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Back from the dead, Rogue Warrior is in quite a different state to the last time we saw it...
Firstly a confession: when the menu screen for Rebellion Software's Rogue Warrior was left on, waiting for the start of the presentation, we wrongfully believed it to be a sequel to the UK studio's entertaining PS2 title starring the 2000AD comic hero. How wrong we were. Instead, Rogue Warrior is the fruition of a game announced way back in 2006, but ultimately put on the backburner until now.
Based around the adventures of former Navy SEAL and Red Cell founder Richard "Dick" Marcinko (we didn't know who he was either), Rogue Warrior in its original incarnation showed considerable potential. An ambitious (perhaps overly so) shooter with a unique multiplayer element, Rogue Warrior initially appeared to have a lot going for it, three years ago.
You can say goodbye to all of this.
At last week's Bethesda event we finally got a chance to see the new and improved Rogue Warrior in action, and have to question why Bethesda continued with the project and whether or not Dick has got them by the balls.
The reason behind the switch, Bethesda's Pete Hines tells us before the presentation, is that they weren't happy with the direction Zombie Studios' title was heading and wanted to focus on the personality behind the man. Well I'm sorry Mr. Hines, but a big ego doesn't exactly set my pulse racing if it comes at the cost of an innovative take on multiplayer shooters, neither does the crass one-liners that proliferate the entire experience, even if Mickey Rourke is delivering them - "April Fool Motherf*cker".
As somebody not particularly knowledgeable about Marcinko's back-story, I'll admit to probably not fitting into Rogue Warrior's target market, but the fact remains that it's difficult to warm to a main character sporting a beard and a ponytail to match Steven Segal when you don't even know who he is. If it's facial hair that makes a man we'd much rather have the trustworthy handlebar moustache of Modern Warfare's Captain Price or the bristly whiskers of Old Snake. So heavily billed was Marchinko during the early stages of the presentation that it was easy to forget, there's a game beneath it. Unfortunately, we were left to ponder on what could have been and wishing that Bethesda had just left it on the boardroom floor.
What we eventually saw was one of the most generic examples of a shooter we've seen in a long time. Rebellion's demonstrators did much to highlight the stealth and action dynamics that provide the balance in the game, but ultimately it failed to deliver the distinction between both that we were hoping. On this display, it's the same as virtually almost every other shooter out there. You can cover behind objects rather awkwardly and dispose of enemy troops before they know you're there.
Like the cover system, the AI on display was thoroughly unconvincing during these sections, highlighted by the eruption of laughter at the slow reaction of one enemy trooper when the guard next to him had just taken a bullet through the head. Believable AI is key to delivering a strong stealth experience, but we failed to see anything that promises to build the suspense needed, instead it's a case of how many clueless guards can you take down.
But, like the man himself, Rogue Warrior is also about the unadulterated action. We were hoping for a strong contrast to these two gameplay dynamics - some heart-pounding explosive Hollywood action to offset tense stealth infiltration - but ultimately found ourselves expecting a little too much, once again. With a covering system comes certain risks that can only be eased by good AI, and despite Marcinko squaring up to Russian Special Forces, we saw little to get enthused about as the combat quickly degenerated into whack-a-mole shootouts. Rebellion's demonstration progressed through the stage, providing little more than what any other humdrum shooter has to offer. The objective of blowing up the bridge is as uninviting and unfulfilling as it sounds, compounded by further uninspiring objectives such as de-coupling a train carriage carrying various weapons.
Rogue Warrior's 'unique' selling point, we're informed, are the Brutal Kill Moves. Although we'll reserve judgement until playing the game, we've got to remain cautious over what this means to the rest of the game. By the looks of things, it's just a case of pressing a button when getting close to an unsuspecting guard, which sets off a random animation such as slicing their throat or knifing them in the balls.
Perhaps the final nail for us was Rebellion's plans (or lack of) for the multiplayer aspects of the game. As we've said before, the original Rogue Warrior concept was based around a highly ambitious multiplayer component that featured randomised maps with the ability for a team to have an input by deciding upon certain tiles - snipers could elect for a long grass tile, while bullet happy shooters opt for an urban setting - which would combine to create randomised maps. Persistent online careers and rewards were also mentioned during the early stages. This has all been shelved. So what's in store with the new Rogue Warrior... Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. Perhaps it's just us, but such a climb-down seems indicative of our overall opinion towards Rogue Warrior.
Nevertheless, if the thought of more deathmatch tickles your fancy than Rogue Warrior's your game; and as Rebellion pointed out, "There's nothing better than slicing your best mate in the balls." That and the ability for the top scorer to play as Richard Marcinko himself with the 'Dick skin' - ahem, quite.
Naturally, it's early days yet, and it's hard to distinguish too much from a limited hands off presentation. Nevertheless, in order to appreciate Rogue Warrior it seems that you'll have to be a BIG fan of Richard Marchinko, as otherwise we couldn't find much else to get excited about.
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