Some 11 years ago, just as we were moving from one console generation to another, a game arrived on the scene that became a casualty of the transition. Rogue Trooper was an innovative third person shooter released on the original Xbox and the PlayStation 2 and despite some critical acclaim and intriguing mechanisms, it failed to set the market alight and consequently most of us have probably not played it. To give us the chance to experience the adventure of Nu Earth’s most famous A.W.O.L. soldier, Rebellion passed the code and assets to Tick Tock and asked them to pull together Rogue Trooper Redux. So, does it need awarding the purple heart, or burying in an unmarked grave?
Based on the 2000AD comic book Rogue Trooper – a series that’s been running for years about a genetically created soldier and his AI companions that scour the war torn landscape of Nu Earth looking for The Traitor General. If you’ve ever read any of the 80’s comics there’s a distinctive feel to the characters and story that’s dark, violent and amusing at the same time… or at least that’s what I remember from 30 years ago, I’m a little out of touch with the direction it’s gone in since then. However, if there’s any comic property that demands its own game it’s this. The main character is a super soldier, he’s blue, he’s invulnerable to a lot of things, his brothers in arms are dead with only their biochips storing their personalities in his gear (helmet, gun and backpack), and it’s set in a war between Norts and Southers. Even without a tale of betrayal and revenge to drive the events forward, there’s scope to get something playable from there., and that’s what Rebellion created.
Rogue Trooper Redux follows this story, though condenses things somewhat to fit it into a 10 hour campaign. In a world poisoned by the seemingly eternal conflict, Norts can only venture out in full protective clothing, whilst the Southers have developed the genetic infantry (GI’s) to do the fighting for them. That’s what makes them blue, and what works as a visual aid to not shooting your own side in the sparse and colourless world you find yourself in. It’s a third person cover shooter – released before they became such a ubiquitous genre – that adds strategic elements to the gameplay that lifts it beyond the standard run and gun model. Rogue’s intro is very much being part of a massacre that triggers the need to hunt down the aforementioned Traitor General and steadily introduces your friends, only for you to watch them die and become incorporated into your gear. Odd as it sounds it provides the reason for the game moving from simply firing bullets at anything that moves to becoming a tactics focussed adventure.
Gunnar, Bagman and Helm (I think you can work out which piece of kit they inhabit), each bring with them abilities when you end up collecting their biochips. Gunnar adds a sniper scope, a sentry turret and auto-targeting. Bagman can create ammo, upgrades and new weapons out of collected salvage. Helm shows you where enemies are as well as projecting holographic decoys. By varying the abilities at your disposal a wider range of ways to tackle the combat come into play. For corridors you can plant the sentry and remote activate at your leisure to keep routes clear; using the holo clone will draw out snipers; and who doesn’t like the idea of being able to create something from nothing? The ability to constantly replenish ammo and health packs as long as you’ve got the resources is well implemented. Sure, these things might have been seen in other titles, but back in 2006 they were (mostly) new concepts that I can see giving it an edge. Add in snap to cover and mantling obstacles and it does appear ahead of its time.
Unfortunately we’re now a long way past its time so the game has had to be fully overhauled to bring it up to spec. This is where Tick Tock came in and they’ve really left their mark. Forget the environments for the moment, the real work has been done in making sure the controls are responsive and fit with today’s high gamer demands. It’s a pleasure to run around as the big blue man ducking into cover, blind firing and then dashing forwards to stop the enemy before they can surround you. There’s satisfaction in creeping about and taking down the Norts without being spotted. Shooting is solid and predictable in exactly the right ways, and sniping works like a dream. It’s refined and user friendly so that if it’s the first time you’ve played it doesn’t feel out of place with the current generations titles. Silky smooth frame rate helps a great deal, and I’m sure it’s an improvement over the original release too.
With any remaster you’d expect an overhaul for the visuals, and it’s apparent it’s been done. Rogue Trooper Redux has some great looking characters with nice details and animations that look to have benefitted from today’s hardware. I particularly like the little robot arms that come out of the backpack to heal Rogue or manage items. There isn’t much you can do about the rest of the game though, it’s sparse but that’s deliberate given the planet stripping nature of the ongoing war. It could have done with an introduction to explain that otherwise you just end up thinking they couldn’t be bothered adding more. Level design is decent with a defined pathway and multiple objectives used to guide you to the end, and refreshingly they can be done pretty quickly too. Even on a first run it’s not often that you’ll see anything above 20 minutes on the level summary screen. It makes it feel like you’re making progress rather than losing time and I actually wish more games now had a tighter focus on the amount of time it takes to finish a level. Pacing is everything.
It’s not without its flaws however. Rogue has a tendency to auto stick to walls when you don’t want him to, making for some extremely amateur soldiering. The help text popping up is great but clicking the button to clear it also causes you to do whatever action is mapped to it, meaning I’ve leapt over my fair share of cover in error to immediately get gunned down. I could brew a cup of tea in the time it takes to quick swap to the pistol. Most disappointingly is that potentially the best ability, the holo projection, is next to useless because the AI ignore it or it deactivates for an unknown reason and takes an age to cooldown. None of these break the game, but with a full spit and polish tune up you’d expect them to be covered off before release.
Despite its age and dated level design, Rogue Trooper Redux is a good game and interesting not only to see one of the forgotten games of a generation, but also because it strikes me as the beginnings of what would eventually become the Sniper Elite series. With slow motion bullet shots in cutscenes, the feel of the movement, and the close quarters combat, there’s a definite vibe. It’s not a long game, but it has replayability and co-op to bring some longevity to it, and as with most of Rebellion’s titles, there’s a distinct charm in the way it’s all put together. It’ll introduce you to the Rogue Trooper universe and give you a challenging but fair fight along the way, and all for a budget price too.
A PS4 review copy of Rogue Trooper Redux was provided by Rebellion’s PR team, and the game is available now on PC, Xbox One and PS4 for around £20.