It is no secret that Avalanche Studios is officially on my ’watch’ list when it comes to developers. I mean, these are the guys that churned out Just Cause 2, which was one of the last games I sank more than 50 hours into. Renegade Ops is their latest effort, and it comes in the form of a top-down twin stick shooter that harkens back to a little-known 80s title called Jackal. Of course, the fruits of today’s games are included, and honestly, games like this haven’t been this fun in ages. If you enjoy these types of games, then Renegade Ops is a must buy.
Amazingly, there is a story here, told with comic-style cut scenes and terrible voice acting. The game is over the top on every level and these attempts at a narrative only further drive home the ludicrousness of it all. Each character is stereotyped, and of course, your squad is the quintessential action movie badass team that will always get the job done, no matter the cost. Sure, it is goofy, but it breaks up the standard action nicely and never overstays its welcome.
On the surface, what you have is your standard top-down shooter with four vehicles/characters to choose from and plenty of explosions. Underneath, is a game that is so finely tuned and well designed that it really stands out as just being a ton of fun, which Avalanche is quickly becoming known for. The game spans nine levels, with each mission being playable and re-playable with any of the characters. The real star of the show, though, is the upgrade system.
I want to make note, first off, that if you play on casual, you will miss one of the larger portions of the game. On casual, you do not receive XP and have no access to the skill trees. This removes the addictive leveling system and only serves for you to fool around within the world without fear of dying. You have unlimited lives on this difficulty, which makes up for the lack of upgrades.
Playing on normal is where the game shines. Each level is opened as you complete them and you can replay them to earn XP or complete side objectives, or simply to grind other characters. What is really cool is that each character comes packed with a special ability that can be used in combat and is the focus of their skill tree. At first, it is hard to imagine why anyone would use anyone outside of the dune buggy girl as she can call in air strikes, and these are definitely the most powerful early on. As you progress, though, you find use for the other abilities such as the EMP blast and, of course, the shield.
What is really great about Renegade Ops is that it plays just so damn well. Moving your vehicle with the left stick is intuitive and making 180-degree turns is a thing of beauty. The shooting is solid and feels so good once you start to level up your standard machine gun. I love little touches in games, and Renegade Ops is full of them. From driving through houses and slowly watching them crumble, to the realistic explosions that rock the entire level, this game is truly a masterpiece design-wise. You will be hard-pressed to not find yourself having fun while playing it.
The missions range from “go here and blow this up,” to collecting items and outrunning enemies and nuclear explosions. If I had to gripe about anything, it is that some of the levels are a bit too long for their own good. I think the game would have benefitted from breaking up some of these and making them shorter for easier consumption. I know I spent a while on some missions only to find myself wishing it were over; not because I wasn’t having fun, but because I was ready for a break. Spreading these out would have done wonders.
You can blast through the entire game in one sitting if you wanted, but it really is about leveling up and going back through levels. You can also hop online with up to three friends for some co-op action, or simply take it to the couch locally. Split screen has some serious frame rate issues, but the online is relatively stable and a blast to play. There are also plenty of side missions and things to see and do, plus leveling up all four characters will take some time, if you are willing to invest in the entire experience. For the price tag, the game delivers more than enough content to justify.
Visually, the game looks great and reminds me of Just Cause 2 from a birds-eye view. The lush jungles are nicely animated, and again, the little touches, from the houses crumbling to the bloody tire tracks after running over enemie’s are appreciated. I especially love the explosions, and there are lots of them. The sound effects are amazing, but the music feels generic, and as I mentioned earlier, the voice work is atrocious. Still, this is one game that definitely feels like a popcorn experience.
Renegade Ops is a fantastic addition to your digital library at the price. It is incredibly well made and boasts enough content and fun to warrant the price sticker. If you enjoy straight-up action and plenty of explosions, then this game is for you. Mixing the visual style of Just Cause 2 with a little bit of Jackal and just a dash of the classic Strike series makes this game appealing on paper. Thankfully, in execution, it meshes all of that together for one delicious fun sandwich.
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.