Avalanche Studios have spent years bringing an “awesome, dumb fun” revolution to the current generation. After two back-to-back iterations of the Just Cause series, it’s a surprise then that the team at Avalanche truly hits their stride with the downloadable (and generically named) Renegade Ops. By trading their open-world agenda for a tightly wound twin-stick shooter, then plastering it with the same incendiary chaos of Just Cause 2, Avalanche have successfully balanced their desire for ridiculous action with a rock-solid gameplay foundation for the first time.
After playing Renegade Ops for an hour, one realizes that plenty of intelligent design went into making the game as mindless and fun as humanely possible. Avalanche’s design mentality runs along the lines of: “Can we blow it up? Awesome. How can we make it blow up bigger?” The Just Cause 2 engine makes a great transition to the comparatively smaller scale of a dual-joystick shooter, lending the explosive bells and whistles that make popping the flare on an airstrike a visual treat. There are some caveats, as there’s some pop-in during the in-engine cinematics – simple as they are – but for the most part, Renegade Ops looks striking in motion with an appealing mix of colorful particle effects and saturated lighting.
From the smoke of mushroom clouds to the debris thrown in all directions, explosions bare careful attention to detail.
There’s a cheesy, self-awareness to Renegade Ops that permeates every minute of the five-hour campaign. The story throws out nods and winks to the audience with a stream of glorious one-liners fired off by General Bryant, who’s an overt riff on Captain Price handlebar moustache and all, and an antagonist with the wonderful name of "Inferno" with the Bond villain-esque dialogue to match. It’s entertaining idiocy at its finest, with guitar riffs and stylized graphical novel cutscenes that fit the '80s vibe perfectly.
Renegade Ops’ gameplay requires an ability to keep moving while dealing as much damage as possible. The core of the game will be instantly familiar to anyone with a passing acquaintance with dual-joystick shooting; it’s the destructive garnish of flame throwers, airstrikes, rail guns and rocket launchers that set Renegade Ops above and beyond most AAA action releases. The controls do a good job of balancing looseness with acuity. You’ll spend a good deal of time crashing into things as you get used to the inertia of the vehicles, but changing directions can be done with a mere flick of the left stick, making the act of driving feel just ‘right.’ Once you realize you can drive straight through buildings and the supports of security towers, you’ll spend each mission perfecting the art of the offensive drift.
Zerg Rush this!
Although Renegade Ops gives you the choice of four different characters each with their own special ability at the outset, the choice is pretty redundant. You end up picking one that you'll stick with for the majority of your first run due to the leveling rewards you will reap from adhering to a single character. Each ability does change how you play to a certain degree; I like Roxy’s screen-filling airstrikes, but maybe Diz’s EMP is your thing, but the characters add a dash of variety that serves as a decent excuse for a second and third playthrough.
As you play, you rank up your chosen character. Accruing levels nets you points that you can spend on perk-like bonuses that affect your special ability, health and secondary weaponry. This coating of RPG-lite allows you to customize how you play to a certain extent; however, you can basically run through with the same early game perks on every difficulty other than Hardcore.
The missions themselves are smartly designed to ferry you from one venue of destruction to the next. Although the game tosses out side objectives that allow you to explore the massive levels, Renegade Ops will literally slow down and fade out the color in order to tell you, "All right, now blow up the important things in three minutes or else." Little details like these not only keep you barreling along in the right direction, they make you realize that Renegade Ops is based around some common-sense design that few developers ever think to include.
The opposition stands no chance against your rapacious mayhem.
If you want to get the most out of Renegade Ops the four-player online co-op is the way to g, as it multiplies the already hyperbolic action of the single-player by the number of players. The frame rate can take a dip now and then, especially if you’re all packing airstrikes, but the emergent chaos of four players bolting around the expansive levels is probably the best way to tackle Hardcore considering co-op difficulties don't scale to player count. There is a split-screen option too, but you’re likely to experience a good deal more frame rate choppiness than the online version.
There’s a sense that Avalanche Studios have finally found a space where their brand of insanity can flourish. Renegade Ops is the tightest package the studio has ever put together and the moment-to-moment thrills I derived from the visceral five or so hours have yet to be matched by both the downloadable and full price competition.
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Release Date: October 26, 2011
Number of Players: 1-4 (Cooperative)
Platforms: XBLA, PSN (Reviewed), PC