The Mission Is Beyond Classified
Not all heroes wear capes. Some rush boldly into fiery infernos to save those trapped inside. Some stand by at hospitals to treat the weak and wounded. Some swear a lot, disobey direct military orders, flirt with starting all-out nuclear war, and subject their own countrymen to enhanced interrogation as part of “training exercises.” Some heroes are kind of assholes, aren’t they?
2009’s Rogue Warrior casts players in the role of one Richard Marcinko (or “Dick” for short): A special forces unit with a bloodlust and a blatant disregard for authority. He kills without remorse, barks at enemy combatants to “suck [his] hairy balls,” and generally comes across like kind of a monster, truth be told. Oh, and he’s based on an actual living person of the same name, who officially licensed his brand and likeness for use in this video game. Hey, as long as he’s happy with how he turned out!
On release, Rogue Warrior was accepted about as warmly as a knife to the gut. It’s earned itself a permanent spot on Wikipedia’s prestigious “List of video games notable for negative reception,” been slammed by just about every critic and commentator who’s ever reviewed it, and is seen as perhaps the biggest black mark in the publishing history of Bethesda Softworks. In other words, it’s a prime candidate for the Bad Game Hall of Fame, and today we will snoop ‘n’ poop our way through it to determine whether it is worthy of the distinction.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I generally try my best to avoid excessive swearing in my writing. Not for any “moral reason” or anything, mind you — it’s actually more a challenge to myself to try and clean up my filthy language a bit. But when it comes to talking about Rogue Warrior, cussing and cursing is kind of unavoidable. So, y’know; you’ve been warned.
I’m Paid for Results, Not Methods
Richard Marcinko is a truly terrifying man. He was the first commanding officer of the U.S. Navy’s Seal Team Six — the task force which would later receive recognition for the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Funny story: When Seal Team Six was initially founded, there were only actually two other Seal Teams then in effect, with Marcinko choosing to skip ahead to the number six in order to confuse Soviet intelligence. To this very day, the team is supposedly allotted “virtually unlimited resources” with which to complete their missions, and although they are largely shrouded in secrecy, they are at least known to be responsible for resolving a number of high-risk hostage extraction situations.
After relinquishing command of Seal Team Six, Marcinko later founded the infamous “Red Cell” — an organization purposed with testing the effectiveness of America’s own military and government installations. Of course, these were not “routine inspections” of facility security measures: They were full-on simulated terrorist attacks on our own property, complete with hostage-taking and hardcore interrogations. Operations would typically begin with Red Cell operatives breaking and entering into a guarded property, disabling all aspects of security, and ultimately result in Red Cell being in prime position to complete some nefarious objective that America’s enemies might very well attempt to accomplish in a real scenario.
In perhaps one of the most damning examples of Red Cell’s handiwork, they were able to plant [simulated] bombs on Air Force One without being detected. Best of all, they recorded video of all their operations, so they could rub the noses of incompetent high-ranking officials / security details in their own failures. However, one of several problems with Red Cell was that they played a little too rough with hapless government employees, going so far as to submit hostages to intense psychological and physical torture in the process of “testing their effectiveness.”
Finally, after years of having his own team’s effectiveness neutered by such pesky things as “regulations” and “safety protocols,” Marcinko was removed from command on the back of embezzlement charges. Naturally, Richard has denied these charges for years, claiming some conspiracy hatched by some of the same high-ranking officials he had embarrassed over the course of his operations. Ending his thirty year Navy career, Marcinko has continued to make his living recounting his life’s stories and involvement in military operations — as well as penning some fresh fictional stories as part of his Rogue Warrior series of novels.
Which brings us to 2006, where Bethesda Softworks saw themselves ready to announce an upcoming video game based on Marcinko’s “Rogue Warrior” license. To this end, they enlisted the services of developer Zombie Studios — then best-known for their Spec Ops series of military tactical shooters, as well as involvement with development of the military-sponsored America’s Army [as well as a handful of training modules for the US Army]. Tentatively titled Rogue Warrior: Black Razor and slated for a 2007 release, development was soon underway.
The original design concept for Rogue Warrior was an ambitious thing. Set in a present day North Korea, the game would’ve seen players control a squad lead by Richard “Demo Dick” Marcinko as you relieved the country of their nuclear launch capabilities. This campaign would have provided optional four-player cooperative play, presumably allowing each player to take the role of one of the squad’s individual members. This would’ve placed the game in something like direct competition with Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy-branded Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six franchises, which ruled the tactical shooter roost at the time. IGN were given the opportunity to sample a stage demo of the game at an event sponsored by Bethesda, which reporter Erik Brudvig described as “looking fairly impressive” and “free form” in its approach to level and combat design.
For competitive multiplayer, the game attempted something unique: Maps generated by a combination of terrains and structures picked by both teams, as well as randomly by the game. In concept, a map would consist of the two team’s zones on either end of the map, with layouts having been selected by / voted on by each team prior to the match. The game would randomly decide on a center zone that both teams would have to traverse on their way to infiltrate their opponent’s base and complete whatever objectives might be involved. This reportedly would’ve allowed for “up to 200 different maps,” on which a capacity of 24 players could compete against one another in various different game modes and configurations.
The game fell under something like radio silence for the next couple of years. 2007 came and went, and 2008 seemed to only see a brief mention from Richard Marcinko himself confirming that the game was still in development, and that there would be “a lot of blood and guts in there.” Despite having what seemed to be a pretty well-defined game plan – going so far as to have working names and descriptions written for each of the ten planned competitive multiplayer modes – progress being made on the game was apparently not up to Bethesda’s standards. So, as development rolled over into 2009, Bethesda announced that Zombie Studios would no longer be involved in development of the game, and suggested that the progress made on Black Razor would be scrapped in favor of a new direction by a new developer.
Meet Rebellion Developments. I suggest you get acquainted with them: This isn’t the last time we’ll be seeing them on this site. At a certain point, they were probably best known for their involvement with the Alien vs Predator first-person games franchise, beginning with the original 1994 release on the Atari Jaguar. Perhaps most relevantly, they had a hand in converting a couple of Rainbow Six titles for the Sony PlayStation, a handful of Delta Force games under their belt, and even being able to boast that they had developed games under the Medal of Honor and Call of Duty licenses… for the Game Boy Advance and PlayStation 2 respectively.
So, here’s the thing: Most of their releases up to this point seemed to settle at around mixed / average review scores, with exception given to their pair of hideously overrated Alien vs Predator games.** Earlier in 2009, Rebellion would be responsible for the release of Shellshock 2: Blood Trails — a first-person sequel to a 2004 third-person shooter set in Vietnam, but now with the added element of zombies for some reason? Whereas most of Rebellion’s games by this point seemed to have been middling at worst, Shellshock 2 can only be described as “aggressively bad,” averaging something like a 30% aggregate score when taking reviews of its releases across three different consoles (PC, PS3 and 360) into consideration. It’s a truly terrible game, and surely something worthy of future induction to this particular Hall of Fame.
While Rebellion perhaps couldn’t / can’t boast consistent critical acclaim, they do have several other bragging rights: By process of purchasing and acquiring the properties and talents of other developers (including Elixir Studios and Core Design), they have become the largest independent games development studio in Europe. They have the resources to churn out contracted games on short order, and likely do so on smaller budgets than other notable games-developing peers. Leaving themselves with nothing to show after nearly three years of holding the Rogue Warrior license, Bethesda likely looked to hand the game off to the cheapest / most efficient bidder. Rebellion Developments just so happened to be the ones to take up the call.
With the game finally in the hands of someone they could trust to complete it in timely fashion, Bethesda saw fit to grant the game one final bit of promotional production value: The role of Richard Marcinko would be played by actor Mickey Rourke, fresh off of his Academy Award nominated performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson in 2008’s The Wrestler. In a press release put out by Bethesda in collaboration with Blindlight LLC – an organization established to facilitate the involvement of Hollywood actors in video games – the game’s executive producer Todd Vaughn is quoted as saying “[Mickey Rourke] absolutely, one-hundred percent captures Marcinko’s raw and gritty personality” (We’ll examine what exactly this can be taken to mean in the final product). By late 2009, Bethesda were finally able to publish a “finished” Rogue Warrior video game.
** The only Alien vs Predator game actually worth a damn is Monolith Productions’ Alien versus Predator 2 released in 2001. Of course, not ones to be “upstaged,” Rebellion would take back hold of the license and offer it to Sega, in order to churn out 2010’s Aliens vs. Predator: A thoroughly joyless affair that seemed to put a nail in the coffin of the momentarily-promising games franchise.
A Spec Warrior — One Who Gives a Fuck
Rebellion’s version of Rogue Warrior is a completely different take from what Zombie Studios had originally envisioned. Walking back from the premise of a present-day North Korean nuclear crisis, Rebellion’s Rogue Warrior takes place in 1986 amidst Cold War tensions, across both North Korean territory and the then-Soviet Union. In an operation under the supervision of “a dip-dunk desk-jockey named Admiral Travis Peyton,” Demo Dick and a crew of two of his finest “dirtbags and hard motherfuckers” are tasked with dropping into North Korea and making contact with a mole with knowledge of a new missile program. Unfortunately for Dick’s crew, squad tactics aren’t a part of the game design document anymore, and the both of them are killed off almost immediately upon touching down on North Korean soil.
I wanna believe that this introduction – which takes the time to introduce players to these characters (insofar as having Richard explain who they are and the camera giving them both close-ups) – is meant to be a sort of wink and nod to the old Black Razor premise. Their unceremonious deaths almost seem to mirror Bethesda pulling the rug out from under Zombie Studios, but keeping the titular Rogue Warrior alive to carry out his mission. On the other hand, I don’t think Rebellion were clever enough to be that cheeky, and more saw this as a way to avoid having to program any sort of “squad AI” while also creating an excuse as for why Dick is going this mission alone.
Despite Marcinko calling Payton to inform him that the operation has become a “total goat fuck,” he still insists on completing his objective. From here, the game sees you destroying North Korean missile launchers, discovering a working relation with the Soviet Union, and uncovering the capability of the Russians to defend and retaliate against a U.S. nuclear strike. It falls on Dick to sabotage the Soviet Union, by destroying all of their ballistic missiles and more of their military property in the process. Can he stop the Soviets and keep the United States from entering a third World War? Judging from the fact that we haven’t seen WWIII break out [yet], we can pretty safely assume he accomplishes his mission.
This may come as a shock, but I don’t think the developers necessarily prioritized the story-telling in Rogue Warrior? Why, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say it’s all just a slapped-together excuse to justify first-person shooting some cockbreath commie motherfuckers! Those are Dick’s words, by the way; not mine. Steeped in Cold War paranoia and anti-Socialist sentiment, the game feels at times like a throwback to 50s McCarthyist propaganda, in much the same way that the Indiana Jones franchise is meant to be a throwback to 30s film serials with its cartoonish villains and morally absolute heroes. Now, I’m definitely not standing up for the oppressive regimes of the DPRK and CCCP here, but it sure feels weird in a 2009 video game to hear a protagonist shouting “Better dead than Red,” even if I reckon it’s era-appropriate enough for the setting.
Maybe you might chalk this up as just being a quirk of Demo Dick’s charming personality. There’s certainly no denying that Mickey Rourke’s performance as Marcinko is, uhh… powerful, to say the least. The choice to portray him as a loud, brash, bloodthirsty jerk colors every action he takes in the game’s narrative. And before you go feeling bad for the real Richard Marcinko, know that he personally signed off on many elements of the game design — including Rourke’s performance, presumably. As a matter of fact, following an event for the game attended by Bethesda’s vice president Pete Hines, Kotaku reported that “Marcinko isn’t just OK with the phrases, he loves them. ‘He curses way more than that in real life,’ Hines said.”
Another important aspect of Dick’s personality is the effort he puts into making sure his enemies die as painfully as possible, as illustrated by his repertoire of “brutal kill moves.” Promoted as one of the highlight features of the game, sneaking up on unsuspecting enemies and pressing the use button will trigger often overly-long animations where Dick draws out the deaths of his unfortunate foes. Again, if you’re thinking that maybe Mr. Marcinko might not have wanted to be depicted in this way: In a quote from Rebellion senior producer Sean Griffiths, he proudly reported that “Dick has seen these kill moves and whole-heartedly agrees with them.” And with a total of twenty-five kill moves included in the game, you can be sure that you’ll be seeing the same three or four of them repeat way too many times.
I feel the need to stress all this because Demo Dick honestly comes across as way more of a villain than any of the so-called “baddies” in the game. You never see the supposed bad guys relishing in their killings, actively plotting world domination, or making moves that would directly endanger civilians. The only real bit of motivation you’re given to let loose on the North Koreans is the fact that one of them kills your team with a grenade (after already being mortally wounded himself), and seeing that another has already executed your informant. The Russians get even less along the lines of demonization, with their missile defense system seeming like a completely justifiable installation in the event that the United States should ever fire first. Really, you can make the argument that the true antagonist here is the good ol’ US of A, sending in a known psychopath to kill thousands of hapless soldiers and potentially ignite a global conflict.
Of course, for some folk, none of this story or character motivation bullshit even matters. “Who gives a fuck who you’re shooting at or why?” Call of Duty doesn’t move units because folk feel connections to the cast of characters: It sells because the shooting can be satisfying and the action set pieces are cool. So, let’s get into it already! How the hell does Rogue Warrior actually play as a first-person shooter? Surprise surprise: It’s awful. And for a multitude of reasons, too!
First of all, the game is absolutely hideous to look at by seventh-gen console standards. I’m not usually one to complain too much about game visuals, so long as they don’t strain the eyes or confuse with bad color choices. But Rogue Warrior’s ugliness is too egregious to ignore. There’s a general flatness to everything due to a lack of shadows being cast by most objects and characters, with the game seeming to lack a dynamic lighting system. At the risk of coming across like I have some sort of console manufacturer bias here, the game looks more suited for the Nintendo Wii than either the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 — the two dedicated games consoles it was actually released for.
The engine also struggles with view distance and object pop-in as early as the first second of controllable gameplay, with trees materializing mere feet in front of you as you wade through murky-looking water. It’s certainly a sight to behold. Beneath all this bad tech though are muddy textures, low-poly object models, and underwhelming particle effects and physics. At least there’s a decent variety to the scenery between each of the ten levels, but all the stages are so bleak and miserable to look at (not in an aesthetically-motivated way) that it hardly matters. Perhaps if development had stuck with Unreal Engine 3 [as Zombie Studios intended for it] instead of moving to Rebellion’s proprietary Asura engine, it’d have looked a tad bit more presentable for a 2009 release.**
You may have noticed that I mentioned there are only ten levels in the game. Each of those levels runs about… let’s say, ten to fifteen minutes to play through? Add that all up, and you can expect to clock in a play time of just under two hours if you’re generally competent at FPS games. For comparison, the average player seems to take about six to seven hours to clear a Call of Duty campaign, and I’ve heard folk complain about how that’s too short. So, disregarding the multiplayer mode in the game for the time being (oh, believe you me; we will get to that), day one consumers could’ve expected about 120 minutes worth of content for their 60 dollars. Just wanted to establish that value proposition nice and early here.
I’ve spent long enough dancing around the subject of the actual gameplay. So, after hearing about how top-notch the rest of the production is, you may be surprised to hear that the shooting isn’t very satisfying at all! Guns fire with no recoil to compensate for and with generally close shot grouping, meaning that holding down the trigger on an LMG is generally going to be just as accurate as careful burst-firing with an SMG. In other words: Everything is a bit too accurate, meaning that there’s a clear advantage given to guns that can carry more bullets since there are no range or accuracy trade-offs to offset their effectiveness. In other other words: Most of the guns in the game are interchangeable with one another, except for the LMGs which you can hold the trigger down on for a bit longer and thereby do more damage. Not even the sniper rifles are particularly useful, seeing as they don’t seem to do that much more damage than an assault rifle, and locations are generally too small for the scope zoom-in to be useful.
Actually, there is one gun that is a cut above the rest: Your default starting pistol that you begin every stage with. Named the “SAP9,” it’s a completely silenced Beretta 92FS with an infinite ammo reserve, allowing you to rapidly dump magazines into enemies with nary a care in the world. Miss your first shot while attempting to stealthily kill an enemy from afar? No worries! Nobody will hear your bullet miss its mark, nor the sound of the next fourteen shots pouring into the back of their heads for that matter. There’s another pistol you can find laying about in one or two levels (a Tokarev TT-33) which also boasts infinite ammo, but lacks the suppressor found on the SAP9, therefore making it a completely useless weapon variant. On top of that, the game actually rewards you with an achievement for completing a stage using only the starting pistol, which only further incentivizes players to not bother with any other guns in the game.
One more reason to favor the pistol: It’s one of the only guns to not feature an absolutely ridiculous ironsight view that obstructs nearly half of the screen. You see, a good FPS ironsight view puts your eye directly up against the gun sight, giving you a centered sight picture where you can still get at least a slight sense for what’s going on around where you’re currently aiming. In Rogue Warrior, Dick seems to rest his nose directly on the butt ends of his guns so that the entire bottom half of the screen is completely obscured. As a result, you’ll probably find yourself tending to avoid the ironsights altogether and relying on the combination of hip-firing and on-screen crosshairs, which more than get the job done across all ranges.
As with many other modern FPS titles, Rogue Warrior features a regenerating health system that encourages taking cover during firefights. The game additionally allows players to snap to cover while switching to a third-person perspective, giving you a view of what’s ahead of you while you bunker down behind objects. Not a bad bit of design there, in concept. In execution, it’s yet another broken mechanic, complete with comically janky animations for Marcinko’s character model. More damning than that is the fact that blind-firing from behind cover opens you up to damage as much as if you were out of cover entirely, while also penalizing your aim to such a degree as to be completely worthless. It reads like Rebellion wanting to incorporate a feature popular in other games, but without understanding why the mechanic exists in those games in the first place.
Speaking of mechanics that don’t quite work as you might expect, “stealth” is completely busted as well, albeit in your favor in this instance. Regardless of whether you’re standing or crouching / running or walking, Dick’s movements are completely silent and will never tip off enemies to your presence so long as they have their backs to you. In effect, this renders most enemy encounters in the game completely trivial, as the baddies typically will have all of their backs to you when you enter a room unannounced, allowing you to easily pick them all off with either your kill moves or silenced pistol shots to the heads.
Funnily enough, those kill moves don’t even require you to be undetected in order for them to work, despite the fact that every animation implies you sneaking up on your victims. You can trigger them from any angle at any point in time – regardless of whether or not a dozen other enemies are firing at you – just so long as you’re close enough to do so… and if you’re not too close to a wall or piece of cover. Those have a nasty habit of breaking both the kill move function as well as the AI itself, leading to situations where you can spam the on-screen button prompt a hundred times as an enemy attempts to vibrate themselves out of bad collision detection.
Generally speaking, the AI in the game isn’t all too bright. Most of them are scripted to stand in place staring at walls while unalerted, and tend to run to the nearest cover when they are aware of your presence. It’s rare that you’ll have to deal with enemies trying to close the distance between you, and even when they do you can just drop a kill move on them and take care of them pretty much instantly. The only difference I can gather between the game’s three difficulty settings – which each have their own comically aggressive descriptors – is the amount of damage you can sustain before dying. That being said, the game is so forgiving with its checkpointing, the penalty for death is typically only a minute of catch-up at most. If you’re gonna play this game, you might as well just play it on the hardest difficulty, where it will likely still be a cakewalk.
Is this poorly-implemented combat at least in service of anything exciting or compelling? Not really. All levels are entirely linear affairs, where you may have to plant a couple of explosives or flip a few switches before the game allows you to progress further. That is the full extent of your gameplay variety right there. I hate to have to keep using it as my point of comparison, but stack this game up against the first Modern Warfare — a game which at least gave the illusion of variety by introducing segments such as the player-controlled AC-130 bombing run, or the heavily-scripted stealth sequences where you’re crawling directly next to enemy soldiers in tall grass, et cetera et cetera. Rogue Warrior doesn’t even make the effort to pretend it’s anything more than a bog standard FPS with no concern for flair or flourish.
There are maybe two or three sequences in the whole game I would define as “action set pieces,” where the game at least attempts to create the illusion of heightened stakes / imminent danger. Two of them have Dick working his way through burning buildings, where your brain might be tricked into believing that you need to progress through them quicker than usual lest you suffocate on smoke. Another one features a building exploding and falling apart around you, making your only means of escape to fast-rope down a series of platforms on the side of the building. But of course, aside from the fancy special effects, these moments are no different from any other in the standard gameplay: There’s no real added danger, there’s no ticking clock.
As such, the only truly memorable aspect of the whole campaign is Dick’s constant running banter and swearing. I lost track of how many F-bombs Marcinko was scripted to drop over the course of two hours, but I’m sure it was somewhere in the triple digits. And with such gems as “bring the noise bitch” and “looks like the douchebag convention is in town,” you can be sure that Dick’s swearing shtick will be basically the only thing in the game providing you any semblance of entertainment.
On some level, I think Rebellion themselves had to realize this too, or at the very least accept that Rourke swearing up a storm would be the most memorable aspect of the whole game. This is what I figure to be the reasoning behind the game’s infamous credits roll music, “Kickin Ass and Takin Names” — a three minute ode to vulgarity. It’s a hip-hop track featuring samples of Dick’s dialogue arranged in a way that almost rhymes, and it’s actually pretty funny in what is probably its intended way. The rest of the game’s soundtrack is decent as well: Fitting enough score for a dark and gloomy military shooter, if not particularly memorable. It plays behind generally weak sound design, composed of what is probably mostly stock effects… When they actually bother to accompany actions with sounds, that is. If Rogue Warrior were actually more of a stealth / tactical shooter, this would be a bit more egregious, but as it stands it’s just another lacking aspect in the presentation department.
So, with two hours sunk into an underwhelming single player campaign, what else is there to do with your copy of Rogue Warrior? Well, you may as well just toss the disc like a frisbee at that point, because the multiplayer mode has been dead since arrival. From what I can gather – unable to actually organize a match on my own – you have your pick of no frills deathmatch and team deathmatch with an eight player cap. In a bit of classic arena shooter fashion, weapons are scattered across the map for you to pick up, rather than providing a customizable loadout system along the lines of modern military shooters. Other than that and the ability to instantly take out opponents using kill moves, there’s pretty much nothing unique to either of these multiplayer modes.
Without actually knowing how Zombie’s version of the game was actually coming along / would’ve turned out in the end, it’s easy to wish we had somehow gotten that game instead. But even if development were truly as troubled as Bethesda made it out to be, there was still a fair bit of promise to the original concept for multiplayer. To be clear here, Rebellion at this stage of their company history was never gonna be able to do Zombie’s idea any justice: They simply didn’t have the experience or confidence for it, and I bet that if it were up to them they’d just have soon have skipped making a multiplayer mode for Rogue Warrior entirely. But Bethesda had marketed the Black Razor build largely on the back of its multiplayer, and probably felt obligated to deliver something on that front — even if it was something completely half-assed and unrelated to their original pitches.
Some folk like to accuse certain games of being “pushed out the door” or being soulless husks — titles developed without conviction or passion, but simply to fulfill contractual obligations and make a tidy profit. Usually, I’m pretty dismissive of these folk: I believe that most game developers do tend to be quite passionate about their projects, even in the case of bad ideas that are ultimately doomed to fail. The blame should more often fall on publishers, who set the deadlines and allocate the budgets and who are ultimately profit-motivated above all else. But in the case of Rogue Warrior, I can’t help but shake the feeling that the lack of effort was concomitant between both Bethesda Softworks and Rebellion Developments. I would wager all involved at Rebellion saw this project as exactly what it was: Cleaning up the mess of a more inspired developer, by rushing a product to pass that the publisher could put on store shelves — finally allowing them to close the book on a seemingly cursed licensed product.
Perhaps the most damning thing I can say about the game is that it completely squandered every little bit of potential or novelty it has at its disposal. The Cold War setting could’ve been used as the stage for a genuinely compelling and somewhat political thriller. Instead, it’s used for generic action movie shlock.*** Dick Marcinko’s character could’ve been played for self-awareness and comedy value — or, if the man himself forbade that, at least be given something resembling an arc / character development. Instead, he’s a swear-spouting sociopath who doesn’t go far enough in either direction to actually be compelling. A novel multiplayer mode is thrown away in favor of something entirely forgettable, a set-piece-driven single-player is cut incredibly short, and first-person shooting is rendered unsatisfying to the point of utter tedium.
This is usually the part of the article where I play armchair game dev and try to tell industry veterans “what they should’ve done differently.” But in the case of Rogue Warrior, my immediate suggestions involve scrapping the whole damn game and starting over again — which, of course, Bethesda had already effectively done once at this point, and likely weren’t eager to do again. So, as far as attempting to make the most of what they were left with… I dunno. Maybe de-emphasize the bad shooting mechanics by focusing more on stealth gameplay? Keep Marcinko’s squad alive at least a short while longer so their deaths mean something to the player? Wear Dick down over the course of the game so that come the conclusion, he’s exhausted and war-weary and you can see the toll the mission has taken on him? Do something to draw players into the game and connect them to the player character.
Look, I really didn’t want to hate Rogue Warrior: I wish that I could’ve found some enjoyment in it, or at least found some sort of comedy in it. But as a game so completely devoid of charm or even so much as a misguided effort, it all just falls flat. At roughly two hours in length, it is at least successful in not “overstaying its welcome,” but it’s also not a two hours worth wasting to begin with. In other words: It’s a total goat fuck.
** To be clear here: Engines don’t account for everything visual about a game, and there’s no such thing as an inherently “ugly” game engine. Most engines developed internally by studios / licensed out by the major engine developers are modifiable — able to be re-shaped and re-coded to better fit a specific game’s aesthetic or game feel. The key is how much time and effort the developer puts into tailoring an engine to best suit their game, and the quality of the art assets being used. All that being said: Unreal Engine 3 having so many features for post-processing and lighting effects in its development kit would’ve probably done a better job making Rebellion’s lackluster assets look more passable.
*** Not that there’s anything wrong with generic action movie shlock. Some of my favorite movies and games can be described as generic action movie shlock!
Minimum Footprint, Maximum Impact
Averaging the Metacritic aggregate scores across all three platforms, Rogue Warrior lands itself somewhere around a 28 out of 100. With so many aspects for critics to potentially lambast, most complaints seemed to land on either the outdated graphics or the underwhelming enemy AI as their primary points of contention. And of course, nearly every critic takes time to address the ridiculous level of profanity, with some pointing to it as one of the game’s only redeeming features. My personal favorite take comes courtesy of GameSpy’s review, which concludes with the following gem.
“In condemning this game, I can’t help but feel like an opportunistic hunter pouncing on the most pathetic zebra in the herd. But Rogue Warrior is a hobbled, wheezing creature stumbling around so far away from its peers that not going for the jugular could be seen as an act of cruelty.” ~ Rory Manion
The only sign of a seemingly positive press review I could find was on the back of the box itself: A quote from one Blast Magazine, who praises the title as the year’s “BEST MULTIPLATFORM GAME” and as being “FULL OF PURE ACTION.” Tracking this attribution to the source, I found the sole article written on the subject of Rogue Warrior on Blast Magazine’s website: An admitted “hands-off” preview of the game as seen [but not actually played] at E3 by writer John M. Guilfoil. He goes on to gush about how “the graphics and sounds are beautiful,” and makes the bold prediction that “[Rogue Warrior] will be a winner when it comes out in the fall for Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3.” I have a bold prediction of my own: The future of Blast Magazine is bright and promising, and after ten years of their website wallowing in relative obscurity, 2018 will finally be the year they turn their ship around.
My first exposure to the game wasn’t through any marketing or publication review: It was via Giant Bomb’s quick look video of the game, in which Jeff Gerstmann and Ryan Davis swore their way through a half hour of absolutely miserable gameplay and technical issues. It remains probably the most amusing content to come from the game, as well as providing an important note of historical insight: As early as the game’s release week, the online mode was already completely vacant. Apparently, nobody else knew the game had come out until Giant Bomb’s quick look either, and even that only served as a giant “stay away” sign for consumers.
Having had Rogue Warrior taken away from them, Zombie Studios found themselves seeking other contract work. They developed two game tie-ins to the Saw franchise of “torture porn” films, with the first being released in 2009. They also released two installments in an original IP; the Blacklight franchise of cyberpunk first-person shooters. The first in the series (Tango Down) was largely underwhelming outside of some fun co-op, but the sequel (Retribution) released under a free-to-play model was actually one of my favorite online games for a time!
Unfortunately, one of their other contract projects was commissioned by / named after Blackwater — the notoriously shady private military contractor. As if that wasn’t ill-advised enough, the game was designed to be played exclusively with the disastrous Kinect peripheral. The nail in their coffin though would come in 2014, with the failure of horror title Daylight on the PS4. Come January 2015, the studio finally met its end, bringing to an end with it an uneven history of developed games. This may not be the last we see of them on this website, however.
While Zombie may have been put to rest, Rebellion Developments continued to chug along, churning out lackluster game after lackluster game. The Sniper Elite series they are most well-known for now has been something of a boon for their reputation in recent years, but it comes only at the tail end of nearly two decades of misfires and duds. Rest assured, we will definitely be seeing more of their handiwork in the Bad Game Hall of Fame; between good game concepts they have executed poorly, and bad ideas they managed to somehow make even worse.
It’d be easy for me to lay the blame squarely on Rebellion for their incompetence, but honestly, that wouldn’t be particularly fair. There’s the very real possibility that Zombie Studios couldn’t help themselves from dropping the ball, and that the plug needed to be pulled by the publisher before further funds were squandered. For their part, Bethesda could’ve and perhaps should’ve put the project to rest after having given up on Zombie, rather than rush something this half-baked to market.
But perhaps the party most deserving of blame is the highest billed: Dick Marcinko himself. For it is his “vision” which apparently guided these doomed projects, and his fault that fate saw fit to give us a Rogue Warrior game in the first place. And to what end? The furtherfacation of his personal brand? A monument to his own ego? Hell, maybe this whole damn charade was another money-funneling scheme. Maybe one day, when the relevant documents are eventually declassified, we’ll learn the truth behind this sordid conspiracy.