Chess. Go. Mancala. Games of analysis, strategy and planning. Games of finesse, demanding the highest concentration and exacting standards from players. Games that are the exact opposite of Avalanche Studios’ blast-fest Renegade Ops. Truly, no publisher other than Sega could have taken on Renegade Ops; it’s a perfect fit with their semi-retro line-up of shooters, racers and punchers. From the comic book-styled cutscenes through to the bullet hell hordes constantly assaulting the player, everything about Renegade Ops screams retro.
The plot, if one can dare call it that, revolves around a team of “Renegades” tasked with saving the world by driving heavily-armed trucks and blowing up everything they can target. They’re lead by the obtuse and truculent Bryant, a mustachioed man lacking a volume dial who seriously needs to consider upping his intake of blood-pressure medication. The target: the diabolical Inferno, fist-clenching mastermind of a huge and heavily armed global organisation of… evilness. Funny how not one intelligence organisation on the planet noticed this nasty chap spending years and hundreds of billions building this organisation until he starts nuking random cities.
While Inferno fist-clenches and cackles through at every opportunity, Bryant violently yells his way through every cutscene. An excellent example from mission two:
Harmless, mousy-type woman: I want to help you. I have important information to help you defeat Inferno.
Bryant (yelling aggressively): Who are you? Identify yourself, dammit!
I’m no psychologist but I’m guessing that’s not the best way to treat a potential informant. Given that later on, her important information consists of tips such as “destroy Inferno’s missiles and he won’t be able to destroy any cities with his missiles”, it’s fair to say Bryant may have had a point in trying to scare her off.
Gameplay centres on driving your truck around exotic locations while gunning down hordes of Inferno’s soldiers, buggies, tanks and other expendable assets. You’ll be rolling over health pickups to replenish your constantly depleting armour, as there is simply no chance to avoid all of the incoming fire. While your primary weapon is a basic machinegun – upgradable from single to triple firepower – a number of secondary weapons can also be picked up such as missiles, flamethrowers and the devastating railgun. I do question why the game has a primary fire button however, since you’ll just be holding it down without break from start to finish. Yep, it’s that sort of game.
At heart, Renegade Ops is like any old-school shoot ‘em up – Raiden, Contra, or even the old Moon Patrol – but with a number of modern twists. Immediately noticeable is the aiming system that uses the mouse to target anywhere 360 degrees around the player. Combined with the WASD driving controls, it’s a bit difficult to grasp at first, but most players should pick it up fairly quickly. What players are unlikely to adapt to are the numerous bugs; most minor inconveniences, but be prepared to redo the odd mission when a checkpoint fails to register or the game just plain dies on you.
Like any old-school shooter, every mission ends with a ridiculous, bullet-hell boss fight. It’s these fights that really illustrate the difference between old and modern games. In most modern games, when you die you can just reload and try again. Renegade Ops boss fights are incredibly tense however, as your death means having to restart the level from scratch. It’s this palpable fear of punishment combined with the potential reward of level completion that creates huge tension. Quite often I found myself literally on the edge of my seat while madly dodging bullets and returning millions of rounds of fire.
The difficulty level is set well though, setting a decent challenge without resorting to the much maligned SNK boss difficulty. Defeating the boss is hugely satisfying – and relieving – and leads to the next mission. Cue Inferno clenching his fists (again) and declaring, “I’ll destroy you next time/You fools you fell into my trap/Nobody can stop the mighty Inferno/You’ve only delayed your inevitable doom” etc.
Where Renegade Ops adds a more modern flavour is in the customisation options. Before each mission players can select one of five Renegades to play, each with their own special ability. Roxy calls in air strikes. Armand has impenetrable armour. Diz disables enemy weapons with an EMP burst. Gunnar has… well, a big gun. And Gordon Freeman summons Half-Life’s Antlions to assist. Yeah, that’s real. No, I’m not making it up. He’s one of the team, at least on the PC Steam version.
Players earn experience points that can be used to unlock abilities or make their trucks stronger. Thankfully, all experience points earned are kept, even if the player loses all their lives and fails a mission. This allows players to keep upgrading until they’re able to defeat a particularly difficult level. It’s a good balance between the old-school concept of limited lives and modern player advancement and saving.
Renegade Ops has solid visuals for the genre and gameplay doesn’t suffer for lack of decent graphics. Granted, at times you’ll have difficulty seeing what’s happening due to the huge number of bullets and explosions on screen, but that’s part of the genre. The comic-style cutscenes are a real treat, and would sit perfectly on any collector’s shelf amongst the old Hulk and Spiderman back issues.
Renegade Ops is good old-fashioned fun. As such, it’s more likely to appeal to slightly older players who can hearken back to the days when old-school shooters reigned supreme. It never takes itself seriously, and while the gameplay does get repetitive as expected of this genre, the woefully hilarious exchanges between Mr Clenchy and Mr Hernia keep the *cough* “story” going on.
It’s not the game for everybody, and you’re likely to encounter a few annoying bugs while playing. It’s also a very short game, taking only 5 or 6 hours to play through once, though the different characters and co-op options may lend some replay value. That said, Renegade Ops is solid fun delivered in bite-sized pieces that are perfect for filling in those times you just want to switch off your brain and blow a whole lotta stuff up. So go and play this game, dammit!
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