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 »

  1. Chaz says:

    @ James
    Well it doesn’t get credit for pioneering a cover system before games like GOW, because that credit quite rightly goes to Kill.Switch. Originally a PS2 game, but it eventually got a rather good PC conversion, and it only cost a tenner on PC when it was released. Which wasn’t really surprising as you could complete it in an afternoon. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rh0Q57J9EH4

    As for Rogue Trooper, well I might have to get this now. I’d always avoided this as it got rather average reviews at the time. And being a 2000AD fan I didn’t want to see another one of my fave strips reduced to a mediocre game, especially after Dredd vs Death.

  2. Kieron Gillen says:

    kill.switch’s conversion was the last thing the Bitmap Brothers ever did. It was good.

    (Rogue Trooper was better, for the record)

    KG

  3. Radiant says:

    Hey this game is fantastic!
    So many smart ideas.
    The mines that shoot out of your arse are awesome; they’re actually useable!
    “I’m gonna head over in this direction but I can hear some guys behind me somewhere…”
    *shits mines…stalks off*

    There’s a few things that Gears of War did better: the one button cover system [Rogue's a bit fiddly], melee [needed!]… and a few things that Rogue does better: Weapons/ammo system [GOW's two gun only hold over from halo is a bit shit], useful proxy mines [I don't need to swap weapons to use them I just shit 'em]
    If GOW got this game pregnant that child would be a barnstormer of a game.

  4. CdrJameson says:

    I was nearly late for a job interview at Rebellion because I was playing this.

    Oh the ironicalness!

  5. x25killa says:

    I would recommend this game. It’s pretty damn impressive and such a shame it didn’t sell well. It should.

  6. Rich Tysoe says:

    @ gulag
    “BTW, does anyone know if there is any difference between this Rogue Trooper game and the one released recently on the Wii?”
    Mostly the same content, though with a new level and new controls. I hear it’s a good conversion.

  7. Corvus says:

    This is one of those games that completely passed me by, but I’m now really eager to get my hands on. RPS retro articles tend to have that effect on me.

  8. Kompi says:

    I’d forgotten how fun this game was. While not best ever, it certainly does most things good enough to be thoroughly entertaining. If anything, apart from the the cumbersome cover, I’d say the stealth kill animations could be quicker. They feel a tad slow and inefficient somehow compared to other titles.

    On the subject of cover.. Looking at Wiki, I thought the first Splinter Cell (2002) had cover? Then again, more stealth and less action. Though somehow I’d gotten the impression that we had runny shooty games quite awhile before that. Might just be my memory being scrambled though, as I can’t recall any direct examples off hand..

  9. Dominic White says:

    Oh, and as someone else mentioned, Rogue Trooper really highlighted something – that there are very few bad ideas, just bad implementation. Deus Ex 2′s unified ammo system as an unbalanced mess. The setup in Rogue Trooper is almost perfectly tuned, and it means that you really CAN pick your own style of play.

    Sadly, one game that sold well but implemented it poorly, followed by another game that did it right, but sold terribly results in a gameplay mechanic that nobody wants to touch with a ten-foot pole.

    Buggeration.

  10. Irish Al says:

    Its skin is blue, it isn’t wearing a mask, and there is nothing human in its eyes.

    Does it have Waldos in it? That’s all I want to know.

  11. Garu says:

    It’s fun… you win this round, Meer.

    I’m not sure I like the unified ammo system, though. I’ve gone through the first four levels without actually buying anything except upgrades. I know I SHOULD buy stuff, but just can’t bring myself to do it when the free ammo at the start of the level and the pistol do a fine job already.

  12. Dman says:

    One caveat to this great game. On Vista you’ll eventually reach a point where the game slows down to unplayable. No way around it that I know of.

  13. Radiant says:

    @Garu
    But that’s the beauty of it.
    That’s the way you play so it lets you play that way.
    Me?
    I use decoys and shoot people silently in the back.

    The way the levels are constructed [inter connected loops with cover] really allows you to approach things your own way and there is never really anywhere that the game says to you “STEALTH SECTION!” “SNIPING SECTION!” by forcing you to play a certain way because of ammo constraints [the ammo being unified].

    It’s really impressive.

  14. Garu says:

    And all too shortly after it began, it is over. I don’t think I would have been satisfied at full retail price, but for $10 it was worth it. And I finished the game with over 80,000 salvage. I think I need to sign up for Hoarders Anonymous.

    Final boss kinda sucked, though.

  15. drewski says:

    Unified ammo? Clearly dumbed down for console.

    Worst game ever.

  16. JKjoker says:

    i love how this game handles ammo, its not much different from giving you money and making you buy the ammo out of a dude in an alley but without the “going back to the sell point” crap and gives you all the room you could want to play as you like

    my only two problems with it are that the stealth kill animations are so slow they take away the fun of using them (plus they turn off the music during the kill move making them even more boring, splinter cell 2+ did them right, just a quick knife slash to the throat, over in 0.5 seconds) and that the game is too easy in pc, you can just take cover and head shot everything with the cheapest ammo, the game even indicates when you are going to score a head shot, too bad the hardest difficulty is locked initially, meh…

    this game makes me wonder how cool starcraft: ghost could have been … RT is actually pretty similar to the way blizzard described ghost’s gameplay

  17. alex kilgour says:

    I followed this game on gamespot b4 it released because of the mine feature when i saw it in the preview vids. The multi player co-op is you and up to three others against the ai not a lot of players online ever i think i saw 8 one time and they were all from europe except me lol i havent uninstalled this game since i installed it and continue to play … think i’ll go boot it up now- hope to see some of you online- ps. i have the xbox one as well

  18. Bassem B. says:

    Lovely game, Rogue Trooper. I’ve played and replayed it about 4 times now.

    The maps are just the right mix of linear and non-linear, the enemy AI is not too dumb, and the replayability value comes from all the different ways you can handle every enemy encounter. There are so many delicious assets at your disposal. The controls are simple and tight. The colours are… colourful (you know what I mean.) And the music. Excellent music in this game. I extracted the files and they are part of my library now.

    Way underrated. Good to see it mentioned here.

  19. spm1138 says:

    Nice! Glad to see this game getting some attention.

    It was a great take on the Conflict formula. Great mix of set-pieces and open ended. The smart gear was a really neat twist on that.

    I also really enjoyed it as a fan of the comics (and what British nerd isn’t?) mostly because they went right back to the strips for the story and feel.

  20. lioner says:

    The complete game’s guide and walkthrough could be found on http://forums.techarena.in/guides-tutorials/1294492.htm. Check it out. I found it useful.