PS2 curio Rogue Trooper is an unlikely candidate for the remaster treatment. Taken from the pages of eclectic British comic 2000AD, Sniper Elite developer Rebellion had a decent stab at trying something new with the always swamped third-person shooter genre. Receiving positive reviews, it’s since faded into obscurity.
Hopefully, the ‘Redux’ - courtesy of Tick Tock games - will remind people of this surprisingly fun title. The quirky universe and open-ended combat still feel fresh on PS4. While not groundbreaking by any stretch, Rogue Trooper’s world is characterful and engaging. In terms of design, the protagonist is a far cry from the generic male hero templates that populate most shooters.
The story itself is set in the ongoing conflict between the Norts and the Southers on Nu Earth and cribs faithfully from the source material. Adding an amusing narrative spin on traditional mechanics, Rogue is a literal representation of disposable infantry. Part of an army of recyclable clones implanted with personality chips and sent into an irradiated battlefield. His squadmates’ AI can be ripped from their corpses and implanted in gear slots, which is exactly what our hero does with three of his combat buddies. Gunnar controls his rifle, Bagman handles his items, and Helm assists with technical guidance.
Your squad is a neat way to add some (literal) personality to things like crafting and auto-aim, while also keeping our largely solo protagonist company in-mission. Most dialogue exchanges happen on the fly and while the group chatter is good value, it can be reduced in the options. Merciful for those that don’t want a disembodied voice barking at you every time you reload.
The visuals are fine, even if the battle-ravaged dystopian setting doesn’t lend itself to exciting design. Bland battlefields and drab city blocks are crisply rendered on new machines, but nothing really stands out aside from the distinctive blue skin of Rogue and his fellow soldiers.
Fortunately, it’s the combat mechanics that distinguish this 2006 game, even from a lot of its modern peers.
Missions are linear affairs that play out on largely expansive maps, with the choice of how to traverse objectives left largely to the player. Guns blazing is a viable option (although higher difficulties are pretty unforgiving), but sneaking can be a bit more satisfying. Gunnar has a sniper mode that can be used to pick off sentries from afar, and most areas are segmented by trenches or conveniently placed scenery to sneak around, allowing you to take enemies down silently. Certain enemy types are vulnerable to one flavor of approach, but crucially not restricted to the same tactic, either. You can snipe the laser targeting of a pillbox for an easy kill, but a mortar does the trick just as well.
There's enough gear meted out to bolster the core weapon modes. An automated turret can be deployed to distract enemies while you flank them. Mines can be strategically placed or dropped on the fly to detonate pursuing attackers. Elsewhere, a hologram double is a fun way to mess around with the game's AI.
On top of the healthy set of tools Rogue can employ against the Norts, levels have environmental tactics that can be triggered to add further variety. An early mission sees you unleash some native wildlife as a distraction and your first encounter with a Nort mech walker offers the opportunity to maneuver into position behind a mounted gun to take down your target fast.
While Rogue Trooper manages to impress with its freeform approach to objectives, there are some frustrating aspects which belie its age. Rogue’s movement is clunky as hell, sluggish, and at times unresponsive. The cover system, tweaked for this redux edition, feels largely pointless outside of stealth. A blindfire mechanic freezes enemies in place, allowing you to pop out of cover and perforate them with ease in a glaring abuse of the crusty old AI. But it’s easy enough to run rings around them and take them out with a well-placed shotgun blast instead.
The painfully slow weapon switching and reload animations are also a sticking point. Pacing is further hampered by the frequent need to go into menus to craft new ammo, medkits and upgrades. It feels strange to criticise a game for being an early example of how third-person action games would use ad hoc crafting and upgrades as standard, but this is a remaster for a new generation and it shows how far these systems have come over the years. Rogue Trooper stands as an interesting document of emergent genre trends.
Rogue Trooper is still fun, and boasts a sense of freedom that even many modern shooters don’t possess. The polished visuals do a good job bringing a ten-year-old game to new consoles, but the overall feel may be too creaky and old-fashioned for some.