Following a traditionally content-crammed October and November, another year creeps to a close with few higher profile releases hitting in its last few weeks. Don't tell that to Bethesda Softworks, though, as it infiltrates the holidays with the under-the-radar stealth shooter Rogue Warrior.
Though the house that rebooted the Fallout franchise is best known for blasting mutated baddies with Fat Boys and, more recently, their blades-and-bullets-furled WET, they - with the aid of developer Rebellion - have also been quietly working on a title closer to Tom Clancy territory than post-apocalyptic or pulp-film worlds. Loosely based on the life of real-deal Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko, Rogue Warrior was originally being developed by Zombie Studios until Bethesda turned the reins over to Rebellion, who reworked everything from the story and setting, to the tech and gameplay.
The final product offers a messy mix of cool concepts and unfulfilled potential that'll likely only appeal to Marcinko's most faithful following or shooter fans whose trigger fingers are still itching even after spending countless hours on Modern Warfare 2's front lines.
Loved Non-fiction Fisher: Richard "Demo Dick" Marcinko is the real world's answer to Sam Fisher; from heading a SEAL Counter-Terrorist Team to forming Red Cell, a government-appointed unit tasked with testing the Navy's vulnerability to terror attacks, this guy makes Jack Bauer look about as bad-ass as a yellow neckerchief-sporting Cub Scout. Rogue Warrior does a decent job of capitalising on its non-fiction hero, setting its story in an engaging Cold War-era campaign that sees him infiltrating North Korea and the U.S.S.R. in search of weapons of mass destruction. Additionally, Marcinko's character model, complete with grizzled facade, salt-and-pepper beard, and a pony tail evocative of Steven Seagal's memorable '80s mane, is a dead ringer for the real Demo Dick. Amping the authenticity further is voice work provided by Mickey Rourke, fuelled almost entirely by F-bombs. From his repeated use of "Happy 4th of July mother-f*cker." to the unfortunate-image-conjuring "This is a total goat-f*ck.", the foul language is absolutely ridiculous. However, given Marcinko's involvement in the project, I can only assume these over-the-top obscenities accurately represent a real part of the man's personality. Additionally, complementing the salty dialog is the occasional clever gem such as "President Reagan sends his regards." uttered by Marcinko as he tosses a Russki off a bridge, effectively immersing players in the era.
Non-stealthy Stealth Kills: One of the title's few signature features is its "Kill Moves", brutal cinematic finishers yielding lots of blood and often the use of a large serrated blade. They're meant to be stealth moves, but being sneaky hardly factors into their use, as you can just charge up to a baddie, jam on the attack button, and enjoy the neck-snapping, jugular-slicing, kidney-stabbing animations. Sure, you could argue the mechanic is broken given how forgiving it is, but I'll be damned if I didn't have a good time pulling off these creative kills without ever triggering the type of too-sensitive stealth mechanics that often sully the genre.
He Shoots, He Scores: As an FPS fan and an admitted Achievement/Trophy-chasing whore, I appreciate Rogue Warrior's shooter-centric point boosters. No cryptic "secret" score-amping goals, here; just straightforward tasks such as nailing a specific amount of head-shots, using every weapon in your arsenal, taking out a cluster of bad guys with a single grenade, and completing an entire mission with only your sidearm. Not terribly creative, but satisfying in a way that'll get trigger-pulling gamers to slightly alter their usual style and even replay some missions to achieve these score-ratcheting tasks.
Hated Empty Promise: Despite a cool concept, driven by Demo Dick, the Cold War vibe, and brutal finishing kills, Bethesda and Rebellion have sunk this promising property's potential in shoddy design. From its dumb-ass AI and lazy level design, to its wonky cover system and all-over-the-place hit detection, the title feels unpolished in its best moments and just plain broken during its worst. Marcinko's path is peppered with as many bugs as bad guys, yielding multiple immersion-breaking moments that ultimately leave the game doling out frustration and fun in equal doses.
Wait, It's Over?!: Rogue Warrior's blink-and-you'll-miss-it campaign makes Modern Warfare 2's brief solo run seem like a 40-hour epic. This could be partially forgiven had its single-player campaign boasted the same blinding polish as Infinity Ward's aforementioned juggernaut. But with 3-4 hours of lackluster quality, this one feels more like a budget title or retail-wannabe DLC like Watchmen: The End is Nigh or The Warriors: Street Brawl, not a game boasting a $US60 asking price.
Multi-player without the "Multi": Rogue Warrior's online arena is like a ghost town that's been deserted even by its resident spectres; after several attempts, I wasn't able to find a single opponent to unleash my guns and grenades on. Of course, given the dearth of modes, unpolished mechanics, and stiff competition from the season's superior online offerings, it's little surprise Demo Dick will be spending the holidays alone.
With Sam Fisher and Solid Snake taking the season off, I was hoping Marcinko could fill the stealth-killer void. While his history and forehead-attracting hunting knife pack more than enough potential to support a solid new franchise, his debut vehicle falls way short.
A decent yarn, some cool kills, and a genuinely interesting protagonist are no match for a product that feels unfinished and unpolished. If you're a fan of the man behind the game, or simply can't resist the call of gun-clutching hands and a cross hair centred on your HD display, you'll see the potential in this property and even have some fun stylishly dropping bad guys and F-bombs, while padding your Gamerscore. But even with that limited appeal in mind, I'd recommend not treading in Marcinko's boots until Rogue Warrior begins lining the bottom of bargain bins... which it may be doing already.
Rogue Warrior was developed by Rebellion and published by Bethesda Softworks for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on December 1. Retails for $US59.99/AU$99.95 on consoles, $US49.99 /AU$79.95 on PC. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played single-player mode to completion on Xbox 360, attempted to test online multiplayer modes, but found no other warriors.
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