|Platforms||:||Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube|
|Review by||:||Jeremy Pallant|
In Rogue Ops, you play Nikki Conners, a cute, petite blond who had the minor misfortune of having her husband and daughter killed in an explosion courtesy of a terrorist group with the unlikely name of Omega 19. Your average housewife would simply mourn, but Nikki is an ex-Green Beret, and so she joins a distinctly shadowy, ruthless, anti-terrorist group called Phoenix, presumably related to the notorious Operation Phoenix run by the CIA in Vietnam and Cambodia. After two years of intense training, she is unleashed upon those who murdered her family.
I really wanted to like this game [PS2 version reviewed here]. It has a lot going for it. Primarily it's all about stealth, restraint, and precision. Nikki's equipment is relatively limited, and her armament is austere with only limited ammunition. That's a refreshing change. I recently finished Max Payne 2, and was amused at the colossal weaponry he would accumulate by the end of a chapter. He shouldn't have been able to keep walking with that lot.
Nikki, on the other hand, might go in with a silenced pistol, a silenced sniper's rifle — both having very limited ammunition — and a handful of shuriken. You have to be precise with your shots, and just going in gung-ho doesn't work. Fortunately, the controls are sufficiently well-tuned to assist you in this. More ammunition can be scavenged from the bodies of those you kill, but you will rarely be comfortable with the amount you have. This was actually an enjoyable part of the game, and certainly added to its feel. As usual, there is an initial training mission to introduce you to the game, and to Nikki's capabilities.
There are several ways to take aim at the enemy. There's an aiming point as you move around that turns from red to green when it passes over an enemy. Secondly you can switch to a view mode that zooms in slightly for greater precision, but prevents you from moving. If equipped with a sniper rifle, you can zoom in on a target more closely. Finally, if equipped with a thrown weapon like a grenade, the trajectory is displayed.
Precision is important here, because hits are position sensitive. Shooting someone through the head will result in an instant kill, but body hits, especially if the target is wearing body armor, might require several shots, and with limited ammunition available, this is something you want to avoid as much as possible.
The AI is a cut above the average. Everyone's familiar with this phenomenon: you shoot a guard, and the guy standing next to him won't notice. That doesn't happen in Rogue Ops. Perform the same deed in this game, and the alarm will sound, and your enemies will start to actively look for you. Where the AI falls short is that, after a short time of your not being found, or you kill everyone engaged in the search, the alarm will be switched off. That's hardly realistic. Similarly, if you attract attention by, say, shooting out a searchlight, that's a pretty obvious indication someone's around, but the tactic described above works, and soon the heat will be off you.
Alarms will also sound if you're seen on a security camera, and that can have rather disconcerting consequences if there are turreted guns nearby, which will duly open up on you, and generally make life very unpleasant. This action will also alert nearby guards.
It seems odd to me that in a game primarily about stealth, it is impossible to avoid combat, and there's only ever one way to achieve your goal. One of the strengths of a game like Deus Ex: Invisible War is that there are many ways to meet mission requirements; Rogue Ops needed a feature like this. One the other hand, it does make you pay more attention to your environment, looking for that switch, ledge, or crawl space necessary to advance the game.
A prime weakness of the game is that it often devolves to a switch hunt, or a search for the right swipe card. This design became old with the original Doom; however, the means of acquiring the right swipe card, or finding the switch is a little more interesting. Swipe cards are most often found by the bodies of your kills, or by picking the pockets of the living. Switches are often hidden, and might need to be found by the infrared visor you are equipped with, which shows the extra heat given off by electrical circuitry and hidden enemies.
Graphically, Rogue Ops does not represent the best the PS2 is capable of. Textures are sometimes muddy and pixilated. In fact, I found myself wondering if the game hadn't originally been intended for the PSOne, and then changed in mid-development. The character models are surprisingly low in polygons, except for Nikki herself who has a few more. Mind you, you spend most of the game with a view of her shapely rear, so the extra detail was appreciated, although I did get tired of the skin-tight, midriff-baring outfit she favored. Not exactly what you would call practical.
The game fails to excel in its execution. While the missions themselves can be quite long with changing objectives, and the cut-scenes do a good job of outlining the plot, the lack of a proper save-game feature strongly detracts from the experience. The in-game menu certainly gives you the option, but it doesn't work as you might think. Each mission is divided into a series of objectives, and each objective met is indicated by a green flag on the screen. If you save at this point, should you die later, even if you make further saves, you will be returned to the checkpoint when you reload.
To add insult to injury, the in-game menu doesn't actually have a load option. Should you die, you get the option to resume from the last checkpoint, but if, for example, you decide you could have tackled that last section with less ammunition expenditure, you must exit to the main menu to reload the game. I found this to be very irritating, and is why I scored the game as I did. If a proper "save/load anywhere" feature had been implemented, I would have awarded another whole point.
Further frustrating the gameplay is the sheer length between opportunities to save. Being a stealth game, you spend a significant amount of time sneaking carefully from place to place, which takes time. On one occasion, I came as close as I ever have to throwing the controller on the ground, because after spending perhaps half an hour slowly and carefully making my way around, I made a mistake, got myself machine-gunned to death by remote turrets with no clue what I did wrong, and was then returned to where I had been a half-hour previously.
In summary, Rogue Ops isn't a bad game, and with a little more effort on behalf of the development team it could have been a better game. However, the deceptive save-game system, second-rate graphics, rigid mission structure and endless view of Nikki Conner's odd attire all contribute to making it something less than a competitor to Splinter Cell. If anyone's considering a purchase, I definitely recommend renting first.
This article is copyright (c) 2004, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Gamebits, 07-Jan-04