Command & Conquer: Renegade Review

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Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Westwood Studios


Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 400 MHz, 16 MB RAM, 950 MB HD space, 4x CD ROM

Command & Conquer: Renegade is a first-person shooter game set in the world created in the Command & Conquer real-time strategy series. In single-player mode, the player takes on the role of Captain Nick "Havoc" Parker, a GDI (Global Defense Initiative) soldier and every inch the action movie hero. GDI's main enemy is a group known as the Brotherhood of Nod. Nod has for years been fomenting trouble around the world, destabilizing third world countries in an attempt to strengthen their own influence. Lately, a group of Nod elite soldiers known as the Black Hand has been leading the charge with a viciousness heretofore unseen in Nod operations. The Black Hand is rounding up civilians for some unknown, but obviously nefarious purpose. Your job is to find out what that purpose is and put a stop to it. On a completely unrelated note (hint, hint) it appears that the world's new super-mineral, Tiberium, has toxic, mutagenic effects on humans. Hmmm.

Renegade offers multiplayer gaming over the internet or a LAN. Multiplayer gameplay is called Command & Conquer mode, and pits team GDI against team Nod. The object is to destroy the enemy's base while simultaneously guarding your own. Just as in single-player mode, the player has access to a full array of team-appropriate weaponry and vehicles. Currently, only ground vehicles are available, but as of 2/28/02, Westwood says that it is beta testing the addition of aerial vehicles, as well.

Rating:
Rob de los Reyes


Command & Conquer: Renegade has a great deal to recommend it, and certain elements are executed as superbly as I have seen anywhere. The trouble comes largely in the frustrating last quarter of the single player game, which, but for the need to write to complete review, I might have skipped in order to spend more time with the multiplayer mode. The result is a game that is surely worthy of adorning your hard drive, but probably won't crowd out whatever your current game addiction is.

Renegade plays in essentially the same way all shooters do. The single player campaign consists of 12 missions, designed to be ever more difficult, interlaced with cinematics which help advance the plot. Havoc has access to a fairly expansive array of weaponry ranging from an automatic rifle to laser weapons to toxic tiberium weaponry. The level design and weapons are generally well-calibrated (pardon the pun) to make sure that each weapon in the arsenal has a place in the missions. Certain levels involve tight corridors and lots of bodies – a chance to work that flamethrower. Outdoor maps offer enough space and enough cover to give sniper fans some actions. By and large, however, your two best friends are a (ballistic) chaingun and, later in the game, a laser chaingun. These are the workhorses for the, shall we say, aiming impaired. The truth is, whether you're a crack shot or no, the bulk of game play involves charging into rooms guns blazing, so rapid fire is your friend. One bit of weaponry I would very much liked to have had is a grenade suitable for bouncing around corners. There is a grenade launcher in the game, but the grenades fire with all the force and range of a large spitball. I never could get the hang of it. The lack of opportunity to attack around corners when the level design almost demands it is more than a cosmetic concern. It is part of a larger problem providing "challenge" and "fun" at the same time.

The game box advertises the option of playing with stealth, but you have only one stealth-type weapon, your basic (and basically useless) pistol. Unless the marketing folks at EA consider quickly looking into a room before charging it "stealth," I never really encountered anything like a "stealth" scenario. In order to encourage stealth, you'd have to create an opportunity to avoid combat. No such opportunity is here. It's all frag, all the time. But, then, that may not be such a bad thing.

The integration of vehicles such as humm-vees and tanks is one of Renegade's treats. Vehicles are guided through the same simple interface as the rest of the game. This isn't a driving simulation; it's a chance to put on some heavy armor and shoot a really big gun. The experience is entertaining in itself, but also functions as another way to break up patterns, mix pacing and add the kind of diversity of play that is the hallmark of well-designed games. The vehicles are lovingly modeled in terms of both appearance and physics. The quick and bouncy humm-vees actually feel light compared to the tanks. Another example: the tanks slide backward a bit upon firing their guns. These are small points but – you can't say it too many times – it is detail that makes the experience immersive.

Houston, We Have a Problem


The missions are played in a fairly linear fashion, which may trouble some players, though not this one. I found plenty to do without wishing for the added confusion of not knowing where to go. Overall, the levels present an exciting mix of indoor, outdoor, confined and open spaces. You fight on beaches, in desert canyons, in a town, on a ship, in the (de rigueur) secret lab.... The environments are reactive in the sense that, for example, taking the time to destroy a helipad means fewer helicopter attacks thereafter. Killing a Nod Officer is often necessary to stop reinforcement troops from arriving. These are small but interesting problems that force a bit of strategic thinking onto the raw carnage.

The problem comes in the final quarter of the game when the level design buckles under the weight of its attempt to create an ever-escalating challenge. Trouble starts with your first (but, sadly, not last) "escort" mission. Escort missions involve guiding one or more friendly characters to safety. They may or may not be carrying weapons to aid in their own defense, but they tend to be pretty miserable marksmen. Worse, they can be injured by friendly fire. Escort missions proceed in roughly the following fashion. The character to protect runs off with you following. You get shot in the back, turn around and kill the shooter. When you turn back around, your ward has already run 50 yards ahead of you, rounded a corner and walked into an ambush. He or she dies and you restart. Now that you finally have some idea of where the character will be running, you run like the wind in the hope of getting to and clearing out the relevant waypoint ahead of your useless friend. Repeat at every chokepoint. Complicating matters is that just when you start to get these escort missions, the enemy's firepower starts to ratchet up. Since the quality of your armor never gets any better, eventually you become a one- or two-hit kill. Levels then devolve into walking down your appointed path, watching two enemies jump out from a hidden corner, kill you (or your protectee) with their first shot, then reloading your quicksave. Here's where I wanted that bouncing grenade I mentioned earlier. Even worse, fight sequences after cinematics generally mean your enemies get a free shot at you before you can move from the scripted position. It may be part of making the round difficult, but it mostly just feels contrived and unfair. And if you don't get a quicksave in between the end of a cinematic and being killed, you're doomed to repeat the movie, since there is no way to click past it.

All of which is not to pick on the cinematics, which are both well-conceived and well-executed. In fact, it was in part my desire to see the whole "movie" of the game that kept me playing to the end. The story is standard action fare, but good action fare. The script is filled with genuine humor and clever writing (including a nod to the play/movie A Few Good Men). Also, notwithstanding the fact that Sakura's breasts could serve as a personal flotation device for a crew of six, there are a number of non-trivial, strong and likeable female characters in the story. Charming male braggadocio is part and parcel of the action genre, but this story feels as though it were written by... adults. Moreover, some real thought seems to have been given to the "camera." Sometimes the camera is steady and, at others, is designed to mimic the effect of shooting with a single handheld camera, a la NYPD Blue. Last, but not least, the characters are almost uniformly well-acted. Even amidst the over-the-top action dialogue, Havoc (voiced by Wally Wingert) is vivid and varied. Sakura (Mari Weiss) oozes sex, intelligence and power. For a full appreciation of her efforts, flip on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show and watch the miserable performance usually turned in by the evil-but-stunningly-attractive enemy of the week. Rene Auberjonois adds star power--and his usual strong work--as the voice of Dr. Mobius. In fact, the whole cast is a pleasure to listen to. Use every cheat in the book if necessary to finish the game, but the movies are (probably) worth the effort of the later missions.

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?


Multiplayer gaming involves but one mode of game play, called Command & Conquer mode. Players are either team GDI or team Nod and assigned the task of destroying the enemy base while protecting their own. The bases consist of buildings that have actually game functions, such as producing vehicles or processing tiberium – the game's unit of currency. As a game unfolds, you earn credits both from the tiberium being processed and from shooting or repairing things. With this currency, you may purchase advanced weapon/character types and vehicles appropriate to your side. GDI has powerful weapons, but Nod has stealth technology. The currency element adds an engaging strategic component, forcing you to decide whether spend as you go or save up for your character of choice. There are perhaps half a dozen maps which may be selected in advance or set to be selected randomly from one match to the next. The team experience could be Renegade's strongest suit, and played in room with your buddies (or over voice chat), it may be. Absent voice communication, though, organizing a coordinated assault is a frustrating task – something that becomes painfully apparent when you face off against a team obviously communicating with their voices. The hot-keyed commands are helpful, but require you to take your hands off the movement and firing keys. I'm too old and slow to survive that trick.

Even with some unfulfilled promise, multiplayer Renegade is fast and exciting. It's also an opportunity to explore different combat roles, play to your strength or test out your weaknesses. Not all maps offer equal opportunity for all weapon types and strategies, but, then, that itself is part of the challenge of sustained play. The single-payer campaign is in no way a prerequisite to the multiplayer game, so hop in as soon as you feel comfortable with the basic controls. Renegade even offers an offline multiplayer practice mode to help you break you in.

Conclusion


Renegade is not as innovative as other titles in the genre, but, for the most part, is presented with a surprising polish for a first-outing in the FPS world. The attempts to crank up the difficulty in the later missions are a bit clumsy. Surely there are better ways to challenge players than by placing instant death in every blind alley (perhaps by making the enemy AI smarter instead of just more powerful). Even so, it's probably worth finding your way to the end just so you can see all the parts of the extremely well done game cinematics. The multiplayer game is addictive and more detailed strategically and tactically than you might expect. In addition, it is tantalizingly close to the feeling of organized battle, but just not quite there. For that, you still have real-time or turn-based strategy. In the meantime, jump in a tank and squish a friend. He'd do the same to you.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on March 10, 2002 6:32 PM.

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