Rogue Trooper is a third-person shooter based on the 2000AD comic of the same name. In case you don't follow British comic books, Rogue Trooper is a gritty sci-fi strip about a genetically engineered soldier named Rogue who fights in the perpetual war that wages on the planet of Nu Earth. It's an interesting premise, and the story translates well into a video game, allowing for some unique gameplay mechanics. Unfortunately, the standout features in the game are negated by a stunted single-player campaign, limited multiplayer, and a handful of annoying design flaws.
The story in the game of Rogue Trooper sticks close to the comic. You play the game as Rogue, a genetic infantryman, or GI. Rogue is a special kind of soldier cloned and bred to survive the harsh conditions on the planet of Nu Earth, where two powerful factions are locked in conflict. It seems that all of the chemical weapons used in the war have taken their toll on the planet, turning it into a barren, toxic, uninhabitable wasteland. Regular soldiers have to use respirators and wear special suits just to stay alive, but Rogue and his fellow blue-skinned infantrymen are immune to the toxins, making them perfect ground troops. Rogue works for the Southers, the more affable of the two factions. His mission is to eliminate the Norts, who are the oppressive and underhanded enemy of the Southers. Although Rogue technically works for the Southers, his allegiance is to himself and his three closest squadmates.
The game starts out by dropping Rogue and his fellow soldiers right into the heart of the war zone. As they go about killing the Norts and advancing their position, Rogue's squadmates get wasted one by one. The instant before death, each soldier's personality is encoded to a biochip that Rogue collects and installs into various slots on his equipment. Gunner is a weapons expert, so his chip goes in Rogue's gun and helps him out with new firing and targeting functions, and it can also be deployed as a sentry gun. Bagman is in charge of supplies, so his chip goes in Rogue's backpack. By collecting salvage from fallen enemies, allies, and machines on the battlefield, you can order Bagman to manufacture ammo, health packs, and weapon upgrades. Helm is a technology expert, and his chip gets installed into Rogue's helmet. Helm can hack computer systems, unlock doors, and power your radar system so you can see where your enemies are. Helm can also project a holographic image of you anywhere on the battlefield as a decoy to draw enemy fire.
The net effect of the four-characters-in-one design is a wide variety of options for dealing with the challenges you face on the battlefield. In any given battle you'll be sniping enemies, planting explosives, tossing grenades, using mounted weapons, setting mines…and purchasing ammo. That's right, you have to purchase all of your ammo through an inventory screen. It might not sound like a big deal, but when you're in the middle of an intense firefight trying to deal with snipers, dropships, bombers, ground troops, turrets, and mechs all at the same time, the last thing you want to do is pause the game and manage your inventory. It's nice to have the option to equip yourself on the fly as you see fit, but it's also a quick way to completely remove the fun and intensity of a great battle. Even if you try to strategically manage your supplies between battles, you can't carry much, so you'll invariably end up running out of ammo during the frequent and extended combat sequences in the game.
When you aren't managing your supplies, you're involved in the battles, which do a great job of blending tactical action with intense run-and-gun shooting. Most missions start you off at one point and just require you to fight your way through a linear environment, completing one objective after another. Since there's a whole army of Norts who want your head, you encounter opposition at each and every turn. Sometimes you'll be fighting dozens of enemies, and other times you'll be stealthily creeping through corridors to sneak up and stab your enemies in the neck. For the most part, though, the battles are all-out firefights, which have you running around or diving from cover to cover and occasionally popping out to pick off enemies. You can crouch behind any wall and toss grenades or just fire blindly to force your enemies to take cover.
But as much as you can play the game as a tactical shooter by methodically choosing your cover and planning your route across the battlefield, there's really no need to. Sometimes you'll be overpowered and you'll have to take cover, but in most situations you can just pick off enemies from afar with a sniper rifle, toss a couple of grenades, or just run in guns blazing and circle-strafe to avoid fire. On the normal difficulty setting you can absorb a lot of damage, while the enemies you face will go down in a couple of shots. So while the game isn't especially difficult, it can be quite gratifying to be a lone gunner mowing down an entire army of enemies.
There are also some nice rail-shooting missions in the single-player campaign. In one mission you're on a speeding train and you have to use a cannon to shoot down enemy aircraft, while simultaneously picking off ground troops who try to board the train. These missions are a good break from the run-and-gun action, and they actually manage to provide a decent challenge as well.
In fact, the entire game suffers from the opposite problem. The action is always on, which makes the game move quickly. But, unfortunately, it moves much too quickly and it's all over before you know it. You can complete the single-player campaign in less than five hours on the normal difficulty setting. By finishing the game you unlock an extra difficulty setting and a few cheat modes, but nothing that will make you really want to play the game again.
The multiplayer is also disappointing in Rogue Trooper. You can play offline co-op with one other player, or you can play online with up to three other players. The online play was relatively lag-free across all platforms, but finding someone to play against could take you awhile. In our experience, the Xbox version of the game had the most players online at any given time, but even then there were never more than three or four people online at once. There are only two modes of play in multiplayer: progressive and stronghold, both of which are played cooperatively. In progressive mode, you have to fight your way from one end of a map to the other before the time is up or before you run out of lives. In stronghold mode you simply have to defend an area or ally against wave after wave of enemies until time runs out. In both modes, you're awarded points at the end of each round based on how many kills you get and how many lives you have remaining. The multiplayer is also limited by the fact that there are only five different maps. The maps are plenty of fun, but with nobody to play against and such a limited list of gameplay options, the multiplayer ends up being pretty worthless.
All three versions of the game play pretty much the same save for the different control schemes. The PlayStation 2 controller is best suited to juggling several different actions, although control in all of the versions feels cumbersome. There are context-sensitive commands you can perform when you approach a wall or other object, but there are often several different commands to choose from. So rather than having a catch-all button for doing what you want to do, you have to approach an object and figure out which button is assigned to the action you want to perform. Switching weapons is also somewhat inconvenient on the consoles, because you have to use the D pad to scroll through a list of the weapons you have, and then press a button to confirm your selection. It's slightly easier on the PC, because each weapon is assigned to a number key on the keyboard. Also, as you might expect, aiming is more precise with a mouse than with the dual analog control scheme on the Xbox and PlayStation 2. Graphically, the three versions are comparable. The PC version does look a bit sharper if you turn up the resolution, but each version handles the copious amounts of explosions, bullets, and characters well. The graphics aren't especially impressive in any version of the game, but the character and level design are faithfully representative of the comic book license.
Rogue Trooper provides a unique and mostly enjoyable shooter experience regardless of which version you play. Unfortunately, the battle is over far too quickly, and the multiplayer isn't nearly enough to sustain interest in this game. The result is a game that is a short-lived and disappointing experience, even at its relatively cheap price.