NEED TO KNOW
What is it? The remastered version of an old school third-person shooter based on a cult comic strip.
Reviewed on: Intel i7-6700HQ@2.6GHz, 8GB RAM, GeForce GTX 970
Developer: TickTock Games
Multiplayer: Online co-op, 2-4 players
Link: Official site
The most lasting impression Rogue Trooper Redux left me with was one of its first. Landing under heavy fire in Nu-Earth's evocatively named Quartz Zone, having barely survived the massacre of my entire regiment after an act of betrayal revealed our drop location to the Nordland forces, I had moments to orient myself before being set upon by the advancing enemy hordes.
I was discovered quickly, prompting an overconfident Nort to charge at me—his silly-looking mask and unwieldy oxygen tank positioned conveniently in the center of the screen. He fell with a single headshot and little fanfare. It was a strikingly straightforward encounter, uncomplicated by the recharging shields and tactical AI of other contemporary third-person shooters, and it pointed to an experience at once refreshingly direct and tediously shallow.
Rogue Trooper's revenge mission, an arduous trek through Nu-Earth's war-ravaged territories to track down the traitor responsible for his comrades' demise, may sound familiar even to those who haven't played Rebellion's 2006 original, which this is a faithful remake of—with enhanced graphics, modernized controls, a tweaked cover system, and more difficulty settings.
The story's lifted straight from the character's first run in the pages of the legendary 2000 AD comic and adapted twice previously for the home computers of the '80s. It's set in a far future struggle between Norts and Southers in the gas-poisoned trenches, mashing up historical conflicts from the American Civil War to Vietnam with both World Wars thrown in to create a universal and abstract War that is all wars at once, and also Hell
As specially bred fighting machines, blue-skinned 'Genetic Infantrymen' like Rogue are immune to the poisonous atmosphere of Nu-Earth and can even survive physical destruction as long as their personalities are immediately uploaded to a microchip and inserted in appropriate equipment. Rogue's three dead squadmates accompany him throughout his journey, handling specialized responsibilities and intermittently amusing banter. They're the game's unique selling points, serving to embellish—in theory, at least—both the story and mechanics.
Bagman takes care of the inventory, and can utilize salvage gathered from Nort corpses or found inside hidden caches to upgrade your equipment and manufacture ammo and medkits as needed; Helm is in charge of recon and can project a hologram to distract enemy troops; and Gunnar assists with aiming and can transform your assault rifle into a turret to oversee suspicious-looking entrances.
Alongside an innovative (for its time) cover system and a host of neat little touches like the wafts of breath betraying enemy positions and the entertaining way Norts flail about in panic after you hit their oxygen tanks, these abilities should provide much-needed variety to the otherwise undemanding skirmishes that dominate Rogue Trooper's brisk playing time. (No more than 6–7 hours for the full campaign.)
'Should' being the operative word here as, with witless Norts standing in your line of fire pondering the questions of existence and only occasionally bothering to fire back, combat is a series of shooting galleries. Enemies give you little reason to settle for anything less than a succession of carefully placed headshots, and then it's on to the next setpiece.
The problem is not necessarily the lack of challenge. In fact, one of Rogue Trooper's redeeming qualities is how unfussy it is about combat, happy to serve up prodigious quantities of frail, dopey enemies and expecting you to do right by them and shoot their faces. The problem is that these adversaries rarely provide you with a reason to spice up your playstyle with any of the abilities it provides. I used the turret on a couple of occasions, I never used the hologram outside the tutorial. What begins as a pleasantly straightforward experience degenerates into tiresome repetition.
Variety is injected during later stages of the campaign in the form of on-rails sections, most memorably on a desert crossing via hovertrain attacked by ferocious dinosaur riders from the sides and gliders from above. The end of the track leaves you at the edges of the eerie Petrified Forest, its dim, twisted passages teeming not just with patrolling Norts but also with other, more indigenous threats.
The latter section also happens to feature, by some margin, the prettiest environments of Rogue Trooper Redux, although that was just as true in the original version, thanks to an inherently atmospheric concept. However clear the upgrade in definition—a crest of musculature in Rogue's biceps here, a splotch of rust on the body of an assault rifle there—the remastered game is hardly elevated either aesthetically or technically.
The photorealistic approach was always a poor fit for artist Dave Gibbons's austere, almost expressionist inks, but even without a radical change of direction, there was massive room for improvement in those nondescript backgrounds. Instead they remain empty and unremarkable, mostly a series of grayish-brown cliffs to scale in order to access one base or another consisting mostly of grayish-brown corridors. The original Rogue Trooper looked like a shoddy 2006 game. Rogue Trooper Redux looks like a polished 2006 game.
Still, there's something about Rogue Trooper Redux that's not quite as easy to dismiss. It evokes a peculiar kind of nostalgia attached not to the original, but to a whole mode of play we seem to have lost in the intervening decade, one unencumbered by convoluted narratives, branching quests, and an exhausting vigilance for collectibles. Though it fails to match up to some of its contemporaries' sophistication, sometimes—and in appropriately small doses—there is fun to be found in repeatedly shooting Norts in the face.