Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rogue Warrior: Making Other Games Shine

Rogue Warrior is easily my worst game of 2009, which is probably why I had so much fun writing this review. Originally published on Bitmob.

Rogue Warrior

Warning: This article is rated R – Restricted for language and explicit badass-ness. Readers under 17 require an accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Upon starting the single-player campaign in Rogue Warrior, three difficulty options greeted me: “If you’re a pussy, select this one,” “Bring it on, motherfuckers,” and “Think you’re fucking special, huh?” I chuckled at each of the statements. My girlfriend, who was sitting next to me, summed up her feelings with one word: lame. But she thinks every game that isn’t Team Fortress 2 is lame, so I decided to roll with the situation.

So what if the difficulty levels are kind of cheesy? The game hasn’t even started yet. Let’s see where this goes.

The opening credits began with a Dick Marcinko monologue voiced by the unmistakable and gravelly Mickey Rourke. “A spec warrior, one who gives a fuck. That’s me.”

My own inner monologue continued: Sounds pretty badass.

“Whether I’m prowling and growling, or going full fucking Faulkner with lots of sound and fury, you count on this: I get the job done.”

A reference to The Sound and the Fury, huh? So, he’s badass and clever.

“I’m running a skeleton crew. Minimum footprint, maximum impact. S.O.P. for assholes like me.”

Well, maybe not so clever. And I get it, you’re badass. You don’t have to call yourself an asshole.

“I trained these men up through the SEAL program. They’ve saved my ugly ass more than once.”

Further self-deprecation isn’t going to increase your badass rating.

“They’re dirtbags and hard motherfuckers.”

Wow, I get it. You’re badass, they’re badass. Well done.

Marcinko paused as one of his men lifted his middle finger to the camera.

Seriously?! So calling your fellow SEALs dirtbags and motherfuckers wasn’t already enough to establish your collective badass-ness. Now one of these hard motherfuckers has to stick his middle finger up at… me?

Fuck you

Lessons from a Violent Stealthy Shooter

I realized the ineptitude of Rogue Warrior’s script early on and at no point during my play-through was I convinced to reconsider my decision.

However, a game’s script typically has no bearing on its gameplay. I pressed on, hoping for more… but the game quickly and fully dashed my hopes for a decent experience.

First of all, there is a large number of weapons in the game. Unfortunately, they all feel exactly the same, with two exceptions: the shotgun – essentially a one hit kill weapon – and the sniper rifle – definitively a one hit kill weapon. The silenced pistol is just as effective at taking down an enemy as an AK-47, whereas the sniper rifle is so effective, it will instantly kill an enemy with only one bullet to the foot.

The absurdly predictable enemies further exaggerate some of the parallels between weapons. In ongoing auditions for a new Whac-A-Mole game, communist soldiers will hide behind cover, count to ten, pop their heads out to look around, return to cover for one second, pop back out and fire for five seconds, and then repeat the process. Over and over again.

I would definitely hand over the Whac-A-Mole roles to these communists if it weren’t for their tendency to always reveal a knee or an elbow while hiding behind cover. Shooting oneself in the head is an equally effective tactic when facing a sniper rifle-wielding Marcinko. The Locust Horde retains its mole-king status.

To be fair, communist soldiers only play the hide and peek game when they’re aware of Marcinko. When they’re not aware, Marcinko can run up behind an enemy, place a necklace of unpinned grenades on his shoulders, and run away with the enemy never realizing – even though Marcinko just performed the same action on five other nearby communists.

Marcinko doesn’t actually like to use grenades though. Instead, he’ll use his knife to stab enemies in the side of the neck, the back of the neck, the forehead, the back of the head, the back of the kneecap, the kidney, etc. There are over twenty kill moves that all accomplish the same thing.

Stab to the kidney

The Rogue Warrior developers even incorporated a cover system. Communists in the game are either hiding or completely unaware of Marcinko. Why is a cover system necessary? It’s not. Unlike well-developed cover systems in other games, Marcinko’s cover system is a downgrade from basic strafing and crouching.

To emphasize the poor gameplay, Rogue Warrior blankets its mechanics – from the weapons to the AI to the cover system – in a very dated aesthetic. With the exception of a Russian palace, every apartment building, factory, dock, and dam looks exactly the same. Each concrete wall and metal pole blends into the bland surroundings, resulting in a stale and rusted industrial environment.

Even when there is a drastic change in the aesthetics – as in the aforementioned Russian palace – it’s hard to appreciate the scenery due to the lack of detail. The sparseness of each environment conveys an extreme sterility, as if each location had been uninhabited for centuries prior to Marcinko’s arrival. Unfortunately, the game is set in the real world, in the 1980s.

Increasing the Badass Factor

Surprisingly, the gameplay and the graphics are both far from being Rogue Warrior’s worst aspect. That honor goes to the expletives Marcinko spews every few seconds. Colorful examples include:

“Drop dead motherfucker, you fucking amateurs.”

“I’ve got bullets for every one of those motherfuckers.”

“Fucking… fucking retard, dead piece of shit.”

“Better dead than red, assholes.” (My personal favorite and probably the only sentence Marcinko utters without adding a superfluous “fuck.”)

If I didn’t know that Rogue Warrior was based on Dick Marcinko’s equally explicit autobiography, I would’ve thought the game originated from a developer bet: How many times can Mickey Rourke say “fuck?”

How to Read

That’s not to say I’m against explicit language in videogames. I believe it has its place in the medium, along with sex, violence, and any other controversial subject matter. Duke Nukem’s creative trash talk still brings a smile to my face. “I’m gonna rip your head off and shit down your neck,” demonstrates a wonderfully poetic rhythm. Marcinko’s expletives demonstrate nothing more than elementary and overcompensating attempts at creating attitude. “Get dead, fuck bag,” is just not on the same level.

The Real Victim

I can’t help but feel like Rogue Warrior has victimized me, as if a thief broke into my house and stole my gaming PC – my only valuable possession, other than the refrigerator.

However, I’m not Rogue Warrior’s only victim. I’m not even its greatest victim – that would have to be the underpaid and overworked programmer or artist or level designer at Rebellion Developments.

This lowly developer entered the videogame industry not for the money, not for the fame, but simply for the love of videogames. This developer has an incredible amount of talent and some amazing ideas. Unfortunately, for whatever reason – be it the poor job market or social pressures – this developer had to work on Rogue Warrior. Superiors who demanded subpar work infected this developer to the point of eroding his or her integrity and self-worth. To you traumatized developer, I’m truly sorry.

Terrible, Terrible, Terrible

Between the shallow gameplay, dated graphics, extensive expletives, and traumatized development team, I believe I can describe this game in one simple statement: Rogue Warrior is terrible.

That’s right Rogue Warrior, you are a terrible game. I don’t think I’ve ever said that about a videogame before. I’ve certainly played many games over the years that I didn’t enjoy. But I’ve always appreciated some aspect of every game, even if it was just the shiny graphics or the poorly executed attempt at innovation.

I never thought I could justifiably use a single word to describe a game. After all, describing a game with only one adjective is no better than assigning a game one of those arbitrary numeric values that Metacritic perpetuates. However, with you, Rogue Warrior, “terrible” fits.

Almost all videogames at least try to be more than they are. Rogue Warrior, you never even thought about trying. I can find nothing redeeming about you. In fact, I really want to despise you for wasting my time and money, but I can’t. After all, what is good, without bad? How can we appreciate the groundbreaking titles without the fodder to compare them?

Boo

I suppose I did find something redeeming about you. Well done, Rogue Warrior… I guess. Can I still call you terrible? At the very least, I can agree with my girlfriend and call you lame.

Afterword

Two questions regarding Rogue Warrior’s development process continue to nag me. I can’t get them out of my head because I can’t find a rational answer for either of them.

First, why didn’t Marcinko provide his own voice for the videogame?

He was a Navy SEAL during Vietnam, he created the first dedicated counter-terrorism team, and he ultimately served time in federal prison for supposedly defrauding the government. He’s the closest thing to a real-life Rambo!

He even hosts his own talk show – America on Watch – so he should know how to speak into a microphone.

And it’s not like he needed a strong acting pedigree. In-game Marcinko’s range of emotions spanned from angry-and-cursing to slightly-angry-and-cursing. I’m sure real-life Marcinko has had experience with both ends of the spectrum.

“But,” you might interject, “if Mickey Rourke is readily available, why not use him?”

“Well,” I would counter, “maybe some of that Mickey Rourke money could have gone towards creating some decent gameplay.” It’s just something to think about.

Run Away

Second – and the more obvious question – why did Bethesda Softworks publish this game?

This is a game developer known for crafting some of the most visually stunning, atmospheric, story-driven, and generally innovative experiences. Morrowind, Oblivion, and Fallout 3 all number among my favorite role-playing games, and The Shivering Isles is one of the most imaginative places that I’ve ever visited.

Even though Bethesda’s forte is role-playing, the company must have at least an inkling of what goes into a good shooter, considering its parent – ZeniMax Media – recently purchased id Software.

This all makes Rogue Warrior all the more perplexing. Everyone at Bethesda must have known Rogue Warrior was terrible. Why not delay the release? Valve does it all the time and they still come out on top, despite the constant outcry from fans. Was money a factor? I can’t see how it would be considering Fallout 3’s success and ZeniMax’s aforementioned acquisition.

I just can’t fathom how such a principled developer could have played a part in, much less published, such a terrible gaming experience. I suppose I’ll have to limit myself to games that Bethesda Softworks has both published and developed, and ignore those it has only published.

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