Sometimes, doing what's right means breaking the rules. Nobody understands this better than the members of Renegade Ops, a four-person squad of drivers who use their heavily armed vehicles to battle the forces of evil when the world's superpowers fail to do so. In Renegade Ops, you do what needs to be done, meting out explosive justice to the armies of a terrorist named Inferno. Vehicular dual-stick shooters are nothing new, and the multiplayer options are affected by some unfortunate technical issues, but terrific controls and a rewarding leveling system ensure that driving around killing bad guys and blowing stuff to kingdom come has rarely felt better.
Some men just want to watch the world burn, and as his name suggests, Inferno is one such man. As Renegade Ops begins, Inferno has all but destroyed one of the world's largest cities, making him a villain you love to hate from the first moment. When the leaders of a global council lean toward negotiating with the madman rather than retaliating against him, the bold General Bryant tears off his insignias, storms out, and vows to put a stop to Inferno by any means necessary. His solution is the Renegade Ops team. The orders he barks over the radio make him a constant presence, and his gruff charisma makes him a welcome one. The tale here is a simple one of heroes fighting against impossible odds to defeat absolute evil, and though you see its few plot twists coming from miles away, the comic book presentation and larger-than-life heroes and villains make it cheesy fun.
Before you can take the fight to Inferno, you must choose which Renegade Ops vehicle you want to drive. Each one has its own special ability: Armand's vehicle has a shield; Diz's vanlike ride has an EMP; Roxy's buggy can call in an air strike; and Gunnar's 4x4, appropriately enough, has a heavy gun. The vehicles of Renegade Ops are all capable, but they're not created equal. Roxy's air strike is the most useful and satisfying of all the powers. Diz's EMP temporarily disables enemy weapons, making it particularly useful as a support power in multiplayer games. Armand's shield can be leveled up so that it eventually reflects projectiles back at the enemy and lets you destroy small enemy vehicles by ramming them, but in the early going, its lack of offensive application makes it a less enjoyable option. Gunnar's heavy gun is devastating, but it's also tricky to use effectively because you can't move and fire it at the same time, and sitting still often means signing your own death warrant.
Regardless of which vehicle you choose, speeding along the atmospheric South American trails, misty mountain pathways, and other roads your adventure takes you to is a joy. The sense of momentum in the vehicles as you travel on and off-road feels just right, and it's a kick to hit the turbo and go skidding around turns as you leave a trail of dust in your wake. Though the camera floats some distance above the action, the visuals enhance the sense of traversing rugged terrain as you see your vehicle bounce believably with every bump in the road, and the removed perspective allows for an impressive sense of scale. At one point, for instance, you drive on a bridge over a river, and Inferno's ship sailing below is hundreds of times larger than your tiny vehicle.
In addition to their special abilities, the vehicles all come equipped with machine guns, which you fire with the right stick. You can also pick up secondary weapons, including rocket launchers, flamethrowers, and rail guns. This ordnance comes in handy because Inferno has a seemingly endless supply of goons to man his seemingly endless supply of vehicles: buggies, trucks, tanks, helicopters, and more. Battling Inferno's army is a blast; your vehicle can withstand some damage, but you're far from invincible, so you need to stay on the move, evading enemy fire and scrambling to snag health pick-ups. As you destroy enemies in rapid succession, you build up a score multiplier, and because your score doubles as earned experience points that periodically level up your vehicle, there's a real incentive to wipe out as many of Inferno's henchmen as possible as quickly as possible. Not that you need more incentive; seeing Inferno's forces explode is its own reward.
Leveling up earns you points you can spend to upgrade your vehicle. These upgrades include defensive improvements like health increases and extra lives; secondary weapon enhancements like increased magazine size; and special ability enhancements, like making Diz's EMP do some damage or reducing the cooldown on Roxy's air strike. Although you can eventually unlock a total of 18 upgrades for each vehicle, you can only have a few equipped at any one time. As a result, you have to decide before each mission if you want to customize your ride for offensive power, durability, or some combination thereof. And on some of the tougher later missions, your choices can mean the difference between success and failure.
Missions keep the pressure on by giving you primary and secondary objectives to complete, as well as giving you a limited time to finish the primary goals. The levels are vast and you can move around them freely, and speeding across the map to destroy an enemy tank while the clock ticks down is a thrill. But as satisfying as it is to lay waste to Inferno's forces, the lack of variety during the course of the game's nine missions becomes a bit of a drag. The situations change--you drive alongside a speeding train on one mission and infiltrate a dangerous enemy compound in another--but the gameplay doesn't evolve much or hold many surprises. The end of the first level, in which you take control of a helicopter, suggests that Renegade Ops might periodically change things up on you, but unfortunately, it doesn't deliver on this potential.
Still, the action is terrific, and it's better when you share it with friends. Two-player split-screen works fine but severely limits your view of the surrounding area. The better option is to hop online and tackle these missions with up to three other players, which is immensely enjoyable, but technical issues sometimes mar the experience. You might have to make several attempts to join a friend's game, and the action is sometimes interrupted by gameplay hitches and buzzing noises. The gameplay is exciting enough to make putting up with these issues worthwhile, but they are a distraction.
The nine missions take about five hours to complete, but with four characters to level up and a hardcore difficulty level that increases the challenge and the scoring opportunities significantly, there are plenty of reasons to return to these exotic locales. Leaderboards encourage you to strive for high scores, and in a nice touch, if you beat a friend's score in the middle of a mission, you're informed of your victory with a message along the bottom of the screen. But it's the tight controls, the joy of movement, and the satisfaction of seeing stuff blow up real good that make Renegade Ops great. Someone's got to step up and defeat the forces of Inferno, and you won't regret being the one to do it.