War is hell. But sometimes the view is spectacular. One of the most memorable things about Rogue Trooper first time round, on PS2 and Xbox in 2006, was its beautifully realised prog-rock skybox, a gorgeous, pulsing black hole haloed by sparkling particles that lazily waltzed in slow, chromatic eddies. The new Redux version again drops players directly into the action, firing you down into the toxic battlefields of Nu-Earth from low orbit in a screaming and fairly rickety-looking deployment pod. And again, it’s all too easy to stop and gaze up that awe-inspiring sky, ignoring the blood, muck, sizzling laser fire and whopping great quartz crystals all around you.
A decade on and the rest of the graphics have caught up with that view, mostly. With his striking, iris-free stare and He-Man musculature in deep, gorgeous blue, Rogue himself was always an impressive central character. His supporting cast – a motley collection of gas-masked grunts and preening generals, like a rubbery, slapstick spin on the grimdark Killzone franchise – has been upgraded to almost match their lead. This reupholstering of art assets cannot quite mask the slight shonkiness at the heart of Rogue Trooper’s chunky run-and-gunning – a studiously linear assault course of firefights, ambushes and unavoidable choke points that actually feels rather charming now – but Redux at least feels like a repackaging put together with lashings of love, like an unexpected Blu-ray re-release of a disreputable 1980s action movie.
The storytelling is similarly robust and streamlined. Lifted from the splatterpunk pages of 2000AD, Rogue Trooper takes place on Nu-Earth but, like a lot of sci-fi, is really set in the Allegory Dimension. The reason for the endless conflict between the comically evil Norts and the slightly more sympathetic but still pathologically self-interested Southers seems to have been lost in the mists of whatever horrible chemical haze has choked the entire planet. The plot plays out like a propulsive Commando comic resprayed with rayguns, a satirical and enjoyably lurid swipe at the futility of war so heightened that it seems entirely appropriate that the main antagonist channels the sinister cadences of Werner Herzog.
Nu-Earth has been so ravaged by war it is essentially an uninhabitable radioactive rock but Rogue Trooper Redux still boasts moments of beauty.
Against this rather panto backdrop, Rogue comes across as, literally, a straight shooter: a lab-grown Genetic Infantrymen bred only to fight but so courageous and righteous with it that he can seem like a bit of a square. In truth, there is no pressing need for him to throw out Nathan Drake-style quips because Rogue soon assembles his own wisecracking chorus. Gunnar, Bagman and Helm are three of his GI comrades, brutally cut down by sneaky Norts but granted a second life when Rogue plugs their personalities into his field equipment. This surprisingly gory process involves subcutaneous biochips and a big Bowie knife.
Some mechanics have been tweaked – Rogue now automatically moves to cover rather than requiring a button-press – but some eccentricities remain. Quickly toggling from your rifle to a pistol to keep up sustained fire is something now ingrained in many players by first-person shooters. Try it in Rogue Trooper – which at one point, the game actually suggests you to do – and your super-soldier crisply presents arms and secures his rifle before finally unholstering his sidearm, an extended process that would look great on the parade ground but can seem to take several hours while under heavy Nort fire.
Teamwork makes the dream work and Rogue Trooper’s gradually expanding arsenal of weapons and abilities is where the game still shines. The standout is Bagman, a sort of portable 3D printer backpack that, like the old stop-motion cartoon Bertha, can always turn the goods out. By reconstituting plentiful salvage into extra ammo, grenades and health packs at a very reasonable cost, Bagman makes Rogue enviably self-sufficient: squint and you can imagine him thriving in Metal Gear Solid 5’s vast sandbox. With a cute little extendable arm that pops out to swap gun attachments or inject an energy boost, Bagman even partially solves the age-old third-person problem of how to make constantly staring at your protagonist’s back vaguely interesting.
By putting access to unlimited health at your fingertips, Rogue Trooper should in theory encourage experimentation. Your stoic GI is a rudimentary sneaker with a limited but entertaining palette of stealth kill animations and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of mini-mines which can be dispensed behind you like lethal fairytale breadcrumbs or scattered forward in a dense arc of explosive volatility. Your multi-tasking rifle Gunnar has a hefty silencer, an exceptionally satisfying sniper mode and can even be posted as an automated sentry gun.
It took three years for the original Rogue Trooper to be ported to the Wii; a Switch version of Redux is shipping same-day.
There are other nifty gadgets too, including Helm’s ability to project a hologram decoy of Rogue, an involved process that is just a little too finicky to be fun. But once you fathom your blue GI’s impressive potential, it actually highlights the relative straightforwardness of his task, to track down the traitor who got his friends killed. Very rarely do you feel that any of your particularly clever use of weapons or equipment – plotting out a Spirograph of mini-mines then luring gormless Norts into your killing zone – has been appreciated. Thanks, in part, to the fact that you’ll never run out of ammo, it is possible to simply grit your teeth, trudge onward and tough out the various encounters with bellicose infantry, explosive drones and heavily-armed Hoppa gunships.
By the time you have unlocked all of Gunnar’s weapon attachments- including a surface-to-air missile launcher – you being to suspect that Rogue is rather overqualified for his task. Levels are generally compact, with only one route and a checklist of objectives required to get through them. Some create their own vivid atmosphere – like the graffitied concrete sprawl of Nu Paree or an eerie petrified forest infested with snipers – but the rest feel like pretty bog-standard sci-fi shooter boilerplate. A brace of on-rails shooting sections clearly intended as palate-cleansers feel inevitably rather quaint.
The additional Stronghold and Progressive modes, which can be tackled in single-player or frill-free online multiplayer, have also been revived from the original but these actually remove some of Rogue’s extra abilities, a winnowing that rinses out much of the fun. Stronghold tasks you with protecting an area from attacking waves of enemies while Progressive sends you on a suspiciously pointless safari through an enemy hot zone, and both feel like perhaps unintended reminders of the futility of war.
Approach Rogue Trooper with the right attitude – as a defiantly old-school, guns blazing blowout to burn through in one or two sittings – and there is plenty of enjoyment here, especially if you task yourself with being more of a devious saboteur than straight shooter. What you may come away with, though, is the distinct feeling that Rogue deserves better, and not just because he was grown in a test tube to be cannon fodder in someone else’s pointless war. Rogue Trooper Redux ends up making a strong case for a sequel that might belatedly allow this honourable soldier to be all he can be.