Reviewed: June 18, 2006
Released: May 23, 2006
Ok, let’s get this out of the way early; Rogue Trooper is one of the best action-shooters I have played since Advent Rising and Pariah, and when it comes to single-player action, the gameplay blows both of the Halo games out of the water. So now that I’ve pissed off all the hardcore Halo lovers out there, allow me to explain these bold claims.
Rogue Trooper is a third-person action-shooter that may seem similar to a lot of other games in the same genre, but Rebellion has really crafted something special here, both in original concepts and story, and multi-faceted gameplay that always keeps you on your toes.
The game takes place in the future on a distant planet located next to a vital wormhole in space. Two factions, the Norts and Southers have been locked in an endless war that has all but destroyed the planet. The atmosphere is toxic and humans wage war in bio-suits, but the Southers have created a race of blue-skinned warriors, impervious to disease, and cloned in mass to end the war once and for all.
We join our hero, Rogue, as he takes part in a battle soon to be called the “Quartz Zone Massacre”. During this battle the entire Rogue Trooper army is betrayed and killed in an ambush orchestrated by their own high command. Rogue is part of a four-man strike team, and as his comrades are killed one by one we quickly learn a valuable secret. Each trooper has a bio chip implanted in their neck and you have 60 seconds after the body dies to remove the chip and plug it into something else to keep it alive until it can be replanted into a new clone.
It’s a clever concept that was explored in the 2001 RTS hit, Hostile Waters only those chips, known as Soulcatchers, were used as AI to power various land and air vehicles. In Rogue Trooper, you harvest these chips and insert them into your gear, but they don’t really do anything other than provide a lot of personality and a few extra features to their respective gear. So with the electronically stored consciousnesses of your three friends firmly plugged into your helmet, gun, and backpack, you set off to find out who betrayed the troopers and exact your revenge.
The gameplay in Rogue Trooper is so perfectly crafted and balanced I don’t even know where to begin. You have your straight-up action-shooter elements and there is a whole lot of stealth and cover, then you have some on-rails shooting elements, both from the air and on a train, and there is even some strategy and resource management thrown in.
I’m the first to cringe when I hear the words “resource management” but Rogue Trooper manages to make this easy and even a bit fun. During your missions you will need to collect scrap, or “salvage”. There are larger piles of this laying around the level, usually hidden, as well as smaller amounts obtained from each fallen soldier and larger amounts from battle armor. Salvage is not only used to unlock extras in the bonus menu, but it is also your primary ingredient to research new weapons and replenish your ammo.
In a totally unique and brilliant move, the designers do not allow you to simply collect clips and other ammo lying around the battlefield. Instead, all of your salvage goes into your backpack and when you request it, you can have Bagman create more ammo, grenades, rockets, or even research new tech based on blueprints you find in the field. This is how you get bigger and better weapons like the Sammy (rocket launcher) and Beam Weapon. And almost all of these weapons can be upgraded with even more advanced features. You even have to make your own med kits.
Each item has a maximum amount you can carry, but you are free to open the build menu, effectively pausing the game, and create more items at will. The only limit to your recycling is your amount of salvage and available space. Bagman is kind of creepy at first. There is this robotic arm that deploys from the side and reloads your gun or injects you with medicine, but he is also the only AI that is with you at all times and really starts to grow on you.
Gunnar is the chip that is put in your combat rifle and is a total blast since he likes to talk a lot, either taunting the enemy as you cut them down, or even chiding you for screwing on the silencer – “Hey I like it loud!” or “If it’s too loud you’re too old”. Once Gunnar is installed in your weapon you have access to one of the best and most used tactical abilities in the game.
At your command you can deploy Gunnar as an automated sentry gun. You basically lay your weapon on the ground (in a strategic location) and walk away. Then by remote control you can activate Gunnar and he will rise up on a tripod and unleash blistering lead in 360-degrees. It’s like having your own backup, and he comes in really handy when you are hacking a door or computer and enemies are streaming in behind you. Gunnar isn’t nearly as accurate as you are, but what he lacks in accuracy he makes up for in unlimited ammo. You can really get sneaky and have some fun by turning Gunnar off and letting enemy soldiers get curious and close in before reactivating him.
Another original concept for this game is the dual fire mode for Gunnar. You can fire from the hip using the target lock, which works extremely well, but you’ll eventually need to snipe those enemies hiding behind cover or perched on a towering ledge. Click the right stick and you go into scope mode, which is nothing new, but now you are using sniper ammo, which is much more expensive for Bagman to manufacture. So unlike a lot of games where you can use your scope without limits or consequences, Rogue Trooper has a pay-per-bullet system in place.
Helm is the third “chip” and as you might guess, is stuck in your combat helmet. He generates and updates your HUD radar, offers tactical advice, and is an expert hacker who can open doors and access computer systems. Of course hacking takes time and you will need to protect yourself and Helm while he does his thing.
It was amusing that Helm will not actually activate the hacked device until you reclaim him – apparently he has abandonment issues. Similarly, Bagman will always be reminding you “not to forget Gunnar” if you stray too far from his tripod location. All of your virtual comrades have great personality and really make you feel like you are a four-man squad. They even cry out in pain when EMP soldiers zap their circuits, which also fries your HUD for a few seconds.
There is so much content in Rogue Trooper that I felt guilty for not using all of it, at least as much as I suspect the designers wanted me to. Helm has this really cool ability to generate a hologram of yourself that you can position anywhere in the immediate area then activate its “distract” mode to draw enemy fire. I’m guessing there are plenty of places where this would have come in handy, but I ultimately only used it to distract some snipers and only because I was prompted to do so.
There are also some weapons that sounded cool but just never got put into use. I used the shotgun a few minutes after I got it, but I quickly realized I was never that close to my targets. I never ever used the Fragment Mortar even though I researched, built, and upgraded it, and the same goes for the beam rifle. I tried using it once during the train chase, but it either didn’t have the range or the power to knock those enemy riders from the mounts.
The same goes for grenades. While I did use the sticky and incendiary a few times, usually on accident or because I was out of the others, there was nothing that a frag grenade couldn’t handle, except for those mobile armored units, and then you just have to toss an EMP before the frag. I did get a few thrills from tossing the fire grenades and watching the men run around on fire.
Speaking of men running around on fire, one of the best tactics in the game is to snipe the backpack on the enemy’s bio-suit. It will start to shoot out fire and the guy will run around trying to pat it out with his hand just before it blows up sending him rocketing away in some random direction. Of course you wouldn’t want to do this if you are trying to be sneaky otherwise anyone nearby will hear the commotion.
This leads me to enemy AI, which has to be about the best AI I’ve seen in an action game in a long time, perhaps ever. These guys are smart, they take cover, they lay down suppressive fire while other members try to flank you, snipers move around so just when you think you’ve pinpointed the source of that laser sight they aren’t there anymore. But the thing that amazed me the most was during the first mission that involved stealth. The enemy barely spotted me, putting them in suspicious mode, but not aggressive. I quickly moved to another hiding place and watched as the enemy came all the way across the area (about a 30-40 second walk) and inspected the area where I had been hiding. He radioed an “all clear” to his partner and then started searching the surrounding area just to make sure, coming dangerously close to my new position. After that I was committed to seeing just how good this AI was, and despite my best efforts to trick it, none of my tactics that work on other games came close to foiling it.
Level design is excellent with indoor and outdoor levels that include plenty of scarred terrain, bombed out buildings, a totally cool and creepy petrified forest, a train ride through deserts and mountain canyons, and an exciting tour of the city from the perspective of the gun turret on a hopper.
Levels are surprisingly interactive, but mostly in the area of cover. There are a few things like gas tanks on cars and fuel canisters that can be shot and exploded, and almost any ledge or object can be climbed onto, but the really cool element is Rogue’s ability to take cover behind just about anything. Just walk up to an object or wall and squeeze the left trigger and you hug the wall. You can stand or crouch depending on the height of the cover. It reminded me very much of Namco’s Kill Switch.
Once you are behind cover you have some really cool tricks available. You can creep to either edge and snipe around the cover or you can try to target over the object or - and this is very cool and a long time coming – you can do a blind fire move where you just point the gun over your head backward and unload a clip just like they do in the movies. You might kill somebody this way, but more often it just makes them take cover so you can move someplace else. You can also throw grenades over your shoulder.
Rogue Trooper is based on an original comic series and the designers have done a fabulous job of brining the look and feel of the comic into vivid 3D life. The first thing you’ll likely notice is the blue hue of our lead character. It’s strange at first but you get used to it surprisingly fast. The game starts off with a lot of bland earth tones depicting a very depressing war torn planet, but later when you start to head into cities and civilization things get more futuristic and colorful. There were a couple levels that looked like they were right out of Deus Ex.
Character animation is incredible, especially for Rogue who lumbers around with a real physicality and weight to him. He snaps to cover, crouches, leans out, and moves with uncanny realism, and he has the best animated stealth kills next to Manhunt. The enemy animation is pretty predictable but no less entertaining. You’ll see similar patrol patterns and reaction animations when they spot you or when you pop their O2 tank. The rag doll physics is off the hook, and you can get some really cool enemy sprawl positions after an explosion. Even better, you can unlock cheats to tweak the gravity and physics even more.
Special effects are stunning starting with the skies that always show the wormhole, which appears to be sucking in all the stars and space around it. Multicolor skies and lighting effects reflect off of the environments and the characters. There are cool volumetric fog and mist effects, especially in the forest level, and plenty of fire, smoke, and explosions.
There are a good variety of vehicles in the game but you only get to ride the hopper once, and the train once. You will get to mount gun turrets, AA turrets, and the much larger cannons that are capable of taking out submarines and hoppers with a few shots. The hopper ride was a great moment in the game that really broke up the ground levels and gave you a nice aerial perspective on the city level.
The cutscenes all use game-engine graphics that blend seamless with the gameplay. If it weren’t for the letterboxing you wouldn’t even know a movie had kicked in. Camera angles are excellent and you have free control over the camera in the game. The HUD is informative and clever in design, and the build menu and four-way ability-select screen are all easy to use with minimal button presses.
And despite the lack of any HDTV support, the game looks just as good as anything that does have it. There was no texturing problems, clipping issues, or jaggies. This is one gorgeous game with loads of originality and creative design elements.
The soundtrack is a blend of military style themes and traditional action score combined with some great atmospheric tunes that really enhance the gameplay. In the back of my mind I knew there was great music accompanying my gameplay, but I had to make a conscious effort to listen to it. It blends so perfectly with the experience just like it should.
The voice work is surprisingly good considering the cast of four guys and one gal who manage to create a wonderfully original group of heroes and villains. Rogue has that surly demeanor of a badass soldier who has been betrayed and his buddies all have their own unique personalities that you get to experience both as clones and disembodied voices.
Sound effects are powerful and realistic, or at least as realistic as you’d expect from futuristic weapons and vehicles. Gunfire is the most popular sound and most of the game is alive with battle noises. When things do quiet down for those few moments of stealth you can still hear the war going on in the distance. One of the best sounds in the game is the EMP burst followed by the hollow screams of your electronic buddies.
Rogue Trooper has 13 missions, most of which last between 30-45 minutes each. There were three missions that lasted less than ten, but those same three missions required me to replay them numerous times each before I won them, so even those ended up being longer. In total, my single-player game lasted just under 11 hours.
There is a lot of bonus material you can unlock by simply completing the game. This includes artwork, sketches, renders, text info, and a complete encyclopedia for everything in the game. There are even cheats you can unlock and once completed you can revisit any level and mission within the campaign.
There is a respectable multiplayer component in Rogue Trooper, and while it’s not nearly as comprehensive as other games competing for your Xbox Live time, it is still a lot of fun. It should be noted that while the box indicates no support for the Communicator, the game actually does use the headset.
Whether you are playing on Live or with the System Link there is support for up to four soldiers and you get to relive the Quartz Zone Massacre in any of five levels or arenas. Modes include Stronghold where you hold your ground against the incoming GI hordes, or the objective-based Progressive mode that has you performing tasks under enemy fire.
Rogue Trooper might just be the sleeper hit of 2006. It’s not getting any media hype, at least anything close to Lara Croft, and the reviews I’ve seen so far have been way off the mark. I can’t imagine anyone who claims to enjoy a good military-style action shooter not playing and not falling in love with this game.
There is just so much original thinking that went into this design, and it really forces you to strategize and play in whole new ways. Each encounter in the game is a new chance to plan some crafty tactics or just go in guns blazing. Rogue Trooper is a fantastic action experience and gets my highest recommendation for being added to your permanent game library.