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

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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