Renegade Ops is a pedestrian name for such an absurdly explosive game as this new overhead downloadable shooter from Sega and Avalanche Studios, the Just Cause guys. It's like someone played a whole lot of Jackal back in the '80s and then, sometime recently, figured out the only way that game could be improved is with experience points, a skill tree, physics, and four-player co-op. Luckily for us, whoever had that idea was right on the money. This game is a blast.
It's probably not a surprise that Renegade Ops is so much fun purely because of the way it plays. The cars have low traction and an almost perfect feeling of weight to them, allowing you to kick out your back end as you skid around corners, spin a quick 180, or just do donuts forever if that's your thing. The game uses dual-joystick controls, so while you're sliding around every which way, you can shoot every which other way at the same time, allowing you to dodge around the smaller vehicular enemies and run circles around the larger tanks, blasting them constantly. Everything about the feel of the combat, particularly the fully upgraded regular machine gun and add-on weapons like rockets and a railgun, is solid and hard-hitting and really satisfying.
The game looks darn good, considering it's downloadable and uses an overhead perspective. There's so much height to some of the maps, as you drive through canyons and over hills and such, that the terrain closer to the camera blurs out with a depth-of-field effect. More importantly, everything explodes real nice. This is a game about nonstop, total destruction of everything around you, so it's a good thing Avalanche knows how to do fire and explosions with such style. All the carnage is rendered by the same technology that powered Just Cause 2, which somehow makes it all the more ridiculous since here it takes place amid ant-sized soldiers and armored vehicles the size of Matchbox cars.
Renegade Ops sure doesn't take itself very seriously, casting you as a team of maverick operators who go rogue to stop a sinister army led by the cackling bald psychopath Inferno. The game makes its over-the-top tone evident right upfront, when your hard-nosed CO literally hurls his fistful of medals at a room of lily-livered UN diplomats and declares his intention to get this mess taken care of himself. It's all guitar riffs and incendiaries from there. One mission objective that sticks out in my memory is simply, "Get out of there." Another one urges you to outrun the blast from a nuclear warhead and basically just has you driving in a straight line as fast as you can. It's that kind of game.
Proving that just about any style of game can accommodate RPG mechanics, there's persistent leveling and a talent tree used to good effect here. You can pick from four playable characters, each with a different-looking vehicle that handles more or less the same. They have different special abilities, though, and a unique skill tree that just distributes the same set of useful abilities in a different order. At first I couldn't figure out a reason anyone would play a character other than the spunky girl with the giant airstrike, but as the game gets tougher there are cases where other abilities, like the heavy guy's thick armored shield, certainly come in handy too. Each character has discrete experience so you level them separately, and you can mix and match them throughout a playthrough on each mission, or even take them into co-op that goes up to four players online. The frame rate can bog down a bit in two-player splitscreen or when four players are just going crazy with their weapons online, but them's the breaks.
You could plow through the nine-mission campaign here in three or four hours if you just barreled through it, but there's a number of side objectives in each mission that you might not finish off the first time, given that the main objectives are timed. Also, if you're into achievements and trophies, there's one for going back and beating every level on the considerably more difficult Hardcore mode, which you can do either alone or with friends. I'm not usually big on going back and replaying games for that sort of reason, but the core action is so much fun here that I'll take any excuse to play through this one again. The difficulty doesn't scale to the number of players, making the normal setting feel like a breeze for a team of four, so in that sense, Hardcore is probably the best way to play in a group anyway.
Renegade Ops feels like the model of a fantastic downloadable game designed to the strengths of digital distribution. It's big, loud, sort of dumb, and a ton of fun because it focuses on one thing, and does that one thing exceedingly well. For $15, what more do you want?