The development of Rogue Warrior has been tumultuous. Beginning with Zombie Studios, publishers Bethesda weren't satisfied with what they were making and took it away from them, scrapped it, and gave it to AvP developers Rebellion to have a go. It's out, and let's not pretend no one's noticed, it's getting one of the biggest kickings ever. But hey, how about me? Wot will I think?
Well, I’m astonished. I wasn’t going in blind. I’d seen the grim-toned FPS running at E3 and it didn’t seem likely that another six months would be able to fix something so obviously awful. And while I’ve not read any other reviews, I did accidentally stumble on this list of review scores on the official forums when searching for some manner of technical support. And yet even so, astonished.
The premise: The supposed life of Richard “Demo Dick” Marcinko captured in videogame form, as you stomp through North Korea and Russia on a one-man mission to destroy their anti-nuke system. The reality: One of the most dreary, unambitious, unimaginative and miserable shooters ever made.
Most astonishing is the length. And I’m conscious that I’m in danger of enacting the opening monologue to Annie Hall when I say this.
It’s two and a half hours long. When I read reviews claiming a game only lasts so many hours I tend to be slightly cynical – yeah sure, Mr Bravado Pants, you and whose cheat code? But trust me, I timed it. Rogue Warrior is two and a half hours long.
It’s two and a half hours of walking along metal platforms and grey corridors, shooting the same enemies (I think there may have been two types – one without a welding mask, one with – but it was dark) over and over and over, without a moment of variety, deviation or challenge. There’s maybe seven or eight guns you can choose from, almost infinite amounts of ammo, and a health system that has you switching from death’s door to perfect health and back again in seconds.
The gimmick is the combination of Marcinko’s unlikely life and Mickey Rourke providing his voice. Marcinko is, apparently, fond of swearing. He likes to say things like “goat fucker”, while detailing how he killed a foreign gentleman with a knife. So to celebrate this Rogue Warrior has the suddenly-in-vogue Rourke shouting “goat fucker” while you kill foreign gentlemen with a knife. The knife, of course, is not available as a wielded weapon, but only appears when you do a kill move. These are achieved by walking up behind an enemy and pressing E. This then cuts to one of a couple of dozen near-identical sequences in which your bearded wanker of an avatar stabs the enemy in the face, or back, or both, or maybe snaps his neck. It’s context sensitive to the slightest degree. If they’re near an edge, you’ll throw them over it. That’s about it.
These kill moves are all the game has. And they’re something a dozen other games have done before, and far better. Perhaps most notably Volition’s mediocre The Punisher, where they were unique to the situation and enormously more gruesome. Here, while poorly rendered blood spurts out, no wound is created, no real gore occurs. It’s cheap, lazy, and somewhat unpleasant.
The range of weapons is just plain strange. Despite a number of models, everything is pretty much the same to use, other than the silenced pistol (useless) and one slightly meatier weapon (least available). And they all feel a lot less like firing bullets out of a gun, and a lot more like spilling soup out of a sock. Headshots appear to do nothing special, enemies taking a random number of hits to go down no matter where you aim. Some will fall dead when you clip a limb, others will survive long sprays of machine gun fire to the face and chest.
And there’s literally nothing else to do. You only shoot at the enemies, then run into the next miserable room. There’s not a puzzle, a scripted sequence, hell, even a train ride (despite many trains in the area) – just a tedious, yet short-lived, row of shooting galleries. And even this is hilariously inept. Each of the tiny missions begins with every enemy comically stood facing away from you so you can be sure to do some kill moves. Maybe they’re fixing machines, or staring blankly at the nothing in front of them, apparently deaf to your clanging arrival. Then about a third of the way in to each level they’re all now facing your way and it’s gun time. None are surprised by your arrival, none are idling, simply existing to already be shooting at you when you open a door or turn a corner.
So my favourite moment of the game came before I’d updated my graphics drivers. Without the latest set it caused items in the game world to be randomly replaced by others – for example, an enemy’s head being replaced by a concrete bench. Or a dying man’s hat growing into a lamp post. That was, by a stretch, the most entertaining thing that happened in the half an afternoon spent with this nonsense. Once this was fixed, however, the rest of the failures become more apparent.
Despite running an engine that looks a good five years out of date (although I should stress, far better on PC than the 360 code shown at E3, that looked like early generation PS2), it can’t cope. There’s no anti-aliasing or V-syncing, ensuring it’s doubly dreadful, tearing and jagged throughout. And from my tech support investigations it appears I am far from the only one to find that it staggers literally every second. As you walk in a straight line you can count the beat as it hesitates. I grew used to it, in the same way you grow used to tinnitus. I.e. You’re damned grateful when it goes away.
Something else I’m grateful has gone away is the swearing. You might imagine it to be a redeeming feature, having Rourke grumble angry insanity as you play. But there’s only so many times you need to hear “Goddamn dick-breath Commie motherfuckers” before it would be quite nice to engage in some civilised communication. Gaming Tourrettes proves quickly tiresome. In fact, it begins tiresome, with the difficulty levels described as follows:
Recruits: If you’re a pussy select this one.
Regulars: Bring it on, motherfucker.
Elites: Think you’re fucking special, huh?
Oh just go away, you children.
But maybe some sympathy is deserved. If this game is a faithful recreation of Marcinko’s life, then he’s been tragically afflicted with the inability to jump or step over things. Imagine what life must be like for him, forced to take enormous detours on his journeys if there’s so much as a piece of pipe lying on the ground.
A few others bits and pieces. There’s no mouse for the menus – why would there be! There’s no saving, just a poor checkpoint system (that the game warns you will be saving to your machine's hard drive, is that okay?). On-screen instructions reference the 360 controller (my favourite moment was when being told how to use cover (something you never need to do) in which it instructed me to use the keyboard key I’d assigned to enter cover, and to pull the “left stick” back to leave it).
I’ve played worse shooters. Really, I have. The enemy AI may be rubbish (they tend to either do the jack-in-the-box popping up and down in the same spot, or funnier, just run away for ages), but at least they don’t run into walls or have always-perfect aims. And there’s no boss fights. But it’s just so phenomenally uninspired, so completely free of creativity, and so terribly executed. And most of all, and I can’t stress this enough, IT COSTS THIRTY POUNDS.
The gall to release a game this bad is one thing. To charge full price for something that is less than three hours long is unacceptable. There’s multiplayer, sure. But good grief, why would anyone even think to bother? It turns out they wouldn’t. Nearly two weeks after release and there was not a single other player online in the world when I tried.
Really terrible, and such small portions.