Rogue Ops Review

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Publisher: Kemco
Developer: Bits Studios

Platform: Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube
Reviewed on Xbox

On vacation with her husband and daughter, Nikki Connors sees them killed by a terrorist's car bomb. Seeking revenge, Connors, a former Green Beret, finds her way into the ranks of an elite counter-terrorist agency called Phoenix. While Connors is plenty capable as a combatant, her new agency tends to prefer she operate by stealth in her fight against terrorist group Omega 19. Sneak or shoot – just get the job done.

Rob de los Reyes

You keep expecting Nikki Connors' cell phone to ring with a call from a man who says nothing except "Josephine." It beggars belief to think Bits didn't have La Femme Nikita (the movies and TV series) in mind when it put Rogue Ops together. Oh sure, Connors has taken to her job with a little more zest and humor than the film Nikita, but you just can't load up this nubile super agent without summoning an image of Peta Wilson. No objections here. As developer Bits Studios seems to have discovered, a world so double-secret that it may only be navigated by women who rate an eleven on a scale of one to ten offers a fairly rich playground for high adventure.

Perhaps a little less polished and little less sophisticated in some ways than Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid, Rogue Ops nevertheless delivers a pretty good ride for those willing to suspend disbelief. Nikki's ability to jump with the authority of a rhesus monkey is a little silly, and AI enemies who plainly rode the short bus to Codetown are just a couple of examples of the kind of things that give Rogue Ops a more arcade-ish feel than Splinter Cell. But, if you let such things slip below your realism radar, you may find that, perhaps inadvertently, they end up serving the game as much or more than they hurt it.

Take the aforementioned AI. Although they do respond appropriately to noise, dead bodies, alarms and so forth, they're just not very good at their work. Their aim puts them in the Stormtrooper category of accuracy and they have a habit of hanging around in the open to reload guns while you shoot them at leisure. And yet this turns out not to be a terribly vexing problem. After all, for the most part, you'd like to avoid alerting the enemy anyway (in some missions, it's required). It feels like enough of a defeat to trip an alarm without adding the sledgehammer of a vicious AI response. And, given the difficulty of aiming a weapon with a gamepad, the AI's bumblings level the playing field a bit.

Where Rogue Ops stumbles less redeemably is in its occasionally opaque puzzle design, a problem amplified by the need sometimes to find tiny sets of pixels to trigger the context-sensitive pointer. In one early mission, for example, you find yourself in what appears to be a dead-end. Until you look up. Once you settle the pointer on the right area, you can shoot out a grappling hook and scale up to some beams. The trick is that, once you're at the beams, you have to find the right pixels to light up the "get off the rope and onto the ledge" action. And that little exercise turns out to be far more difficult than it ought. If you don't keep after it in the face of incredulity, you're likely to wander off thinking that you must not have found the correct solution after all.

Why Kill Brutally When You Can Kill Sexily?

Fortunately, there is frequently more than one path to a given a goal. If, in the end, you just need to run and gun through a section here or there, it can generally be done. Some missions impose a no-shooting rule or a no-alarm rule. The latter can be frustrating since the cones used to represent visual fields of your enemies (be they people or cameras) don't seem to be entirely accurate at the margins. This sort of trouble isn't enough to trip you up for long, but it does reflect a certain lack of refinement.

In spite of that, Rogue Ops is well-paced and does a good job mixing up leisurely problem solving with a need to scoot around quickly and quietly or just fight your way through a mess. You'll need to be conservative with your ammo, but again, thanks to sluggish enemies, you can afford to draw a bead for a good head shot. You'll also get a chance to use a handful of nifty gadgets, from the irritating-but-entertaining remote-controlled fly cam to the VISER headgear that lets you spot electronics and enemies behind walls.

And, whatever else, the aesthetics are plenty sharp even if not absolutely top-of-the-line. Not only is Nikki... vividly... rendered and smoothly animated, her stealth-kill moves are just plain cool. Cool enough that you'll find yourself looking for ways to get in close for them even when you're better off shooting your enemy from a distance. The scenery is also attractive and detailed and generally offers good variety. Perhaps just as important are the game sounds. There isn't much in the way of music (the better to keep you thinking about silence and stealth), and, as a result, you tend to pay more attention to such sounds as there are. Feet shuffling, furniture scraping, a "pfft" from a silenced pistol – given the focus they draw in an otherwise quiet game, they absolutely need to sound right, and they do.

In other words, what it sometimes lacks in sophistication, Rogue Ops makes up in its nose for fun. As in most stealth games, you'll find yourself doing a lot of backtracking to replay botched segments. But there are enough checkpoints (which really ought to be hard save points) in each of the lengthy missions that the backtracking itself isn't too burdensome. If you can get past some of the game's unintentional silliness and a stultifying puzzle here and there, you'll be rewarded with a fair visual spectacle and the satisfaction of conducting yourself as a too-cool, bad-ass operator. Cherchez la femme.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on December 10, 2003 8:20 PM.

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