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Just 'Cos: Renegade Ops Preview

Tiny cars are the most dangerous cars

This tiny ode to destruction is perhaps best described as angry Micro Machines. Or, if you've sensibly passed the point where ritually namechecking 16-bit games is any way useful or meaningful, 'that one with the death-spewing car the size of a thumbnail.' Throw in that it comes from the creators of the gleefully absurd Just Cause 2 and I'm immediately side-stepping the uninspiring name and paying close attention. Willfully stupid, Renegade Ops is a game about driving a tiny buggy around a series of lush, top-down environments and riddling pretty much anything you run into with bullets, rockets, railguns and airstrikes. It's a twin-stick shooter with a car, impeccably-rendered tropical trees and a mind for mayhem.

Renegade Ops is not to be treated as a simulation of anything, or as a discussion of anything. The game’s villain, an evil genius with a messed-up face, is called Inferno. Inferno! You don’t need to know about a guy’s motivations when he’s calling himself Inferno. All you need to know is that you and your little jeep need to take the silly sucker out. Which you’ll do across nine levels spanning the lies of ice-bound islands, jungle locales and sinister mines. Man, this must be what writing game previews felt like in 1995. This lark must have been so much easier when you didn’t have to worry about roleplaying elements and moral dilemmas and digital distribution services.

This is 2011, however, and Renegade Ops is not unaware of that despite its determinedly retro mindset. It's a much smaller project (only 9 or 10 devs are working on it, apparently) for Avalanche after the epic ludicrousness that was Just Cause 2, but it’s employing the same sterling graphics and physics tech, this time from a top-down, car-bound perspective. Semi-linear, you’ll largely be steering your toylike vehicle to specific objectives (those objectives invariably being ‘destroy everything’), but optional side-quests enable you to go off piste and explore a little more, at which point the JC2 heritage becomes a whole lot clearer. Dicking about on a lush tropical island, trashing huts and exploding jeeps, but with second-by-second action and none of the frailty that JC’s Rico can suffer. Your vehicle can most certainly be trashed, but this is thoroughly retro and thoroughly implausible, working along the lines of a highly modernised Jackal or Desert Strike. Soak up those shots, kid - then unleash worse.

You’ve got four characters to choose from, with each one’s vehicle handling differently and enjoying a mega-splat power to unleash on occasion. I played Roxy, whose particularly lightweight jeep can easily be twitched off a cliff to its doom by an unsure hand, and whose air strike ability is instantly devastating. While pretty basic - nine levels of drive’n’shoot – it’s completely over the top throughout and very much instant in its tickly entertainment. Avalanche’s laudable unwillingness to ever remove tongues from cheeks seems to lend what could have been simplistic and dour a palpable joie de vivre. Jeep + gun + large, lush environments = good time. The innate static flatness of screenshots isn't capturing that well, alas: in motion the lightness of touch (to the point of determined silliness) is immediately evident.

Sensibly (about the only element of Renegade Ops that could truly be deemed sensible), it’s built for co-op. Split-screen with two players and online with four, haring around trashing stuff and falling off cliff ledges together, trying to nail sub-objectives such as rescuing terrified villagers from besieged churches before timers run out or buggies explode, and being completely immune from friendly fire even as allies rain death from above. Completely stupid, and completely up front about that.

Now for the bad news: the PC build is arriving a couple of weeks after the console versions. I’m informed this for genuine technical reasons, due to the small team, not skullduggery, and that SEGA/Avalanche are determined to do things right - the PC version will have as-yet-mysterious additional features as well as pumped-up graphics, while they’re currently offering a pre-order deal on Steam in which you buy two copies and get two free, intended to push it as a chuckles-with-chums affair. That pack is down for around £25, while single copies are £12. In other words, this looks very much like it's a party game, not a whole lot else, and as far as I can tell so far it knows it. That only endears me to it all the more.

We’re hoping for PC preview code in the next couple of weeks, so should be able to bang on about whatever currently undiscolsed extra stuff it’s got in there then, but meantime I’ve got this marked squarely as lunchtime funtime.

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