A Game As Crazy As Its Name Is Mundane
Avalanche Studios is a developer oddly in tune with what I want out of my video games. It's almost creepy how closely their games adhere to my checklist of perfect action game staples. Last year, Just Cause 2 showed us how far off the deep end these guys can go, and this year they're bringing their brand of explosive action to the download scene with Renegade Ops. Don't let the mundane name fool you; this is one of the craziest, flashiest, and overall most fun games released on XBLA and PSN this year.
What Renegade Ops does is not especially unique. This is a pure top down, dual joystick, vehicle-based game in the vein of Assault Heroes or Jackal. Rather, it's the finesse with which the action is done, coupled with a loony Saturday morning cartoon-gone-bad vibe, that makes the game so much fun. The vehicle controls, often a point of contention in dual joystick games, are spot on here. It's so easy to drift precisely around every corner, and yet so satisfying. The guns, mapped to the right stick, sound heavy and are highly satisfying to shoot, especially after they've been upgraded a few times.
The guns aren't the only things that can be upgraded, though, as each of the four main characters can level up and gain new skills as the game progresses. This prevents the game from feeling too mindless, as you'll always be on the lookout for new ways to combine your abilities to great effect. For example, Roxy can drop an airstrike on enemies with a press of the left trigger. She can unlock an upgrade which increases the radius of the airstrike, as well as an upgrade that gives homing properties to each of the missiles dropped during the strike. These two powers work great in conjunction. There are 50 levels for each character to gain, and the level-ups come fast, especially in the beginning. It's not uncommon to gain five levels or more in a single mission. This fast pace will keep you feeling rewarded on a regular basis, but it's not too fast as to make the leveling process unsatisfying.
The single player is all well and good, but things really get crazy with the introduction of more players. Split screen is available and, other than an unfortunate dip in frame rate, works just fine. The screen splits dynamically depending on the players' positions relative to each other, which can be either cool or disorienting depending on the circumstances. But the best way to play with your friends is online, where up to four players can band together to squash terrorists under their tires. Again, the frame rate can take a few hits during this mode, but with all of the chaos happening onscreen it's understandable. Seriously, online play is nuts. In a typical game of co-op, there'll be so many explosions going off that it'll be nearly impossible to discern what's happening. It's hectic, but it's never not fun.
The gameplay is borderline perfect, but what really sold me on the game was its crazy, GI Joe meets The Expendables plot and characters. The game begins with the main character, Bryant (a name which I found hilarious, for some reason) literally grabbing a fistfull of war medals off his chest and throwing them in the face of the UN. What follows is a blitzkrieg of one-liners and increasingly larger explosions, leading up to an ending that's just pure gold. The ending cutscene, told in the normally stilted style of a motion comic, is the greatest thing I've seen in a long time. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing.
It's also worth noting just how gorgeous this game looks. It runs on the Just Cause 2 engine, which produced some staggeringly beautiful vistas, and it has allowed Avalanche to flex their graphical muscles on a much smaller, but equally compelling scale here. Everything from the water movements to the physics of the cars just feels right, but the thing that impressed me most was the fire effects. It's an important thing to get right for a game that features so many explosions, and it looks great.
What Renegade Ops does is not particularly revelatory, nor is it anything bordering on cerebral. But the grace with which the game pulls off its manic action, coupled with an online co-op mode that's to die for, makes this one an easy recommendation at fifteen bucks.