2006’s Rogue Trooper, an adaptation of the 2000AD comic, isn’t the first game off anyone’s lips, unless they’re specifically talking about 2000AD games which were pretty good but no-one remembers them. But I remember Rogue Trooper. I was all about 2000AD at a certain point in my life, enough so that an attachment to the holy trinity – Dredd, Johnny Alpha, Rogue Trooper – will stay with me for life. But while Dredd vs. Death seemed like a hollow disservice to the character and his world, Rogue Trooper was a very straightforward game which just nailed it, and took me right back to why I used to love the surly blue guy. It is not a classic. But it is an extremely well-judged action game that is extremely true to its source material. I like it a lot. No-one’s ever going to celebrate it.
So I will.
Primarily, I thought I’d make a 4K gallery of it. (Click the screenshots for full-size versions, or there’s a slideshow widget thingy at the end of the words). I had to hack hex files and use virtual resolutions in my graphics card drivers to do this, so it was a bit of a fiddle. It’s so pointless. It’s so worth it. It makes a game that is not beautiful accidentally sort-of-beautiful, or at least striking. I suspect no-one who worked on this game ever expected it to look quite like this, that this game was never designed to look like this.
I will admit that Rogue Trooper is not really beautiful, but something impressive emerges when a 9 year old game is dragged up to a resolution of 3200×1800. Rogue Trooper has a limited colour palette – mostly brown, with a incongruously but appealingly blue protagonist – and this is appropriate to the comic it’s based on. Blue against brown: it’s not what we traditionally ask for from our game art, but given crisp edges and detailed shapes even at a distance, it becomes something a little special. Only a little, but that’s enough. I should also mention the wonderful skyboxes – fractal explosions, suggesting a universe ripping itself to pieces even as this little mudball sinks into itself.
The original Rogue Trooper was set on Nu-Earth, a blasted, blighted planet reduced to near-inhabitability by warfare, on which an endless, brutal battle between the Norts and the Southers. Theoretically the latter are the heroes, though war naturally means blurred lines. Rogue is a Genetic Infantryman fighting for the Southers, a clone born in a vat and designed from the DNA up to be resistant to the many environmental horrors of Nu-Earth. He’s basically Clint Eastwood playing topless Superman. Some of his fallen comrades have their personalities stored on a memory chip, and are then implanted into his gun, backpack and helmet. They’re on a quest to find a traitor amongst Souther high command, who sold the GIs out and cost Gunnar, Bagman and Helm (yes, really) their lives.
That’s it. That’s the Rogue Trooper story. There have been attempts since to evolve it, but really this is a comic that teenagers read for the high concept and violence, rather than because of the individual stories particularly stood out. In other words, Rogue Trooper the game doesn’t have too much it has to include, or too much it has to risk. Instead, it tells a summarised, neater version of the core origin/revenge-quest tale.
‘Neat’ is a particularly apposite term for the game as a whole – it’s self-contained, it knows its own limits and it makes almost everything fit and everything feel good. (The major exception is its sadly lowest-common-denominator depiction of its few female characters, who suffer from the worst of ’90s comic excess). Played today, it feels a little stiffer and, well, more PlayStation 2, than it did at the time, but it remains a really solid yet fluid action game.
Guns operate as selectable modules from one main weapon (which even boasts a preposterously huge silencer if you want to play it stealth-style), ammo and upgrades are built from scrap collected in the field, the choice between basic sneaking and all-out carnage is always there, the environment does not distract with pointless frippery.
It’s an extremely efficient game, and this means the stark presentation suits it. It’s too damned easy, which kills the replay value, but then again that’s appropriate to the source material too – Rogue is a Terminator, not Tobias Funke on a bad day.
All this makes a game which looks so much more like a comic – or, at least, a dark British comic from the tail-end of the 20th century – than most games which far more consciously try to ape comics. Compare it even to the earlier, more-hyped Dread vs. Death from the same stable, and the latter seems like a dayglo farce.
In terms of games, Rogue Trooper puts me in mind of Star Wars: Republic Commando. Similarly buttoned-down and efficient, avoiding big flights of fancy, benefiting from an era of development which hadn’t yet embraced cutscene or quick time event excess. Their focus was to get on with it, to make moment-to-moment combat feel good rather than to feel the player had to be force-fed huge portions of narrative and set-piece. Both games, I suppose, are about soldiers rather than would-be heroes. They’re the best they are at what they do. And what they do is the job.
Rogue Trooper is not one for the ages, but it is a tight, solid action game of the sort that it feels is commonplace, but somehow is not. The next time you’re in the mood for some shooting, maybe some sneaking, something that scratches that contained adrenaline itch, please seek this out instead of whatever exhaustingly glossy and over-marketed shooter you think you should catch up on.
Here’s a slideshow, though sadly I cannot get the fullscreen button to work. You can click through to Flickr and do it there, plus see the original 4K versions, if you like.
Alternatively here’s the remainder of the shots to click through to full size versions of directly, though if you don’t have a 4K screen these will end up bigger than your screen.