Rogue Trooper Redux: The Blue Man Group At War

Rogue Trooper Redux
Gameplay
graphics
audio
value
fun
Genre
Reviewed On
Nintendo Switch
Available For
Difficulty
Intermediate
Developer(s)
ESRB
ESRB
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Rogue Trooper Redux is a high-definition remaster of 2006’s Rogue Trooper, a third-person shooter based on the Rogue Trooper serial in British sci-fi anthology comic 2000 AD. The game has been updated with high-definition assets and revamped control and cover systems, and rereleased on all main current-gen systems. I’m reviewing the Switch version, and I should here disclose that I did not play the original, nor have I read the comic. I did read the Wikipedia entry about the comic, though, so…points.

The player takes control of Rogue, a Genetic Infantryman manufactured by the military arm of the Souther Confederacy in their war against the Norts for control of the poisoned planet of Nu-Earth. Unlike humans, Rogue is able to breathe the toxic air of Nu-Earth without a chemsuit and respirator, making him the ideal soldier. He is blue-skinned, muscular, and for no reason explored within the text of the game, shirtless.

The Genetic Infantrymen have a unique feature – upon death, their consciousness are stored on a chip for sixty seconds. The chip can be installed into another GI’s gear, maintaining their minds for later re-uploading into a new cloned body. While installed, the GI’s persona is able to control the gear’s functions. The in-game upshot of this is that over the course of the first few missions, Rogue collects the chips from several fallen comrades and installs them as plug-and-play sidekicks. His machine gun soon houses the brash GI Gunnar, his backpack is controlled by the engineer Bagman, and by the time Rogue is sent to rescue a captured GI named Helm in mission four, the player will have figured out that the jailbreak probably isn’t going to go off without a hitch.

Rogue Trooper’s main selling point is its tactical, cover-based gameplay. The original game was released in 2006, when third-person cover shooters were just about to come to the forefront, and represents one of the last of the pre-boom entries in the genre before the release of Gears of War later that year. Indeed, the game shares a lot of DNA with Gears beyond the cover system, including the apocalyptic future-war setting and the main cast of four hyper-masculine soldiers.

Blue is beautiful again with a copy of Rogue Trooper Redux from Amazon

In addition to cover shooting, Rogue Trooper adds several further tactical options. Rogue carries multiple types of grenade and an endless supply of remote/proximity mines. Gunnar can be deployed as a sentry gun to hold the line while Rogue works elsewhere with his pistol. Bagman uses salvage looted from enemies to upgrade Rogue’s arsenal and refill his ammo, while Helm provides a radar system for detecting enemies, a holographic decoy, and the ability to hack through locked doors (in-game, this function is always just an excuse to make Rogue stay put and defend against a few waves of incoming Norts while a timer counts down). Helm also has a function by which he attracts nearby enemies with a whistling noise – though why Rogue can’t just do that himself is never explained.

These tactical options do actually expand the game’s possibility space to a reasonable degree, but you hit the walls of the system soon enough. You can lay mine traps for enemies, but unalerted enemies are usually stationary, and unless they were coming that way anyway there’s limited scope for actually manipulating their movements – they won’t retreat from your holodecoy, and the whistling noise only works at pretty close range. The sentry gun works if you know where your enemy is going to come from, but it’s not always clear, and on multiple occasions I set one up in front of a door I was about to unlock, only to watch the enemies run right past it without triggering it in a scripted cutscene. When the sentry does work, it’s almost too powerful – I’m not sure if it can even be shut down by Nort attacks. The grenades have their uses, but most of the time it’s easier to just throw proximity mines, which a) cover a much larger area, b) explode on impact with an enemy, and c) are apparently unlimited. Similarly, the upgraded weapons have some utility in specific situations, but throughout most of the game the default machine-gun is far and away the best option, killing nearly any humanoid enemy with one accurate headshot.

The shooting itself is broadly functional, although it definitely shows its age, especially with regard to the cover mechanic. Actually flattening yourself against a wall is a hit-or-miss affair, and to take low cover you have to crouch first by clicking the left stick, or Rogue will just run uselessly against the wall, fully exposed. Low cover is also a little less effective than it should be – a lot of the time enemies will score damage from directly in front of you even though the cover is squarely in the way. In tight corridors the camera becomes a problem, too – the game uses an over-the-shoulder camera when aiming, but in close quarters Rogue’s body often obscures most of the screen. Switching between weapons is clunky, using a single button to scroll through an ever-increasing list of gun variants, and when you want to switch from your heavy weapon to your pistol, the switch animation takes forever and leaves you defenseless the whole time.

Despite these problems, I ended up having fun with Rogue Trooper’s gunplay. It takes a while to get used to the slightly complex and unintuitive controls, but once you do, the weapons are mostly pretty satisfying to use, and late-game sequences offer some fun action with multiple options for reactive, improvisational strategy. We’re not talking Far Cry levels of freedom here, but for a mostly linear PS2-era shooter, some of the arenas have impressive multi-level layouts. It’s a shame that the AI doesn’t make as much use of the levels as Rogue can, and enemies do a lot of aimless pottering around in the open, waiting to get picked off.

Story-wise, Rogue Trooper follows the basic plot of the comic strip. As the last GI and only survivor of the Quartz Zone Massacre, Rogue, goes… well, rogue, nominative determinism being one of the fundamental physical forces of the 2000 AD multiverse. He takes on a personal revenge mission against the commanding officer who betrayed the GIs and caused the massacre, referred to as the Traitor General (and yes, I do wonder if that might actually be the man’s birth name). That’s about it in plot terms – there are some background details about the war effort, but the ancillary characters are mostly pretty rote and unmemorable. Gunnar, Bagman and Helm serve as Rogue’s companions throughout the game, but personality-wise there’s not a whole lot to differentiate them.

Gunnar gets the closest thing to a personality in that he’s vaguely wisecracky and hotheaded, but I was hard-pressed to tell the difference between Bagman and Helm when they talked. Some of the voice lines get repeated far too often, as well. You have the option to attach a silencer to your gun in-game – Gunnar has three jokes about that, and he says one at random every time you do it. Every time. And they’re all garbage. Later in the game you encounter an EMP-based enemy, whose role is to hide somewhere on the battlefield and occasionally detonate an EMP pulse, which briefly knocks out your companions (i.e. hides your HUD). When the pulse wears off, one of the three characters will say one of their three lines complaining about how terrible the EMP is. In-universe that makes some sense, but in-game it’s not really that much of a hindrance, so the overblown complaints about it quickly become irritating, especially as you’re likely to suffer two or three pulses before you find the culprit – you end up going out of your way to track them down not because they’re particularly dangerous, but because you desperately want Gunnar to shut the hell up.

Beyond the main cast there’s only a couple of other characters in the game at all – a grouchy commanding officer character who looks a lot like Michael Ironside and may or may not be planning to kill you once you’ve served your purpose, and there’s a shadowy bad-guy lieutenant to the Traitor General who is talked up as a legendary sniper for the entire back half of the game, even though when you fight him, he totally sucks.

And then there are the women – and the “e” in that word is a very close call, because there are only two, and only one of them named in-game, and she’s named Venus, which frankly barely even counts. Of the two Venus is the more prominent – she’s a female GI (charmingly referred to in the game’s bonus encyclopedia as a “GI Doll”) and a recurring character from the original comics, and shows up to assist Rogue in two gunfights. And that’s it; that’s all she does. Her role is so minimal and unrelated to the plot that it’s not clear why she’s in the game at all except to briefly interrupt all the war to allow the game’s presumed teenage-boy target audience to look at a pair of cerulean tits in a low-cut halter top, which is what she wears.

The other female character is called – no kidding – Kaptain Natashov, and I had to dig through the game’s Extras menu to find that out. She serves as the antagonist of the Helm rescue mission, though she only appears in cut-scenes and has perhaps thirty or forty seconds of screentime. But despite her brief appearance and complete inconsequence to the game, the original designers felt it necessary to program her with ridiculous-looking breast-jiggle physics, even though her outfit appears to be made of very stiff leather. She walks off her dropship swinging her shoulders like Liam Gallagher for no reason other than to make her boobs swing from side to side, engages in some sexualised torture, and when Rogue kills her later in the level, it’s done with an overt and creepy phallic emphasis, with a close framing and focus bordering on the pornographic.

This kind of slack, objectifying portrayal of women was particularly common in the male-targeted mid-2000s console shooters among which the original Rogue Trooper ranks, and in this case are also rooted in the source material – a male-dominated sci-fi comic from the 1980s. This gross treatment of women was largely ignored by the gaming press of the time, but 2006 was hardly the dark ages and original developers Rebellion (who own the 2000 AD comic imprint) should have done better. Redux is being released in 2017, and it’s time to identify these depictions of female characters for what they are: harmful, misogynist garbage.

The game has received a graphical upgrade with new models and effects, although in comparison to screenshots of the original I’m hard pressed to see a huge difference beyond the game now rendering in HD resolution on consoles. This isn’t meant to be a major overhaul – the player and enemy models look a bit more detailed and things are sharper, but the game is still obviously a straight re-rendering of PS2-era level geometry, and won’t stun anyone visually or technically. On the Switch version at least, there’s also a lot of aliasing present – jagged lines are obvious in the level backgrounds and skyboxes, and textures aren’t well-filtered, leading to noticeable changes in quality even at short distances. The Switch is the least graphically capable of the systems that Redux is being released for, so other versions may look better, though even the Switch should have enough beef to make a PS2/Xbox game look better than this. However, graphical fidelity is not hugely important to this release, and the game runs smoothly and playably throughout in both docked and undocked modes.

So is Rogue Trooper Redux worth a play? Honestly, I’m going to say yes – with caveats. The game isn’t by any standards a classic, but it does kind of make for an interesting artifact – a unique and overlooked minor curio that won’t set anybody’s world on fire, but stands as a solid entry in the evolution of a genre that would later take off enormously. I think if I’d owned the original back when it came out I probably would have thought it pretty good. From a 2017 perspective, it’s flawed and occasionally super gross, but there’s still fun to be had here, and the game is of a pretty good length. Even so, the RRP of around £20 is a little steep and I’d wait for the inevitable sale or price drop, but on the whole this is definitely in the top two Switch games being released this month where you play as a man with a sentient hat.

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