Cover based shooters existed before the year 2006, a few examples being the WinBack series, Namco’s Kill Switch or even Time Crisis in the arcade’s. Ask most people though what game they think of when they think cover based shooter, and they’ll probably say Microsoft’s big game for the Xbox 360 that year, Gears of War. What I didn’t know is that earlier in that same year, an incredibly fun cover based shooter arrived on the PS2 and Xbox that slipped completely unnoticed under my radar. That game is the one I’m talking about today, Rogue Trooper, one of the single most enjoyable shooters that I have ever played that you may not have ever heard about.
Based on the 2000 AD comic of the same name, Rogue Trooper deals with a war over a ravaged earth, dubbed NuEarth, a location that’s of strategic value for the Norts and the Southers. As the earth is uninhabitable for anyone not wearing a protective suit, the Southers develop a new type of army: The GI, or genetic infantry. These blue skinned soldiers are immune to nearly all poisons, and can live on after they die in a soldiers equipment provided a chip containing their memory is removed and uploaded in time. After an event known as the Quartz Zone Massacre occurs and leaves all but one GI soldier alive and mobile with three other soldiers leaving on his gear, the titular character is branded a traitor by his own people and becomes a soldier caught in the middle of two armies out to kill him.
I knew of the Rogue Trooper property, but have never had the opportunity to read any of the comics featuring the character. For someone with little to no knowledge of what the comic was about, the game does an excellent job of easing you into the lore without overwhelming you with a lot of details at once. This is not only true from the story, but how the game’s mechanics role out as well.
Rogue Trooper is a cover based shooter like Gears of War or Sony’s Uncharted, and while it doesn’t feel as tight as those games, the mechanics for getting into cover are great and the shooting feels terrific. Where this game is perhaps more interesting than either of those two games is in how it uses the fiction to introduce new ways in which to play the game. Though you are an army of one, you have three other GI’s along with you as support, living in your equipment: Gunnar, you can probably guess, lives in your weapon; Helm, lives in your helmet (shocker, huh?) and Bagman exists on in your backpack. Each provide support to Rogue in some pretty unique and interesting ways.
As opposed to scavenging for ammo clips, weapons and med packs on the battlefield, you collect scrap from fallen enemies or in the environment. Bagman can convert this into ammo, new weapons, med packs, and can upgrade your pre-existing arsenal. Think of it as if the shop keeper from Resident Evil 4 was attached to you at all times. With Gunnar you can choose to plant him to act as an independent sentry gun to cover an exit while you’re completing an objective or to serve as a distraction to enemies while you take them down with stealth kills, which awards you additional scrap. Helm, while primarily used for hacking, can create a holographic duplicate of yourself to draw out snipers, giving you the opportunity to distract them so you can get the drop on them.
These are just some of the examples of how you can use your “squad”, and ultimately how creative you want to be depends on the player. Some of my favourite games are ones that teach you base mechanics and then slowly introduce ways to alter the formula, culminating in scenarios you have to take all you learned and put it to use. Rogue Trooper is a great representation of that, as it doesn’t throw everything at you at once, but lets your take everything in and just the right pace. Just as you learn how to craft weapons, you’re taught how to use a turret before you’re shown given the ability to make a hologram of yourself.
This isn’t just true for Rogue Trooper’s mechanics, but to your arsenal as well. Starting out you have your main weapon, which eventually becomes the new home for Gunnar, and you’ll work your way up to grenades that disable enemies in giant suits of armor, and surface to air missiles that can take out troop deploying air crafts. Often in pays to not even pull your trigger at all, and the game gives you plenty of opportunities to stretch your stealth muscles to get some up close and personal kills on top of some extra scrap for that upgrade you were saving up for. Of course, should you get spotted, you can always fall back on your arsenal and the game never penalizes you once for not playing things quietly.
It’s just not your own skills that evolve though, but those of your opposition as well. You’ll always have grunts that can be taken out with a zoomed-in head shot, but reliance on one tactic won’t help you last long. I played the game mainly as a sniper, and enemies starting showing up that were invisible to my radar or came with EMP devices that limited my “partners” ability to steady my shots or help me to know where exactly my next target was coming from. What really makes Rogue Trooper a treasure is that it never becomes frustrating, while never really being too easy. You never once feel like a fire fight goes on for too long, nor are you at a loss for what you need to do. This game features two protection missions, each involving a vehicle, and even those don’t reach controller throwing levels of annoying.
This game came out in the twilight years of the original Xbox and after the Xbox 360 was released in 2005, yet it still is a very good-looking game that holds up really well. NuEarth is post-apocalyptic world yet still looks pretty beautiful despite having the game using a lot of colours that are unfortunately common of games in this genre. I have the version of this game for the original Xbox, but played it on my Xbox 360 where it ran without a hitch. A version is also available for the PS2, which I can’t speak on, as well as a Wii port subtitled The Quartz Zone Massacre with controls similar to Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition.
I managed to score a copy of the Wii version to test the controls, and I’m sad to report that while the developers did an admirable job in bringing the game to the system, you’re best sticking with one of the versions that plays with a traditional controller. Aiming and shooting feel pretty good as you’re more or less just pointing at what you want to hit and there’s a lock-on mechanic to focus your attacks on a specific enemy, but other motion control issues hamper the experience. To zoom in with the sniper scope, you have to twist your wrist and this always leads to your targeting being widely throw off. The worst is how the grenades are handled as you have to hold the nunchuk a very particular way to put yourself into grenade mode and this never works in practise, let alone when you’re under heavy fire. I didn’t use grenades much or really at all in the Xbox version, but there are certain enemies that you absolutely need to rely on using your EMP grenades to get past, which is next to impossible in the Wii version. Another let down is that despite being able to plug a classic controller into the Wii remote, as well as being use a GameCube controller provided you’re not playing on a Wii U, neither of those options are supported so you’re stuck with the lackluster motion controls.
If I were to find any fault with Rogue Trooper it’s that the story is not really that original or entirely engaging. After the massacre where you get the chips of your friends, your goal is to hunt down a villain the game only refers to as The Traitor General, so nowhere near as memorable as Judge Death. That being said, the story is pretty typical of other shooters, and you won’t really mind how vanilla it is given how much fun the game is to play as a whole. The mechanics for throwing grenades are also pretty unintuitive compared to how good your guns control. They give you several different varieties, but the only one that serves any real purpose is the EMP grenade that you can use to disable enemies that show up in mech suits, and even they can be destroyed by your missile launcher later on.
If you’re a fan of cover based shooters, or really just shooters in general, Rogue Trooper is a game you need to have in your collection. This game has all the things you love about the best games in the genre, combined with some really interesting mechanics that help differentiate it from the Gears’ and Uncharted’s. Whether you’re a fan of the comic or not, Rogue Trooper is a forgotten gem that deserves more attention than what it got. Chances are you have at least two systems hooked up to your TV that can play it right now, so pick up a copy and give it a look.