Retro: Rogue Trooper

By Alec Meer on April 8th, 2009 at 5:20 pm.

It’s Splinter Cell if Sam Fisher wasn’t such a gigantic pussy. Escape From Butcher Bay if Riddick was more than a shiv-wielding, growly thug. Gears of War with something like brains. Metal Gear Solid, as written by someone with a mental age of more than 14. Call of Duty: Far Future Warfare. So: why wasn’t 2006 tacticalish shooter Rogue Trooper massive?

Some games just fall through the cracks – they don’t pick up the hype, the marketing doesn’t resonate with the general public, the press don’t make enough bally-hoo about it because they’re too distracted by bigger names, the developer’s saddled with a bad rep from an older project… You name it, Rogue Trooper suffered it. It is no modern classic – I remember talking to Kieron at the time about how it was an on-the-nose 80% game, score-wise, and how sometimes those games can be the most fun you’ll have all year – but similarly Splinter Call, Call of Duty et al don’t exactly re-write their genres’ rulebook. They just do it really, really well.

Rogue Trooper should have been massive. That it sunk almost without trace was perhaps more responsible for its developers Rebellion since tumbling into a profitable but unimpressive loop of licensed handheld drek than was the commercial and critical failure of Dredd vs Death.

There’s a real sense of intent to Rogue Trooper, an obvious desire to get it right after screwing up Dredd. It seems absolutely sure what it wants to be, and unlike the woeful decision to unncessarily lumber Dredd with supernatural elements rather than focus on getting his Megacity right, it strips Rogue Trooper’s story and world down to the bone. Only the bare essentials are included, thus creating a self-contained tale that both introduces a long-standing 2000AD character to new players and offers a sort of Greatest Hits summation to existing fans.

Rogue: a genetically-engineered clone soldier, fighting in a bitter civil war in the far-flung future. He’s betrayed, his clone-bothers killed as a result of their general’s traitorousness. Their digitally-preserved personalities are installed into his equipment to augment his own abilities. He wants revenge. And that’s it. No flab, no flights of fancy, no dicking around: this is a straight to the point action game.
The cutscenes, dialogue and acting are all bland and forgettable, but so knowingly only there to propel the game along rather than control it. The narrative doesn’t overstay its welcome, but relies on the game-world itself to tell the bulk of the tale. Again, there’s nothing solid-gold classic about it, but it does have a lesson of sorts to teach all those shooters that get too lost in their own plotting. There really are better ways to tell a tale in a videogame.

What RT also gets right is its playable character, who hits a perfect balance between bullet-proof and fragile. Sometimes, you wonder how Sam Fisher ever got his job and what the point of that funky outfit it is given how easily he falls over, while on the other hand Gordon Freeman can absorb an awful lot of high-calibre rounds for a nerd in a spacesuit. Blue-skinned hard-nut Rogue is right in the middle, able to survive a few shots to the head but reliant on his toolbox full of stealth gadgets (a holo-ghost of himself! Turning his gun into an auto-turret!) and grenades if he wants to survive big firefights. He’s a genetically-engineered soldier – not superhuman, but certainly more than human, and controlling him really does feel like that. It’s a game you can fair blitz through so long as you’re just vaguely careful (and aren’t playing on the highest difficulty), and it’s all the more gallivanting fun for it.

RT’s also cheerfully non-didactic about your means of progress, regardless of its being a linear shooter. You can be stealth guy, or sniper-bastard, or all-out grenade-lobbing, shotgun-weilding psycho bloke or a merry mix of the bunch. You’re not penalised for however you do it, and it’s a far more meaningful freedom than go down the left road or OR! the right road.

Even ammo is unbound from what your enemies happen to drop or the environment happens to have to offer. You make it yourself, out of junk collected from corpses or random piles, and your AI-controlled backpack (named, by an astonishing coincidence, Bagman. Gunnar and Helm sure were lucky they ended up installed into a rifle and hat respectively, eh?) will process it into ammo, grenades or upgrades of your choice.

Sure, there’s generally such a surfeit of junk that resource-management isn’t all that much of an issue, but it totally rules out the usual impasse of “better save these sniper rounds – Grud knows when I’ll happen to stumble across some more.” You make what you want to use, and you make it wherever and whenever you want. Rogue Trooper is a fixed-structure game than nonetheless yields to how you want to play it, and to what you’re most enjoying. It’s astonishing how few other shooters have employed similar systems: we still seem stuck with the age-old Doom model of ammo-pack collection.

Oh, and it’s got co-op too, which I’ve yet to have the chance to try but am enormously keen to. Time to persuade the other RPS chaps to pick it up, I rather think.

Rogue Trooper is a rare thing: an action game that knows exactly what it’s doing. It should have been massive, and Rebellion should have still been making incredible games today as a result. A lot of people should be deeply ashamed that this wasn’t a success. Why not atone for their sins, and grab its ludicrously cheap $9/£6 Steam version?

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70 Comments »

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  1. ...hmm... says:

    blue totally doesnt suit this guy…

  2. jackflash says:

    Will check it out. BTW, thank you RPS for turning me onto Men of War. Should arrive in the mail tomorrow, can’t wait to play co-op with my bro. And only $28 on Amazon, Newegg, seems like a great deal.

  3. BooleanBob says:

    Why did I miss it? I suspect that between Rogue Leader and Republic Commando, LucasArts tricked my brain into believing that this game didn’t actually exist and automatically assumed any reference to it was actually talking about one of the above.

    That and the screenshots making it look as generic as its title suggests.

  4. Azazel says:

    Interesting. Never knew it existed – might just pick it up at that price.

  5. rei says:

    (Edit: scratch that; not free on Gametap anymore)

    I had very low expectations when I started playing the game, and those were lowered even further by the early game when you start inserting your pals into your gear, but by the end it had turned into the best 3rd person shooter I’ve ever played. It really is a blast.

  6. ChampionHyena says:

    Doesn’t superhuman mean more than human? I don’t know why we’re tolerating this sort of OH GOD OW MY FACE AND NECK

    In all seriousness, I recall giving this a try on the sadly waning but still glorious GameTap, and not really being all that impressed. I didn’t progress too far, so perhaps now it’s time to go back and give it the benefit of the doubt, hm?

  7. Daniel Puzey says:

    It’s not exactly “free” on gametap since you seem to need a $10-per-month subscription… Handy if you have the sub though :-)

  8. Kieron Gillen says:

    While we’re on the subject of Rogue Trooper: Al Ewing’s Disco Rogue Trooper..

    KG

  9. toni says:

    i know why i never considered buying or even seeking out info on it: 3rd person view

  10. jamscones says:

    I finished Rogue Trooper and I thought it Quite Good In Parts. It got the look and feel right, and the shootybang is satisfying. Certainly better than the old Spectrum version, and definitely worth six quid, especially if you’re familiar with or a fan of the 2000AD strip.

  11. jsutcliffe says:

    I am guilty of overlooking this and assuming it was another failed 2000AD game attempt. Now I need to check it out. Thanks for the write-up!

  12. cyrenic says:

    Can anyone explain how the co-op works? Is it playable online? I see phrases like “split screen” and “local co-op”, which don’t make much sense for a PC game. I guess if it’s supposed to be LAN only there’s always Hamachi.

  13. Freytag says:

    According to Wikipedia a wii-make of the game will be released later this year.

  14. A-Scale says:

    Generic art style, dreadfully uncompelling blue guy, and one of the worst names since “Men of War”. I figure that’s why.

  15. Patrick says:

    The ammo system was spot-on. The amount of raw material you got per kill meant that e.g. if you were playing sniper, you had to have an 80% or so kills per shot. Less accurate? You can also buy a clip of shotgun shells for that amount, and really go to town. Universal ammo got a bad rep from invisible war.

  16. Alex Hopkinson says:

    I picked this up around release time due to Gillen’s (I think?) EG review and the PCGUK review. It really was jolly good fun. I seem to remember my only complaints were that it was probably a bit too easy and it was definitely a bit short – I could have done with another level to enjoy. I also remember that using the gear was great but it could have done with a couple of set pieces that forced you to think more creatively.

    And incidentally, the first Rogue Trooper trade paperback is the worst 2000AD book on my sagging shelves. Some great Gibbons and Wilson art but terrible scripting.

  17. Novotny says:

    Tried it because I had to, but it just pissed over my favourite ever 2000AD strip. As it inevitably would, having to compete with my junior imagination.

    Dave Gibbons! I never really liked his style much – but did get his autograph, funnily enough. Was always more of a Brett Ewins man. Ian fucking Gibson! Kevin O’Neil! Brian Bolland, before he went all tarty. Or Glen Fabry. I haven’t read 2000AD in over 20 years and I still remember the names of my fav artists.

    Oh the days! Sorry for the offtopic rant

  18. Novotny says:

    And as for you Gillen, how could you. I’m outraged

  19. Kieron Gillen says:

    Novonty: It was lovely!

    Alex: I only reviewed it for PCG. Kristan did it for EG and 6ed it.

    A-Train: It’s a shame, in that it’s only because everyone’s lifted from 2000 AD that it may be over familiar.

    EDIT: I recall a gag in the Megazine, involving predictions about the future of 2000 AD. I think, anyway. The gag being “Someone will try and reboot Rogue Trooper, wrestling with the problem of trying to do a hard-edged, gritty future-war story starring a blue man with a talking hat”. It’s a problematic character, our Rogue Trooper.

    KG

  20. Nutkins Victory Otter says:

    I have a copy of the board game in my LoS as I type and yet I’ve never played this.

  21. tikey says:

    Man, the smurfs changed a lot since I was a kid.

  22. Nero says:

    It is a brilliant little gem this. I didn’t know anything about the universe before I played it but had a great time playing it.

  23. Zaphid says:

    One of those games that nobody knows but everyone kinda enjoyed. When you don’t need another clever game or interesting story, you start playing and then wonder where did the night go when you see the sun rise in the morning.

    And then you say you are sick and finish the last level.

  24. Xagarath says:

    The Wii version of this is already out in Europe, I believe.

  25. LewieP says:

    I played the Wii version.

    The controls were horrible. I had to switch it off.

    Maybe I will give it another go, or maybe I will do the right thing and get the PC version.

  26. Dave says:

    I think I too confused this title with Star Wars shovelware.

    Not ever having had anything to do with 2000AD, the blue character just looks silly to me and is pretty much a turnoff.

  27. Grey_Ghost says:

    I have absolutely no recollection about this whatsoever. I find it hard to believe I’d forget a weird looking blue guy. The game looks great, but the shirtless blue guy… I dunno.

  28. Premium User Badge

    solipsistnation says:

    Okay, to be a bit US-centric, Rogue Trooper is totally unknown in the States. Judge Dredd gets some mention because of the movie and the various US reprints, but our blue buddy here might as well not exist. I know who he is because I’m an Anglophile nerdboy and had a stack of 2000AD magazines from the mid-80’s, back when my brother and I were tracking down everything we could find that had anything to do with Judge Dredd. Rogue Trooper always seemed like an interesting story but was, yeah, a guy with a talking hat. And backpack and rifle. Who is also blue and shirtless, which is pretty weird too.
    So, a licensed game based on the slightly more more obscure end of the British comic scene has pretty much no chance in the US market, especially since I don’t remember ever seeing ads for it, or any mention anywhere. That kind of limits the hugeness, although if it had gotten big in the UK I’m sure it would have leaked across the ocean a bit.
    Looking at the archive, I see IGN gave it an 8.0 and said it was fun. I guess it just got lost, since it doesn’t have a terribly memorable name and is kind of weird-looking in general. Think how a “Nemesis the Warlock” or “Sláine” game would have gone over in the US… Mystified shaking of heads, and vanishing without a trace. (Although “Sláine” could be fun. It could be like “Rune” but more so.)

  29. Andrew says:

    Didn’t someone from PCG do a Looking Back on this? Cant remember. Well anyway some positive writings caused me to store this in my ‘Overlooked games i should probably play someday’ folder. Then recently i bought it on steam when i had a crazy moment of richness and bought a dozen or so games. Still haven’t even installed it along with many others :(

  30. Garu says:

    $9, you say? I suppose I can give it an impulse purchase at that price. But God help you if you’ve failed me, Meer!

  31. DD says:

    I live in the states and i haven’t heard of this. Will be looking into this game though. The original AvP was a amazing game.

  32. N says:

    The smurf-on-crack design is awesome, it really was a cool game, stayed very true to the source material, in every aspect, vehs, guns, everything. The camel killing level is great…

  33. ReturnToNull says:

    Got to play this on Gametap awhile back. Sheer awesome, also love the hilarity that the background material brings to the table, particularly with stuff like the shotgun troops.

  34. Heliocentric says:

    So, about that coop?

  35. Funky Badger says:

    Dave: I’d steer clear of Watchmen, if I were you.

  36. Dominic White says:

    It was a little easy (mainly due to the PC version making aiming SO much easier than the console equivalents), but aside from that it was a thundering good time.

    One thing that contributed to the less-than-heavyweight difficulty was one particularly awesome bit of unbalanced equipment you have. Did you know that your mine-launcher is free? No ammo cost at all! And those mines can be fired almost as far as rockets, with pinpoint accuracy, over cover and in a wide enough spread to kill whole squads.

    It was unintentionally fantastic.

  37. cHeal says:

    If I see it around on Budget I promise to pick it up.

  38. Dave says:

    Funky: oddly enough, I have. No interest in Watchmen from this quarter.

    My comics fandom runs to Sandman, the Invisibles, Hellblazer, Poison Elves, and assuming that pretty much everyone likes some incarnation of Batman and the X-Men.

  39. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    I’ve created a Steam group. Not sure why, but hey.

    http://steamcommunity.com/groups/roguetrooper

  40. Schwerpunk says:

    I picked this up on gametap a while back, and was [really, really] surprised with how good it was, and set about telling all my friends about it. It never really caught on with them, unfortunately, so maybe they just aren’t able to get excited about a game unless they’ve seen a four-pager of it in PC Gamer…

    Bloody shame.

  41. wcaypahwat says:

    There should be a strontium dog game.

  42. Dominic White says:

    So, now we’ve gotten the 2000ad games out of the way, is Sniper Elite next? Another of Rebellions games that largely got completely ignored (generic box-art + title again, perhaps?), but last time I checked, there was still a shockingly large multiplayer community. In fact, I’ll go check see how many matches are up and running now.

    It’s also probably the best snipe-oriented game ever.

  43. Rich Tysoe says:

    I actually bought this when it was new (on Xbox).

    I’d agree with all the points made in the article, just add that the final boss battle was a total pain and I never actually completed it.

    The xbox version runs like a charm on the 360.

    If we’re playing “2000AD strip games we want”, Armoured Gideon, please. or Slaughterbowl- convicts racing on dinosaurs with guns on for their freedom – utter trash, but would make a great game.

  44. Dominic White says:

    Alright, I just fired up Sniper Elite to check. Despite apparently being completely unknown to most, there are currently 419 people in the games online mode.

    It is 9:30 GMT on a Thursday morning, and there are over 400 people around and playing this obscure sniping game.

    RPS needs to cover this, and, like, double-fast.

  45. James says:

    I played this when it was first released and loved it (but I am a fan of the comic series). It irks me that it doesn’t get credit for pioneering a cover system before games like GOW or that other one with the dog… The enemy AI was actually also really good – the response of groups was based on how far they were from the action. Tactics played a role – doing stealth kills, shooting oxygen packs and finally taking out the trash that was left. Let’s not forget that this game has the best blind-throw grenade mechanics – ever. I loved the banter from your clone-buddies-turned-gear and the violence was great. Overall it was a bit too easy, but Rogue Trooper is on my lists of ‘most underrated games ever’.

    Now, if only we could get a decent Judge Dredd or Missionary Man game…

  46. BoltingTurtle says:

    I almost want to play this just because the art department used a standard M2 .50cal in that last screenie. Far future warfare will still include this staple that has been in service since the 1930’s

  47. jon_hill987 says:

    I have this in my steam account as part of the Eidos collector pack. Never even installed it.

    /me adds Rogue Trooper to my list of games to play.

    Damn this list is getting long…

  48. phil says:

    Bits of Call of Juarez had a Missonary Man feel to them, though without a tubro-lizard Satan boss character.

    I heard, a long time ago admittedly, that Rebellion were working on an ABC Warriors title. Now that would be ace, if they were pressed for time Sniper Elite done with Joe Pineapples would be enough.

  49. gulag says:

    I finished this a couple of weeks ago, initially expecting it to be a bit naff, but wanting to see what Rebellion had done with one of the ‘Tooths’ longest-running and best loved characters. It turned out to be such a good meld of gun-bunny killbang! and tactical thinking that I started to drag my mates in front of it. I couldn’t be sure if it was just my inner 2000AD fanboy putting a polish on a turd. They had a crack at it and agreed. It really was some good.

    The first paragraph above sums Rogue Trooper up nicely. Somehow Rebellion got the drop on everyone else and nailed stealth, combat toys & gadgets, cover systems, blind fire, and great 3rd Person Shooter (3PS) action before any of the franchises name-checked. And no-one has ever heard of it. There is not one ounce of justice in the world.

    It makes me wonder. If instead of an obscure Brit-comic character, Rebellion had chosen another licence to hang this game on, whould it have done any better. If this had been a game using the AVP franchise, it may well have gotten the credit we deserve. On some alternative earth it probably happened, the cash rolled in, and we’re all playing a Rebellion developed Mega-City One MMO. Oh well.

    FTR, The Steve White/Henry Flint “Friday” era of Rogue Trooper is my fave. Great gun-porn writing and a far more interesting cast of characters. Pity about the bugs/space religion/black hole ending.

    BTW, does anyone know if there is any difference between this Rogue Trooper game and the one released recently on the Wii?

  50. monkeymonster says:

    Played it couple of years back and loved it – 3 sessions of lots of time spent. Been massive fan of old rogue for years. It scales up nicely too for some crystal clear hi-res at 1680 by 1050.
    Shame the us didn’t know about it that much seemingly. Seems quite odd that 2000ad never made that much impact given the characters are all american bar a few from britcit1. If memory serves you can play in either 3rd or not… or is that just when shooting zoomed?