Rogue Trooper

We go hands-on with Rebellion's 2000AD-themed one man army. Debriefing inside.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: April 28, 2006
Here in the States, we don't quite have the same kind of adoration for the 2000AD mythos that some of our friends across the pond do. The UK, home of developer Rebellion, just seems to glom onto the setting and characters of Nu Earth, a entire planet turned into a toxic wasteland by years of never-ending war. And to be honest, we'd never really given it much of a second glance, but after spending ample time with Rogue Trooper, we're ready to go ga-ga over the world that's been created.

Maybe its our fondness for post-apocalyptic or slightly dystopian futurescapes (most everyone in the office would count Blade Runner as one of their favorite movies), or maybe it's just that Rebellion has done a hell of a job painting a picture of what the comics are trying to convey. Whatever the reason, after just a few missions into the game, we found ourselves slowly getting drawn into this world.

Which is ironic given that it's a game about war, where the troops involved are snuffed out within seconds of hitting the battlefield. Well, not entirely snuffed out. See, the genetically engineered GIs (that's genetic infantry) were built to not only cope with the harsh, toxic air of Nu Earth (unlike the Nords who have to wear bulky breathing suits), but they actually excel in it. If (and likely when) they get gunned down, their personalities are pumped into a biochip at the base of their necks and if dug out and slapped in another soldier's equipment within 60 seconds, they can live on.

This is where our friend Rogue comes in -- or rather his buddies, the awfully conveniently-named Helm, Bagman and Gunnar. When a massive battalion of GIs rockets down from a dropship in orbit around Nu Earth, they're surgically blown out of the sky before they can ever get down to the LZ. Yes, they were set up, but more importantly, it meant that those lucky enough to get down to the planet already had enemy troops waiting for them, and through ambush or sheer numbers, each of Rogue's friends is gunned down.

Luckily, death isn't the end for them, and as their biochips are implanted into the helmet, backpack and assault rifle (see, told you those names were pretty damn prophetic), Rogue becomes even more powerful, bolstered by the intelligence and communication of his squad mates, who regularly dole out helpful advice and help Rogue pass obstacles he'd never be able to get past.

By leaving Rogue's helmet at a computer terminal, Helm can hack into systems, which does everything from open doors to deactivate security. Gunnar, now chipped into a rifle, can actually be placed as a free-standing turret, providing a distraction or covering fire as Rogue flanks enemies. Bagman can collect bits of scrap laying around or off dead soldiers to constantly manufacture ammo, health and grenades, as well as upgrades to Rogue's weapons or entirely new weapons themselves as the game goes on.

Rogue Trooper revolves around a simple cover-based system for moving around, much like what was seen in admirable but ultimately flawed kill.switch. Running up to a wall and tapping L2 will scoot Rogue up against a wall (or auto-crouch him behind lower objects). From this position he can either set up a shot or blind fire to keep enemies down, or lob a grenade out to clear the way for another move. Hitting L1 will let him hurdle over or climb up most surfaces, R1 lays down fire and R2 lets loose with a grenade.

As the game progresses, you'll unlock upgrades to Gunnar's layout, including a shotgun, mortar cannon, and something we're not allowed to talk about yet. The same goes for grenades, which can be upped from the standard frag to cover scrambler (good for shorting out electronics), incendiary (perfect for setting enemies on fire), and, again, another one we can't talk about yet. Because Bagman can constantly refill ammo if given enough scrap, it eliminates the need to search out clips or grenades, and it makes for a very quick, fluid game.

It's hard to nail down exactly why we're so fond of what Rebellion is doing, but whatever it is, it works, and beautifully. Enemy AI isn't afraid to flank you if you stick to cover for too long, they'll lob out grenades to flush you out, and the game just feels incredibly polished (even if the framerate isn't terribly consistent). The environments feel adaptable, and once you get into the habit of sneaking up behind enemies (clicking L3 drops Rogue down into a stealth stance for instant one-button kills), knifing a guy, then heading to cover and picking off enemies, the game starts to get into a great groove. Being able to lob out a grenade to create cover, dive into a new position, set up Gunnar as suppressing fire, sneak around and flank a set of guards before popping out to drop three of them with headshots just feels right. The controls, aiming speed, targeting and more just works.

Part of this is the little touches that were added to streamline things. Ammo isn't universal, but the weapons switch quickly and easily; if you want to snipe a guy that's far off, you don't have to switch weapons, just click the R3 button and pick him off; the game knows you're trying to snipe and it automatically switches to that weapon.

When you're wearing Helm, you'll get a radar that shows vision cones, perfect for sneaking up on guards, and when you have Gunnar equipped, you can auto target the oxygen tanks of enemies and shoot them, causing them to run around for a few seconds before exploding with some great ragdoll effects. These things are added slowly and deliberately, and we didn't even notice they were there until the first time we had to put down Gunnar or Helm and suddenly noticed part of the HUD was gone.

We can't really get into the storyline too much (though we can say it's filled with some great dialogue and a couple of twists, some betrayal, and tons and tons of scripted sequences), we can say that the first few levels that are obvious battle fields give way to far more urban and claustrophobic areas. When we finally got to Nu Paree and saw the rain-drenched, neon-lit, bombed-out city streets, we got that cyberpunk tingle, and though the game certainly isn't a cyberpunk affair, it evokes that kind of atmosphere -- and it's only gotten more impressive the more we've played.

Once we can talk a little more about the game, we'll definitely fill you in on a couple more oohs and aahs, but we're quite confident in saying that this is one of the best third-person shooters we've seen on the PS2, if only because it manages to rope in a sense of atmosphere, great pacing and solid visuals, all coupled with a universe that's nicely fleshed out without being bogged down with too much extraneous dialogue (most of the stuff we've learned about the world came from the gallery entries we unlocked).

There's still about a month to go before the game hits, and we'd love to see the framerate come together a little more, but on the basis of simple action in a setting that most American gamers haven't really had a chance to explore yet, this is definitely something to keep an eye out for. We'll have more when we can talk about it.