Explosions are exciting things. They incite the most childish inhibitions in any man, harking back to those playground days spent pretending to be soldiers and watching Transformers cartoons (the originals, of course) on television. Renegade Ops is a game not afraid of showing an explosion or two. Or three. Or twenty. Epitomised by its woefully stupid plot and silly quests, Renegade Ops is all about returning to those carefree days. And while it doesn't always fire on all cylinders, it comes close enough.
The output of Avalanche Studios (the Just Cause guys), Renegade Ops is a knowingly silly nod to classic action movies and gung-ho retro video games. The whole game is characterised by its opening cut-scene, a slick sequence of comic-book panels and pseudo-seriousness as the game's faux-UN discuss the best way to deal with a nefarious nuclear weapon wielding antagonist known as Inferno. The committee decides that reasoning with the opportunist is the best direction for a resolution, but a mutton-mustachioed military hero known as Bryant doesn't agree. And so with a melodramatic monologue to the council, he announces that he's taking matters into his own hands. Cue machine guns and explosions.
Renegade Ops constantly teeters on the edge of homage and self-parody, and it does so with good taste, concluding in a surprisingly considered campaign that runs for nine, lengthy missions.
Rounding out the game's quirky sense of humour are four completely clichéd characters to choose from, spanning the 'spunky punk rock chick with an exposed mid-riff' through to the 'thuggish tough guy with the biggest muscles'. Unfortunately the characters themselves amount to nothing more than a unique special attack and skill-tree, as you'll only ever see the vehicles in-game.
The gameplay itself plays out from an isometric perspective, in which you speed around beautifully rendered tropical environments gunning down enemies and detonating nearby scenery. Avalanche's engine has a real clarity to it that gives every facet of its environments a lavish appearance — from the sway of its jungle to the ripples of its ocean. What's more, the developer really has mastered the art of putting weight and impact behind every collision, as explosions ripple across the screen scattering debris across the game-world.
The game's incredibly high production values can be its biggest down-point at times, as your vehicle becomes difficult to track amongst the plumes of dust and overhead scenery, but its a minor quibble that only applies in the tightest of spots.
Renegade Ops is much more dense that it might initially pertain to be. Maps are open-world allowing you to jump between primary and secondary objectives at your own pace. The game's heads-up display always includes a marker to your next objective on screen, but you're free to navigate the game's various dirt-tracks and roads as you see fit.
The game's open-ended structure is emphasised by a straight-forward score multiplier system that rewards uninterrupted damage streaks. Renegade Ops' score system plays into a levelling and skill-tree mechanic which opens up as you progress. You'll need to pick and choose from a variety of unlocks as you can only have a maximum of four equipped at any point, customising the experience based on your preferences.
The game's understated strategic elements factor into missions too, with points bonuses awarded to health and ammunition pick-ups when you're full on both resources. But Renegade Ops can be a punishing game, and so it can be worthwhile keeping reserves nearby in case you need them later. Because of the game's open-world set-up, it's possible to stock-pile health until you need it — but those gunning for high-scores might want to consume the resources early and reap the benefits.
Without checkpoints though, we definitely found ourselves playing Renegade Ops more cautiously than we'd like. Which is a shame, because Renegade Ops is all about in-your-face action, but the game's finite lives system runs against its core. There are moments in the game that will just eat at your lives, leaving you frustrated.
Time-limits also feel counter-productive, especially when each mission affords you an enormous open-world map to explore. Sure these time-limits are fairly loosely integrated — usually allowing you three or more minutes to get your business done — but again they feel churlish and unnecessary.
The game includes four-player co-op and is best experienced in this mode. It's unfortunate, however, that there's no real distinguishing feature between the four different vehicles, and so selection comes down to a matter of personal preference rather than strategic selection.
But it's in the core shooting that Renegade Ops achieves its aims. The game doesn't particularly do anything outstanding or original, but it gets its shooting spot-on. Observing as your main weapon transforms from an efficient 'pew-pew' like machine gun into a full-blown 'blumba-blumba' cannon is much more of a treat that it should be, and it's thanks to Avalanche's brilliant visual design and efficient controller response that Renegade Ops provides such a satisfying shooting experience. The comic-book cutout cut-scenes and narrative could come in for criticism if it wasn't so obviously (and effectively) making fun of itself, and as such this is a game that will appeal to anyone that's grown up on the cartoons of the Eighties, or arcade titles like Jackal and Desert Strike.