The most impressive thing about the latest iteration of first-person shooter Rogue Warrior is what it used to be, not what it has become.
It's no longer a game being developed by Zombie. It's no longer using the Unreal Engine 3. It no longer hopes to deliver an on-the fly cooperative experience… or any cooperative experience for that matter. It no longer will introduce multiplayer maps constructed of tiles.
In fact, Rogue Warrior's key selling point appears to be pony-tailed former Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko's over-the-top use of nonsensical catch phrases and ability to dispatch enemies by stabbing them in the forehead.
Bethesda said during a presentation of the game last week, that they weren't happy with the original direction of the game, so they decided to step back and start over.
This time, they went with developer Rebellion, and asked them to turn it into more of a "personality shooter" leaning heavily on the personality of Richard "Demo Dick" Marcinko who both wrote the books the game is based on and is the lead character of the game.
They also landed Mickey Rourke as the voice of Marcinko. Why not have Marcinko do his own voice?
"You find in life people who are the real thing can't necessarily voice act," said Bethesda's Pete Hines. "If you asked someone to go into a jungle and kill a bunch of people you'd pick Dick. If you want a guy to portray a guy who goes into a jungle and kills a bunch of people, turns out you pick Rourke."
In the game you take Marcinko into a 1980s' North Korea to try and disrupt a ballistic missile program. You end up tracking the some anti-ballistic missiles into Russia and once there "blow the shit out of stuff."
"You play as Demo Dick, a seriously bad-ass character," said Rebellion senior producer Sean Griffiths. "He is going to use infiltration, sneak and peak and a more gung-ho style of play."
Besides the typical running and gunning of a first-person shooter. Rogue Warrior has some pretty intense kill moves. About 25 of them to be specific. The ones we saw included slicing open a person's throat, repeatedly knifing a person in the kidneys, tossing an enemy off a bridge and even plunging a combat knife into a person's forehead.
"Dick has seen these kill moves and whole-heartedly agrees with them," Griffiths said.
And, of course, there's all of that Demo Dick personality, illustrated most obviously with his catch phrases:
"This place is Goddamned begging for party favours."
"Jesus fucking Christ"
"April Fool mother fucker."
For his part Marcinko isn't just OK with the phrases, he loves them. "He curses way more than that in real life," Hines said.
The original game, Hines said, didn't feel like it was enough about Marcinko and his personality. Marcinko enlisted in the Navy in 1958, transferred to SEAL Team Two in 1966 where he served two tours in Vietnam. In the late 70s he became the first commanding officer of SEAL Team Six, the US Navy's premier counter-terrorist unit. In the 80s he formed Red Cell, which was tasked with testing the security of naval bases, nuclear subms, ships, civilian airports and embassies.
In 1992 he wrote his autobiography, Rogue Warrior, which went on to become a New York Times best seller.
The real tragedy of Rogue Warrior the video game isn't just that it seems to have become a generic shooter with a notable faced slapped on it, but that it effectively condenses nearly forty years of service in Vietnam, the SEALS and anti-terrorist units down to a string of profane catch phrases and two dozen absurdly violent kill moves.
Hines says that the game is meant to be about what Marcinko is doing and who he is and points out that the books Marcinko writes are about 20 percent truth and 80 percent BS, which is, Hines says, Marcinko's personality.
Taken as a tongue-in-cheek 80s action romp, I suppose the game could find an audience in the same way 50 Cent's Blood in the Sand has. But to do so it's going to be a little less serious and a little more kitschy, from what I saw.
Now built using a proprietary game engine, Rogue Warrior is expected out this fall for the PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.