The Wheel of Dubious FPSes Episode 09-10: Command and Conquer Renegade and XIII

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ArbitraryWater

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Edited By ArbitraryWater

Command and Conquer: Renegade

Also hey surprise the soundtrack to a Westwood-era C&C game is very good
Also hey surprise the soundtrack to a Westwood-era C&C game is very good

Developer: Westwood

Release Date: February 26, 2002

Time Played: A little over two hours

Troubleshooting: Fun fact, all of the fan patch improvements are straight up just INCLUDED in the version of Renegade available on Origin.

Dubiosity: 1 out of 5

Would I play more? Potentially?

I am not going to sit here, typing on my Corsair Cherry MX Brown Mechanical Keyboard With Stupid Glowy Gamer Lights Far Too Late At Night, and tell you that Command and Conquer Renegade is an amazing FPS. I am, however, going to tell you that Command and Conquer Renegade is accomplishing exactly what it sets out to do, which is to have someone go “what if you were like, a little commando dude on a RTS map” and execute upon that premise with precision. It’s absolutely a weird curiosity, a fuckin’ platypus of a game that has mostly been relegated to the spinoff pile. I think it might be rad? It’s not dubious, at the very least.

The campaign for Renegade puts you in the shoes of one of the original game’s eponymous commando units, voiced by series composer Frank Klepaki. While it’s a pretty linear, point a to b sort of thing, the thing that distinguishes it, and the thing that I’m very into, is the sense of scale. There is a concerted effort to make each mission (which are all 20-40ish minutes long) very much go off like you were on the ground floor of a Command and Conquer match. Have you ever wondered what the inside of a Hand of Nod looks like? Renegade has you covered! Outside of vehicle hijinks, it’s probably *the thing* this game has going for it. The shooting is serviceable, the movement is serviceable, and the general speed is snappy *enough*. Sure, The AI is, uh, quite dumb and the story is, uh, quite dumb. However, I cannot say I had anything less than a perfectly pleasant time. I was expecting far less from Command and Conquer renegade, but to my surprise it’s probably Too Good for This Wheel, despite the lack of nostalgic reverence.

It's like you're on the ground floor of a C&C game! Truly novel.
It's like you're on the ground floor of a C&C game! Truly novel.

It seems like a lot of the nostalgic fondness that *does* exist for Renegade has to do with its multiplayer. It’s not dissimilar from Battlefield 1942 (which came out six months later) in its attempts to recreate large scale battles with bespoke, class-based multiplayer and a heavy emphasis on vehicles. The right one of those two games probably won out in the end, and I wasn’t about to pop into a 19-year-old game’s multiplayer servers, but hey it certainly sounds intriguing and novel.

I think “Intriguing and novel” is probably the thing I’d say about this one. Renegade is probably “a hidden gem,” which is my roundabout and slightly condescending way to say that it’s weird in a way I’m into and far too functional to be a truly dubious FPS. More importantly, it’s somehow the one game in that Command and Conquer collection I bought on Origin that works as advertised out of the box without any finaglery whatsoever. Meanwhile Red Alert 2 is borderline impossible to run on modern systems without significant troubleshooting. How.

XIII

Would consider playing Final Fantasy XIII instead.
Would consider playing Final Fantasy XIII instead.

Developer: Ubisoft Paris Studio

Release Date: November 25, 2003

Time Played: Slightly more than two hours

Troubleshooting: One Fan Patch

Dubiosity: 3 out of 5

Mediocrity: 5.5 out of 10

Would I play more? Please no

Between Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Beyond Good and Evil, Ubisoft’s holiday lineup for 2003 had some certified bangers. The former is a deeply influential, oft-celebrated revival of Jordan Mechner’s Apple II original. The latter is a cult classic, a genre mashup, and indirectly responsible for one of the funnier video game vaporware boondoggles to continue to (not) exist. However, their biggest tentpole for that year was a first person shooter based on a beloved Belgian comic book. Hollywood voice talent! A cel-shaded art style right off the heels of Wind Waker! Like, this was very much their big cornerstone game. It’s uh. It’s not very good. It’s pretty mediocre, actually. They remade it last year. Remember that? What?

Is this a French cultural institution thing? Like am I going to find copies of the original XIII comic book right next to Asterix and Obelix, baguettes, militant secularism, labor strikes, and a sense of grievance whenever English is spoken? There’s apparently a French-Canadian TV film (starring Val Kilmer and Steven Dorff!) and miniseries from the late 00s and early 2010s, so clearly there’s something my Anglo-Saxon self just isn’t getting. Regardless, XIII is based on a comic book series that originally started in 1984, very heavily influenced by Robert Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy of novels. It starts with amnesiac man waking up on beach with only a tattoo and a bank safety deposit box to his name, and goes from there to Spy Intrigue. Your main character (XIII) has been accused of the assassination of not-Kennedy, hunted by his own government, with a secret sinister organization pulling the strings. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

The game will do fun comic-book style cutouts whenever you get a headshot. Like there's some style here, the game is just. Not good.
The game will do fun comic-book style cutouts whenever you get a headshot. Like there's some style here, the game is just. Not good.

How that translates into video game is a very stylized comic-style of storytelling, undermined almost immediately and pervasively by the fact that XIII man is voiced by David Duchovny. I will fully admit, I’m not a huge X-Files guy and consider a lot of that show lost on me. For whatever reason, Duchovny was considered a bankable star during the early 00s. Alongside a handful of games based on the X-Files (including a bad Resident Evil clone that I may just have to check out one day) he was the lead on both this game and Midway’s ill-fated Area-51 reboot. In all cases he gives what I’d generously call a “phoned in, monotone, hilariously bad” performance, which does not help when the entire tone of the game is based around campy spy intrigue. For heaven’s sake, the other big celebrity talent of note in this game is Adam West, who never found a role he couldn’t turn into 100% certified ham. All that’s left is a weird, discordant story that apparently ends on a cliffhanger, not that I played through the entire thing to find out.

See, XIII is very much from the era where shooters were “trying things” and in this case “trying things” means that it’s a game with a very rigid, very scripted mission structure. There was an obligatory stealth sequence, no less than TWO turret sequences, and multiple cases of me failing because I didn’t play exactly how the game wanted me to play. As a shooter, it’s very stiff and limited, and in general it kinda felt like a worse version of NOLF? Anyway it’s not a particularly great time on that front, be it the excitement of questionable checkpointing or being asked to not kill anyone when you have very few nonlethal options. And somehow, this version is still better than the remake from last year, which is apparently a flaming mess.

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bigsocrates

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I think Command & Conquer Renegade is pretty dubious just because of how weird it is as a product. It's interesting for sure, and maybe not bad, but dubious is not the same as bad. It seems like a game that is almost like a weird fan mod given a huge budget, kind of like Sim Copter and Streets of SimCity, both of which I consider quite dubious.

It's a game that when you hear about it you pause and think "Wait, did that really exist?" Even if you've heard of it before. What could be more dubious?

Meanwhile XIII is, in my opinion, not so much dubious as just mediocre. It was a mid budget nice looking shooter. I played it at the time of release and I found it incredibly dull. It's super linear and while the cell shading is nice and the comic book effects are neat the first time, it's super boring in every other way. I feel like it gained a cult following because it was a nice looking console shooter that came out at a time when most console FPS games were terrible. This was in the wake of Halo, which caused an explosion in the popularity of the genre on consoles, but nobody knew how to make them yet. So you got a lot of games like this. But if all you had was a Gamecube and you wanted an actual story based FPS (as opposed to something like Timesplitters) the pickings were slim and you couldn't be picky.

I feel like the remake is actually more dubious because it was a game nobody asked for and ended up being way worse than the original in every way. And in 2020 you aren't going to sell a mediocre FPS to kids who want Halo but don't have an Xbox.

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imunbeatable80

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XIII.. I actually feel like I liked that game when I played it a million years ago on the box. Obviously I haven't gone back to it, but I do fondly remember using throwing daggers and getting headshots with those so I could see the comic panels. You and Socrates are making me question my love for the game, so maybe I need to fire it up now.

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bigsocrates

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@imunbeatable80: "People are saying this game I have fond memories of isn't good. Time to play it and destroy those positive attachments!"

The game still has defenders even in the modern era, but it's relevant that your fond memories are not of awesome levels or great characters but of the flashy comic book panel effect, which was, in fact, quite flashy and cool at the time. It had a ton of style.

On the other hand it has very few checkpoints in a game with instant fail stealth sections (oops) and there's nothing that really differentiates the shooting. It's kind of dull and plodding. But it was 2003 so what else were you going to play? Halo for the 1000th time? Red Faction 2? Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter?

You weren't going to play Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter, you liar! Why are you on this message board threatening to play Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter?

We're trying to have a civil conversation about early 6th gen FPS games and you're all up in here talking big about playing Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter. Unbelievable.

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stealydan

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#4  Edited By stealydan

@bigsocrates: Holy shit, Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter. That game has been kicking around in my brain for many years now, and I had no idea what it was called. Thank you for remedying this pain (and curse you for igniting a new one as I search for a way to play it...).

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Onemanarmyy

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So i'm hearing there's quite some buzz around this Mace Griffin game huh. Buzzzzzzzz

Thank you for reminding me that i should give C&C Renegade a go. I remember being very excited about that game back in the day, but i knew my PC couldn't handle it. Still sounds like a very unique experience that's worth having seen a bit of.

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imunbeatable80

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@bigsocrates: You fool! Do you see what you have done? Now everyone is going to be playing Mace Griffin, and you will have to live with that pain as you hear tens, if not twenties, of people screaming in pain as they play that game.

I hope this is a lesson to you, about the power you wield.

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bigsocrates

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@imunbeatable80: Don't blame me! You're the one who brought it up!

I wonder if it will turn up on the wheel. It's pretty dubious, but it's also not easily accessible. The FPS genre has an almost limitless number of dubious entries. And more are still coming out to this day. The era of the dubious RPG is pretty much gone, at least if you're restricting to games that were published by an actual commercial entity (as opposed to RPG maker solo projects) but the age of the dubious FPS is alive and well. Necromunda: Hired Gun. Seed of the Dead 2. We're living in a golden age of dubious FPS games!

Mace Griffin may not make the cut just because the competition is so fierce.

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ArbitraryWater

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@imunbeatable80: "People are saying this game I have fond memories of isn't good. Time to play it and destroy those positive attachments!"

The game still has defenders even in the modern era, but it's relevant that your fond memories are not of awesome levels or great characters but of the flashy comic book panel effect, which was, in fact, quite flashy and cool at the time. It had a ton of style.

On the other hand it has very few checkpoints in a game with instant fail stealth sections (oops) and there's nothing that really differentiates the shooting. It's kind of dull and plodding. But it was 2003 so what else were you going to play? Halo for the 1000th time? Red Faction 2? Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter?

You weren't going to play Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter, you liar! Why are you on this message board threatening to play Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter?

We're trying to have a civil conversation about early 6th gen FPS games and you're all up in here talking big about playing Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter. Unbelievable.

You do realize that saying the words "Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter" out loud means I'm legally required to at least consider it if I were to do another season of FPS games. I don't even know what that is and it SOUNDS stupid. I think I'm increasingly doubling down on the thing I said after roughly 20 minutes of Red Faction II, which was "boy it sure did take a long time for shooters, especially ones on console, to catch up to the legacies of Half Life and Halo." Just increasingly convinced that I could make an entire wheel of nothing but questionable PS2/Gamecube/Xbox FPSes. Now someone please pay me enough money to purchase a copy of 007 Agent Under Fire (do not do this, it turns out secondhand copies of that game are INCREDIBLY CHEAP. Almost as if they're not valuable.)

You are right that the competition for dubious RPGs (at least not if I keep to my "no indies" rule) is significantly harder in this modern era than shooters, although I also think there's a certain... monotony to a lot of weird, questionable, or obscure shooter design. Necromunda is probably something I should've covered, given how much of a fucking weird eurojank platypus it is (And how genuinely excellent its art direction is) but I think once we get into the Xbox 360 era it's a whole lot of incredibly depressing Call of Duty imitators. Still a non-zero chance of me playing Haze one day though. I'm to understand that it's the shit.

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stealydan

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@arbitrarywater: You've got it all wrong. If you need to satisfy an itch for old James Bond games, 007 Nightfire is objectively the correct choice. That game legitimately rules, no joke.

PS, if you do ever take that other guy's advice and decide to play Mace Griffin, there are some easy QoL things I can suggest, just lemme know...

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glots

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I never played Renegade myself, excluding tiny snippets, but I did watch my friend play through all of it, since he was a massive C&C fan. I recall a few cool moments and the massive disappointment of finishing it either the same day he bought it or the following one. Don’t think I have the required nostalgia to give it a try now.

XIII I did play myself and recall being fairly lackluster outside of the neat visuals, before ending on a cliffhanger that would never be solved.

-

Did you ever play Chrome? I never did, but I got as far as buying and *trying* to install it. But either because of some weird tech issue or REALLY unclear font, the setup wouldn’t accept the serial key I tried to type in. I even managed to return the game and try another copy (because it was 2003 and no one in a department store knew better so they just accepted a pc game being returned), but the same problem persisted. Never did actually get to play it.

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bigsocrates

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@arbitrarywater: I wonder when the last time there was this much interest in Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter. Possibly never. Interestingly enough even though it's a 62% average on Metacritic, Ryan Davis actually liked it. So it's not just me telling you to play it. No less a man than the great Ryan Davis has given it his stamp of approval!

I kind of disagree with you regarding dubious FPS games being a bunch of samey war shooters. Those certainly exist (BOY DO THEY EVER), but there are just so many FPS games that you also get weird stuff like Timeshift and Darkest of Days. If the Call of Juarez series counts (and I think it's at least on the borderline, moreso than something like Haze) then Cartel has to make the list, and I would actually call Gunslinger a little dubious just because of its lineage and release as a downloadable only game, even though Gunslinger is legitimately quite good (and very interesting in a number of ways.) I could go on and on and on, and that's without even getting into the truly cursed indie stuff like Together BNB, a game so cursed it doesn't even have a Giant Bomb wiki page as far as I can see.

FPS games have been a kind of default genre the way that platformers and 3D platformers used to be, so there are absolute bushels of them and while you might not want to play 20 dubious World War II shooters, can you name a game more dubious than Duke Nukem Forever? By comparison Daikatana was a perfect model of project management and design restraint.

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