Renegade Ops: Blow stuff up… you know, for freedom

September 21, 2011

Some games just have attitude. You know, that intangible quality that throws you into exactly the mindset the developers wanted, that defines the whole experience and really leaves an impression. Avalanche Studios, the team behind the Just Cause series, injected Renegade Ops with a “heck yeah, let’s blow stuff up” feeling that permeates through every corner of the experience.

The game’s essentially a twin-stick shooter, except you’re driving around third-world areas in a very ’80s action-movie setting. Each level has you following roads to various objectives, taking out transports and tanks, rescuing prisoners and collecting valuables and generally shooting things and driving over things. (You also get in helicopters sometimes. That’s cool.) The driving controls can be a bit hard to handle at times, but they work fine. Main objectives are timed, but you get rewarded with more points and experience if you can complete secondary goals as you go along.

And yeah, I just said experience. You choose one of four characters, and leveling up gives you more points to spend on upgrades. They don’t just keep building up, though; you unlock higher and higher on the skill trees, but you can only equip a few from the ones you acquire. (It’s a good way of allowing for advancement but still keeping players largely evenly-matched.) Each character has a special attack that recharges, and one of the three skill trees is devoted to it. One calls in an air strike. One has an EMP that knocks out enemies temporarily. One becomes a big, stationary turret for a bit. They all work best in a similar situation (when you’re surrounded by enemies), but each has its own flavor.

The story’s largely throwaway, which is fine. A madman, Inferno, just starts being evil and bombing things. The international community wants to negotiate, but this general? He’s not going to put up with that. He throws down his medals, runs out and forms a vigilante force to stop him. That’s you. Now stop asking what’s going on and go blow stuff up. The opening cinematic, as well as the short scenes in levels, are presented as motion comics. While the whole thing feels much like a comic book, so it fits, the motion element of this always seems like an awkward half-step between pure comic style and actual animation.

The game supports four players online, and two can play locally through static or dynamic split-screen. (For the uninitiated, dynamic split-screen allows for a shared screen when players are close together, but splits as the distance increases.) Neither is ideal, since the dynamic option can leave you dizzy at times, but the extra space seen when you’re close is worth it in certain situations. The real issue? The difficulty doesn’t seem to scale with number of players. There’s a hardcore mode, which is good for groups of four, since it’s just really easy with a full party otherwise. (Though that can be fun, too.) Single-player, as a result, can be a frustrating experience even on the normal level. (For the most part, you must play alone to get achievements, too.) The sweet spot is somewhere between two and three players, we think, though near the end you may want the fourth just to make things go smoothly.

Renegade Ops is ludicrous in the best ways imaginable. There are a few things that could have used a bit more work or balancing, but generally it’s the kind of fun thing to jump into with friends that makes a downloadable title a blast.

Pros: Blowing stuff up is fun, blowing stuff up with friends is more fun
Cons: Difficulty doesn’t scale, controls a bit off

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.