Renegade Ops (Hands-on Preview)

From Avalanche Studios, the minds behind the Just Cause series, we have the new twin-stick vehicle shooter, Renegade Ops. A downloadable title, that’s less than a month away and looks like one of the hottest downloadable titles at Gamescom 2011.

The twin-stick shooter controls for these armoured vehicles are comfortingly familiar -left for driving, right for aiming and shooting- and allow you to enjoy the simplistic gameplay immediately. An extra boost of speed and braking is handled with the face buttons. A secondary weapon is assigned to R1, while L1 initiates a special ability like EMP strikes to stun enemies, extra armour, helicopter backup or a flare to mark a target for an airstrike, with their use limited while they recharge over time.

The standard weapon is a machine gun turret that starts as single fire, but with the aid of pickups, upgrades to a wide spread of triple fire. When a few players are firing upgraded guns at the same time the screen becomes a storm of bullets as your eyes strain to see where yours are hitting, admittedly, these screenshots don’t suggest this at all, but you’ve been warned. Each vehicle has a secondary weapon such as flamethrowers, rail guns and rockets, but ammo for these is limited. Fortunately, enemies frequently drop ammo crates, not to mention health top-ups.

The carnage is unleashed on a tropical island, so expect winding dirt tracks through jungles as you destroy enemy bases. Enemies are varied and plentiful but never what you’d describe as swarming. They all have a handy health bar that erupts hitpoint numbers with some needing a hefty amount of damage to take down which nicely balances the game.

Foot soldiers are soft, but most enemies are in vehicles like jeeps and tanks. Bigger enemies include huge tanks with multiple destructible turrets that encourage teamwork for quick takedowns. There’s usually an old-school approach of taking out the turrets, then a bigger weapon, then the massively open weak spot to finish off.

We played the game in four player online co-op, but the game will also support two players locally if you’d prefer. The objective arrow constantly urges you forward, but you don’t all have to exist on the same screen space, as you might in Micro Machines. You can linger and mop up enemies or look for some pickups, not that you’ll want to let the other players get ahead and rack up points without you as you’ll want to stand proud when the scores are tallied at the end of the level.

Our mission involved trying to track down the main villain by storming through his bases and compulsively blasting watchtowers to bits and destroying everything possible inside the compounds before heading through a power station with raised platforms and bridges we had to activate with a bit of button bashing. One section of the mission did give us the option of splitting up to take down three armoured targets, but it proved quicker attacking one at a time together. The demo ended after a boss fight against a huge armoured train that -not for the first time- made me think of the classic Mega-Drive title, Mercs. The vehicle handling though is more in line with the Micro Machines titles, especially with the speed and the way you slide around the corners between shootouts.

The vehicles can be levelled up and given perks. Amongst the usual improvements to weapons and armour we spotted one called Second Chance, which gives you an extra ten seconds to find some health when you run out. There are more to be revealed later for defensive, offensive and tactical purposes.

The top-down viewpoint is ideal for giving you an ideal view of your surroundings. The game feels so much better than it would have with the original concept of having a third-person viewpoint. Overall, Renegade Ops is looking like a great downloadable title for some traditional arcade thrills. The levelling up will add depth and if you’re a fan of multiplayer then you might find it to be an addictive competitive experience as long as the price is in line with the game’s length.

Renegade Ops will be released September 14th on PSN, XBLA and PC.

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