Over the last two or so years, the Xbox Live Arcade has tried its damnedest to be something more. It has looked with jealousy at triple-A retail games and wondered – How can I be like you? How can I deliver gaming experiences of such great substance? The answer to that question was Braid, Shadow Complex, Hydrophobia, Limbo, Bastion, and an overload of $15 multiplayer shooters. Now, XBLA games are becoming something for precious weekend evenings rather than for pre-work procrastination. Then, Renegade Ops comes along and reminds us all what the phrase “playing a game” means. It does so with a storyline that could have been ripped from an Action-Man toy’s packaging, enough explosions to level every small – and large – nation on the planet, and most importantly; some of the tightest, most pure gameplay you’ll be likely to play all year.
From the instant your military vehicle of choice lands on a South American coast at the game’s outset, Renegade Ops feels right. The left stick is used to maneuver your Jeep/buggy/APC and the right to fire your roof-mounted cannon, while A yields an infinitely-usable boost, and the respective triggers activate character-specific abilities and pickup-weapons. Essentially, the game is a twin-stick shooter where wheels replace legs.
What is spectacular is how well it controls. There are few game from this console generation where basic moment-to-moment interaction is as satisfying as in Renegade Ops. The vehicles react to their weight just enough, bouncing and swinging around on the dirty, uneven terrain. Making the most of these physics is critical and such techniques as power-sliding and using the boost are elemental in completing the levels. Just as important to learn is the function of the weapons. And some weapons they are; from the ever-present and upgradeable machinegun to character-specific abilities, they all are a joy to cause destruction with, thanks to powerful visual and audial feedback.
And then there are the victims of your destruction. Story-wise they are the private army of a comically evil British-accented German seeking world domination. More importantly, they are little red-suited guys that scream in terror and turn to bloody skid-marks under your tires. These poor souls are accompanied by a range of tanks, helicopters, artillery-cannons and similar armored death-machines. As one of four “renegade” soldiers (think the A-team but more violent) It’s your job to maneuver nine semi-open levels completing simple go-here-kill-or-collect-this objectives, and in the process, lay some therapeutically satisfying waste to all in your path. Between the levels, you will put XP points into simple skill-trees that vary with your character-selection. My initial gut-reaction upon discovering this feature was negative given the overuse of RPG elements in contemporary games but I came to enjoy it after the first few levels. The “perks” have the right amount of impact on gameplay, never removing the need for skill or finesse but rather adding that clichéd “level of depth” so frequently spoken of in press-releases.
When things blow up in Renegade Ops, they blow up real good. Explosions bubble up in fiery clouds, spit out shrapnel and send objects flying everywhere, all in accompaniment with crunchy sound effects and big, golden score-numbers. It’s relevant to note the environments surrounding these explosions are equally pleasing to the senses. Using the engine (as well as what I strongly suspect are borrowed assets) from Just Cause 2, levels set in lush jungles, misty pine forests, sandy deserts and drab bunkers have all been adorned with some lovely particle, focus and lighting effects. Even in comparison with retail releases, Renegade Ops is beautiful, both technically and artistically.
Though the campaign can be cooperatively played with four players, it is recommended to complete it in single player, at least at first. In almost any game, Blowing things up with friends is fun, and Renegade Ops is no different. However, having two to four cooperating players on the battlefield drastically dampens the amount of skill and strategy required to beat a level. Playing by my self, I felt a strong sense of conquest whenever I overcame a stage. The brutal lack of checkpoints means failure might take you back up to 30 minutes, incentivizing you to use precision and resourcefulness. When going solo, seeing the “mission complete” screen is an achievement, in multiplayer, it’s a mere inevitability.
In a gaming season dominated by meaty heavyweight titles like Deus Ex and Skyrim, it’s easy to forget that sometimes, a game doesn’t need a dozen gameplay elements, a heavy-handed story, or a massive sandbox environment. Sometimes, the simple satisfaction of winning at something fun is enough, and Renegade Ops is a premier example of that. I urge you all to look up from your jam-packed quest journals and pause your hour-long tutorial sequences. Renegade Ops is not perfect, but it’s a damn good pallet-cleanser, and there’s a good chance that’s exactly what you need.
Pros: Instantly satisfying gameplay, hilariously cheesy story, sharp graphics.
Cons: Co-op hurts the balance, long loading times.
4 out of 5