real shame for critics to disregard Rebellion's title simply because it appears to slip so cosily into a mediocre stereotype. This is a game whose execution outweighs its ambition with consummate ease, until it becomes a benchmark of sorts for a generation of underwhelming third-person shooters. Wringing the very best out of its simple and solid core mechanics, Rogue Trooper is more accomplished and enjoyable than anyone had a right to expect.
It might make for a very boring second opinion, but the only area where Andrew and I diverge on Rogue Trooper is that I think he scored it a hair too low.
It's entirely true that Rogue Trooper could be classified as a standard third-person military combat game, but it's also a perfect example of where flawless execution and intelligent design make the difference between something that's average, and something that should be recognized as noteworthy. From the opening scenes to the closing credits, the developers, Rebellion, show a sophisticated level of finesse, common sense, and intuitively correct decision making.
For a budget-priced game, the graphics are smooth and create a very cohesive, believable world with plenty of atmosphere. I've paid $50 for games that don't hold together as well as this. Ample checkpoints show that the designers have a heart, and each level showcases a strong array of both moment-to-moment and long-term goals. One instant, the only thing on my mind was diving away from an incoming grenade. The next, my talking helmet was reminding me that there was a fortress door in need of breaching deeper within the area. This balance keeps the energy level high, and the motivation to keep moving strong.
Going further, Andrew's absolutely correct in pointing out that there are a wealth of small touches that other games get wrong, or simply don't bother to include in the first place. For example, rather than breaking crates to find health packs inside, Bagman (Rogue's sapient backpack) is able to manufacture healing kits that are created from scavenging the remains of technology and fallen soldiers on the battlefield. Ammunition and weapon upgrades are created the same way. This shortcut taken to deliver the goods to the player is not only convenient, it builds upon the technology themes and reinforces the concept of a genetically superior, self-sufficient soldier. This seemingly innocuous decision (along with a host of others) adds believability to the usually impossible "lone warrior" premise.
Although Rebellion nailed the game everywhere it counts, I do agree with Andrew about the storyline. For some strange reason, the writers built up a few plot points and make the game seem like it's going to be over after just a handful of levels. It isn't, but a lot of dramatic tension was lost when things didn't resolve the way I thought they should. Although there's still a lot of tight, engaging gameplay left after that point, the segments don't mentally connect together as well and it goes from feeling like a superb soldier story back down to the level of the average action game. Unfortunate, but not a disaster.
Before playing Rogue Trooper, I had only vague knowledge of the license's comic book origins. But, the game's nihilistic, dystopian world is a perfect setting for a war without end—my brain was immersed in the game's world, and my hands were willing participants in its tasks. After watching the credits roll, I was so motivated that I went online and tracked down a graphic novel. Instead of being something that makes a halfhearted attempt at doing justice to its inspiration, Rogue Trooper takes a completely solid core of gameplay and does what so few licensed games manage to do—it enriches itself with a perfect treatment of the source material. Budget-priced games just don't come this good, and I eagerly await Rebellion's next project. These people know what they're doing.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood, Use of Alcohol, Violence
Whilst not excessively, distractingly bloody, Rogue Trooper remains a game predicated on violence and the stealth kills alone justify (at least) its Teen rating. As such, Parents may wish to note that the ESRB rating seems rather lenient.
Fans of war-based action and semi-strategic combat should certainly consider Rogue Trooper unless they feel a total aversion to its sci-fi setting, as the game presents battlefield gameplay in a fun and well though out way. While it may not win awards for intensity, groundbreaking artificial intelligence or stunning technical feats, this is a well made and sometimes innovative jack-of-all trades that never stops being satisfying, compulsive entertainment.
Subtitles are provided for Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers, but almost a little too generously: Even the tiniest incidental enemy shout is subtitled in large lettering just above the onscreen radar; the text overlaps confusingly with objective commands and its colour coding is not particularly helpful when there is so much information clustered together. It ends up trying a bit too hard and just looks off-puttingly messy. That said, there are no game-ruining oversights that will actually hinder the player's progression.