Review: Rogue Warrior

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I remember reading about Rogue Warrior in 2006. Its fictional premise of a crack team of special forces operators dropped into North Korea and then forced to fight their way back to friendly lines when all hell breaks loose sounded like a great idea at the time. It would boast four-player co-op, a map maker for online action, and up to 24 players online. It’s the kind of stuff co-op gamers and online warriors have dreams about.

The game is also based in spirit on the autobiographical book of the same name by Richard “Dick” Marcinko whose name appears on the title of the game; a real-life former SEAL who founded special operations units SEAL Team Six and Red Cell. This is a guy whose military history is filled with the kind of covert stuff that had made our Cold War enemies cry frozen tears while asleep in Siberia. So I had to wonder that with such a rich history to draw from and a larger-than-life figure to work with, how the game could turn out to be worse than some of the fiction already out there.

The first concept sounded as if it could have delivered some of the tactical and covert excitement that Marcinko’s real-world exploits deserved to be told through. But what hit the shelves instead comes off as the the kind of game that one sees in the bargain bin at Gamestop.

It’s even more remarkable that the game has a premium price tag attached to it considering that you can download Call of Duty Classic for around $15 on XBLA or PSN and get more fun out of it.

Star Wars, Russian Style

The story takes place during the awesome 80′s and drops Marcinko into North Korea to investigate a few mystery missiles. He’s accompanied by two other operators that could have worked well as co-op drop ins, but they quickly die after reaching the Hermit Kingdom conveniently leaving Marcinko alone to singlehandedly stop the Communists.

From North Korea, he eventually heads off to the USSR who have apparently beat the United States to the punch with their own version of a Star Wars missile shield, probably thanks to having imported enough Pac-Man arcade machines. Unfortunately, the high-stakes storyline can’t hide the numbing submission that the three to four hours of gameplay had drugged my thumbs with through its eight short missions.

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The rough narrative has Marcinko “magically” appear at where he’s needed next without much of a transition, traversing what could be a hundred miles or so of potential action in the space of a load screen. The number of wasted opportunities for sequences on a train, hiding in the wilderness while dodging Red patrols, sabotaging even more Soviet hardware…all of that is never realized in this cookie cutter exercise.

Then again, given how boring the actual action is, perhaps that was a good thing.

Is this the Xbox? Or the Xbox 360?

Visually, Rogue Warrior is an ugly game. Flat textures, bad lighting, blandly linear level design, and scenes that look as if they had been subtracted from a single polygon are surprisingly everywhere.

There are only three real enemies: KPA soldiers, Red Army grunts, and Spetznaz, all of which resemble clone brigades and I really don’t think it’s because they’re Communist.

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All of them react in much of the same way by taking cover or by charging at you making nearly every firefight feel like a carbon copy of the last encounter. Sometimes they’ll drop in from the ceiling to mix things up, but it always ends in the same way as they either stand in place or run at you. Even a cameo by Dolph Lundgren in reprising his Red Scorpion role wouldn’t have helped.

The only thing that has any eye tingling excitement is when you can maneuver Marcinko close enough to execute a random “killing move” with a knife which actually looks pretty awesome. It also left me wondering whether his real-life counterpart had actually done that to someone else. As morbid as that sounds, this was about the only interesting thing about the game.

SNAFU

You can pick up a variety of different weapons along with some grenades, but they only tease the player into thinking that it’s preparing you for something special which it never does…unless you consider night vision to be something new.

Given the single-minded AI and general lack of anything else exciting happening on the battlefield, it all begins to resemble a giant, monotonous shooting gallery from which there is no escape. Even an exploding bridge and military base fail to make the endless number of corrugated metal offices, corridors, and shipment crates any more interesting.

I suppose I should also mention that Micky Rourke lends his voice to Marcinko’s digital persona in the game and he actually does a solid job. This isn’t the phoned in stuff. This is on the Sogliozzo level of professional voice over candy. The dialogue that he’s given to read, on the other hand, would probably make Scarface’s Tony Montana the poster child for how to speak well in school.

Sensitive ears will burn off once they hear the litany of malediction delivered with every kill or thrown grenade including one involving an impossible act of oral sex. For most everyone else that the Mature label was meant for, it will just sound as if someone wanted to string together as many combinations of profanity as possible to sound cool to anyone that might have the mental capacity of those several years below the Mature label’s age rating.

Did Marcinko swear as much out in the field? He probably did, but in this game, it comes off as if he wants the enemy to know he’s coming which kind of defeats the purpose of being a covert operative.

Multiplayer has your standard deathmatching and team deathmatching modes, but no one was online to play this game with. I had even expected a tumbleweed to come bouncing across my screen while waiting in the lobby for a Ranked Match. The only positive thing I can say about it is that it provides a browser window to list possible games instead of the hand holding of Modern Warfare’s auto-matching mode.

Fission Mailed

If you’ve seen the commercials and have played this game, you really don’t need to wonder why they don’t show any gameplay.

Whatever had happened with this game should never happen again. Bethesda is far better than this and it’s not the first time they’ve dipped their feet into FPS waters before having delivered titles such as Terminator: Rampage, Future Shock, and Skynet during the 90s on their own. They didn’t make Rogue Warrior, but as the publisher and with its triple-A cachet of titles, someone might get the mistaken idea that they’re responsible for pushing this out anyway. The actual developer, Rebellion, has done some capable stuff in the past, but how this turned out the way it did leaves as much of a mystery along with why anyone thought this would be worth $60.

If you already have MW2, you already have one of the best shooters to come out this year. But if you really have cash burning a hole in your pocket, buy another copy of MW2 and give it to a friend who doesn’t have it yet. If you’re on the PS3, why not snag a copy of Killzone 2? Or better yet, get Marcinko’s book. This game is as good an excuse as any to share the holiday cheer with something else.

Rogue Warrior
Bethesda Softworks / Rebellion
PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Rated M for Mature