Steam Safari – Renegade Ops

Watch as Jason does the unthinkable and actually attempts to clear his Steam backlog, one game at a time. These are the records of his voyage into the untamed wilderness. Join him on his  Steam Safaris, where he’ll play a random game from his Steam library for 3 hours and tell you whether or not it’s worth your time. This week: Renegade Ops by Avalanche Studios.

In the early 90s there were a few games that parents rushed their kids away from in the arcade. A select grouping of machines that were under the watchful eye of the greasy haired attendants, machines too nefarious for the grasping hands of the pre-teen crowd. My local Golfland arcade went so far as to place them in a dank corner, far from the more tame Bubble Bobbles and Tetris machines, colorful distractions that parents secretly enjoyed wasting your precious quarters on. Mortal Kombat, Time Killers, and perhaps the most upsetting to the fragile adult morality: Smash TV. The tiny exploding men were enough to send my parents into fits of self-righteous indignation. “Well, that’s great that your friends parents want him to turn into a serial killer by letting him play those games, but you never will.”

With time I would duck and juke, losing them in the dusky neon gloom, making a discreet break for the noisy machine, desperate for just…one…game. Within seconds it would be over, the thing having done its job and claimed the scant few quarters I had left, but I wouldn’t mind. I had gotten a chance to live the bloodthirsty dream of TOTAL CARNAGE!

The legacy of the twin-stick shooter is vast, extending past Smash TV’s hyperviolence to the significantly more tame (in graphics, not in theme) Robotron. For most gamers, using one stick to move while continuously blasting using another is as natural an idea as circle-strafing or double jumps. It’s this hallowed mantle that Renegade Ops hefts onto its shoulders, hearkening back to a time when crazy vehicle physics and front-facing dumbfire missiles were all it took to get us excited. It’s RC Pro-am meets Smash TV with an A-Team sheen.

The basic setup is that you’re a member of the Renegades, a rough-around-the-edges fringe paramilitary group dedicated to the destruction of various super villians. You begin the game by choosing a vehicle, each of which comes with a different special ability. The one I chose, Diz, had an EMP pulse that would disable enemy weapons for a short amount of time. Other abilities include an airstrike, mounted turret, or a reflect shield. With my Steam copy, I was also afforded the imitable Gordon Freeman with his Antlion swarm. Oh Antlion swarms, what game would you NOT improve? Alongside this special ability, you can also pick up a variety of secondary weapons while speeding around.

Each character earns experience points, which are used to buy upgrades to your abilities. You can reduce your cooldowns, increase your health, or maximize your secondary weapon’s ammo capacity. For the most part, the upgrade system seems tacked on, with the upgrades never really feeling all that important. The top tier ones seemed interesting, with one of mine granting my EMP burst a heavy offensive element in addition to it’s defensive power, but after beating the game I still didn’t have enough XP to purchase it, so I never got the chance to see it in action.

The game itself consists of traversing massive maps, completing objectives in a manner very similar to old vehicle based shooters like Desert Storm for the Super Nintendo. Objectives are shouted at you by the gruff Bryant, who’s doing his best Captain Price impersonation the entire game. Following the all-mighty objective arrow around the map, you unleash furious machine gun violence on any of the wide variety of enemy vehicles that get in your way. From foot soldiers (who pop in an oddly nostalgic manner) to buggies to tanks and beyond, there’s rarely a shortage of things for you to aim at and blow up. With few exceptions, notably anything with missiles, your foes offer little resistance, simply plinking away at your health and often dropping far more upon death than you had to expend to kill them. Until the final few levels, there’s rarely a time where the game requires more than driving in circles around things and shooting.

Beyond just killing everything, you’ll be trying to rack up as many points as possible. Kill enough enemies without getting hit and you start a combo multiplier that keeps building as long as you’re killing and avoiding getting hit. This can be a little tricky to manage, as long stretches between enemy camps can leave you hurting for fodder to keep that chain going, so I imagine those crazy fools at the top of the leaderboards have mastered the art of kiting lone buggies across the map. The pursuit of an ever higher score doesn’t quite click with this game as much as with other, more traditional, arcade games though. Levels take anywhere from 15-30 minutes to complete, meaning one lone mistake in the middle can cost you a solid chunk of time and energy in replay time. Don’t expect to be able to jump in and out of the game either, as these lengthy levels come with no save points, so once you start the game up, be prepared to invest at least 20 minutes to get anything done.

Outside of a few long stretches of dirt road, the game stays exciting. It changes things up occasionally, throwing you into a helicopter in a few levels, or putting you up against a massive turret studded train. By the time you start to get comfortable around Mission 7, the game jostles you awake with some nefarious traps involving tanks and helicopters equipped with rocket launchers that will easily chew through your lives without judicious use of your special ability.

The story isn’t a slouch either, starting off on a fairly generic foot but leading up to a conclusion that has a decent emotional payoff. The second to last mission actually got me to grit my teeth and curse the name of the villain, something I never actually thought I’d do while playing an arcade-style shooter. Delivered using comic-book style overlays and delightfully hammed up voice overs, the tale of the Renegades plays out like GI Joe meets Modern Warfare, with massive color-coded military organizations and super weapons abound.

Graphically the game makes good use of its destructible environments, with the vast majority of things crumbling under your always spinning tires. Power lines pop audibly and buildings explode as your tear through them, falling to pieces shortly afterwards. Executing a powerslide through a group of troopers and ending it blasting through the supports underneath a gun tower has a certain visceral charm to it that harkens back to the days of Carmageddon. Lots of particle effects and explosions keep the action visually interesting but never really cross over into distracting, as you can always locate yourself and what you’re shooting at.

The game does feature both online 4 player and split screen 2 player coop options, but I couldn’t convince anybody to take a stroll down memory lane with me. I’d imagine splitting some beers and pizza while playing this game couch-op could make for a pleasant evening, but I thought the same thing about Kill Team and that barely lasted an hour.

Overall, Renegade Ops is a solid homage to the coin-op days of twin-stick shooters and ultra-violence. Expect anywhere from 3-5 hours of thumb blistering explosions and missions that go on just a little too long on average. If you’ve got a buddy who shares your hankering for violence and doesn’t mind pizza grease on his controller, this also makes for a solid throwback to sitting cross-legged on your floor playing Ikari Warriors. Just be nice and don’t fight over the helicopters.

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