While the Tom Clancy brand dominates the genre of realistic military shooters, it's going to get some competition from a legendary Navy SEAL. Bethesda and Zombie Interactive are currently working on Rogue Warrior, a tactical shooter for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 that's based on the fiction novels of the same name by Richard Marcinko, a former Navy SEAL commander whose best-selling autobiography is also titled Rogue Warrior. However, the game won't be based on Marcinko's real-life exploits in the Vietnam War. Instead, the plot, which could almost be ripped from today's headlines, is set in modern-day North Korea.
In Rogue Warrior, you'll lead Marcinko's four-man SEAL team deep into enemy territory. The game's plot has you infiltrate a North Korean submarine facility to get intelligence data on that country's nuclear capabilities. However, while you're busy doing this, North Korea launches a massive invasion of South Korea, and war erupts. Since all friendly forces have their hands full, you'll have to find your own way out of North Korea, which means you must escape and navigate through enemy territory.
There are a couple of key things to note about the game. The first is that this isn't a rigidly scripted game, like so many other military shooters. The design team at Zombie felt that the "rails" approach favored in those games (so called because you're basically restricted to a single path) doesn't really capture the essence of SEAL combat. SEALs are the Navy's elite commando units, and they're usually dispatched in small teams to operate behind enemy lines. That means SEALs must be smart, resourceful, and flexible, and to capture this element of SEAL warfare Rogue Warrior will have fairly large levels for a first-person shooter. The idea is that you'll be able to approach tactical situations in the manner that you determine.
For instance, in the example that we were shown, Marcinko's SEAL team approached a North Korean ship-breaking yard (where ships are torn apart for their metal). In this situation, there were three paths that the team could follow, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. One path might be more direct, but it also increases the odds of detection, while a safer option might offer a more roundabout path that takes longer to navigate. The idea is that you can tailor your tactics to fit your situation. However, having this freedom of movement in such large levels doesn't mean that Rogue Warrior will be like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Bethesda's hugely popular fantasy role-playing game. Rogue Warrior's levels are big, but not gigantic. The levels are designed for tactical flexibility, not exploring a huge dynamic world.
During your adventures behind enemy lines, you'll encounter a wide variety of environments and foes. In the beginning, you'll battle North Korean conscripts, but as you progress closer and closer to the front lines of the battlefield, you'll encounter elite North Korean Special Forces, basically the equivalent of the SEAL team. North Korea has the largest Special Forces contingent in the world, too. These enemies promise to be intelligent. For instance, the bad guys will actually talk to each other on the radio, and that means if you neutralize a guard and his buddies start asking for him over the radio, you're in trouble because they're going to investigate why he disappeared.
The game is also going to be fairly flexible in how you play it. You can switch between first- or third-person views, depending on your preference. And you can also play the game as a team tactics game, where you give simple, context-sensitive commands to your teammates (for example, you can tell one to sneak up on a guard and knife him), or you can play it as more of a run-and-gun-style action game, where your teammates just follow you wherever you go. The really cool thing about the team mechanics is that the campaign supports cooperative gameplay, whereby other players can jump in and take over any of the other three slots in your team. And if anyone drops out, the AI will take over, so you don't miss a beat.
As cool as this new cooperative mode sounds, the new tiling system for the competitive multiplayer is even more interesting. The developers explained that one of the problems with online action games is that the levels never change. Rogue Warrior addresses this by separating the map into three sections that can be mixed and matched to create hundreds of different maps. Each side can select a map tile that it wants for its side of the map, while the middle tile is determined by the server. So if one side likes to snipe, it can choose a tile with long fields of fire for its section, but the other side can counter this by choosing a built-up tile for its section, thus negating the sniper's fields of fire. The middle section is a bit of the wild card, as the server can randomly select it. Put it together, and you never know quite how each map will play out.
Rogue Warrior is being built on the Unreal 3 engine, the same one being used for the upcoming Gears of War, so it goes without saying that the visuals, even at this early stage, look really sharp. The character modeling on the various SEAL team members is eerily good. However, this may be a game in which the audio outdoes the Unreal 3 graphics, as Marcinko and the other ex-Navy SEALs that he bases his characters on provide their own voices in the game. And if you've read any of his novels, you know that the man has a very "colorful" way with the English language. He talks like the seasoned sailor that he is--only this is a seasoned sailor with a master's degree. Listening to his descriptions of a tactical situation is humorous, crude, and enlightening at the same time.
Bethesda and Zombie hope that Rogue Warrior shakes up the military shooter genre. This is a genre that Zombie has plenty of experience with thanks to its Spec Ops games, but by teaming with Marcinko's popular franchise and infusing Rogue Warrior with tactical flexibility, we may be seeing the birth of a new kind of shooter. Rogue Warrior is scheduled to ship for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 next year.