Review: Renegade Ops

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There’s a particular letter in the title of SEGA’s Renegade Ops you should pay close attention to: It’s the “s” at the very end. As in, if you’d like to get the most out of this entertaining, vehicular-based twin-stick shooter, you’d better plan to play it plural.

If you decide you’d rather take down Inferno, the bald and scene-chewing international terrorist who enjoys dropping missiles and mortar on innocent third-world villages just to see how quickly they’ll burn, on your own, be prepared to endure a massive wave of déjà vu. You’ll be repeating missions often as you level grind your way to commando badassery.

In a tale told through comic-book style panel delivery, you learn that Inferno is threatening to blow up the world. Tired of the namby-pamby diplomacy employed by those boring bureaucrats, bejowled General Bryant chucks his military epaulettes and does what any God-loving patriot would do: Collect a strike force of quirky renegades, stick them in a bunch of supercharged vehicles and take matters into his own hands. It’s so much easier to blow everything up and strike a blow for justice when you don’t have to follow the rules, you see.

And there isn’t much you won’t be blowing up in Renegade Ops. As you tool around the game’s lush and detailed environments, the left stick handles the steering while the right stick deploys fire at enemy units. Collecting health and weapons power-ups comes from shooting and blowing up enemies, often in spectacular, light-up-the-entire-screen fashion. At the points in the game where your vehicle is tricked out with multiple power-ups–rocket launchers, rail guns, etc.– Renegade Ops’ formula really catches fire. Literally. Buildings, enemy units, everything on the screen falls to your explosive might with satisfying bursts of flame and black smoke. And huge points for your bonus multiplier and level score.

Each of Renegade Ops‘ four playable characters/vehicles has its own specialized power-up that can be launched with the left trigger whenever a meter fills. One can call down an air strike that incinerates enemies like a birthday cake packed with colorful roman candles. Another unleashes a temporary shield that can reflect enemy strikes, while yet another can temporarily disable nearby enemy weapons. It’s easy to see how, in concert, these abilities could quickly devastate a full screen of enemies. It’s also easy to see how frustrating it is, as a lone wolf, to have to play through the early missions several times as different characters in order to level up each vehicle’s power-ups. That’s why playing with friends locally (using split-screen) or, better yet, online, is the best way to enjoy Renegade Ops’ colorful vehicular destruction.

Renegade Ops’ Achilles’ heel is its egregious lack of checkpoints. Each of the game’s nine missions are fairly long in scope (not so much in variety), and if you use up all your lives before completing one, it’s back to the beginning, there to trudge through the same cutscenes and timed objectives you’ve likely endured three or four times already. Rocking a particularly impressive high score or hit streak? Too bad—if you don’t finish the mission, it’s history. It’s clear the designers considered the checkpoint issue carefully, as the experience and upgrade points you earn stay with you even if you flame out halfway through a mission. Consider that a huge saving grace, because it’s only after you’ve nailed down enough upgrade points to unlock and juice up your special abilities that you’ll be able to withstand (and incinerate) whatever Inferno’s decided to throw at you.

The end of the first mission affords your operatives the chance to jump in helicopters, there to do some Apocalypse Now-style damage on Inferno’s giant missile-toting boat. A nice touch, but it’s the only time you’ll do anything other than drive your car around the landscape, shooting and blowing things up. Fortunately, thanks to detailed level design and forgiving driving physics, the thrill never really gets stale.

Bring your patience–and more important, bring your friends–and you’ll manage to have a blast at Inferno’s expense.

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Pros:
+ Crisp, clean graphics shine, especially in the environments and massive explosions
+ Easy-handling drive physics
+ Blowing things up when your vehicle’s powered up is exhilarating

Cons:
– Lack of checkpoints is egregious, frustrating
– Playing solo means excessive, level-grinding mission repetition

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox Live Arcade for Xbox 360; also available on PC and PSN
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Release Date: 9/14/2011
Genre: Twin-stick shooter
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-4 (2-player split-screen and 4-player online)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.