A guns-blazing, machismo-oozing approach to shooting baddies ensures Rogue Trooper Redux bottles the inherent appeal of flexing your digital might. It’s also a setup most modern gamers are going to recognize.
Rogue Trooper Redux is a third-person cover-based shooter where you control a buff soldier who fights enemies that emerge through holes in the ground. It’s a setup that should sound eerily familiar to anyone who has played Gears of War, but this is far from a knockoff. The original Rogue Trooper predates Epic’s franchise by half a year, so the image of an imposing Marine hunkering behind waist-high walls comes from the brains of developer Rebellion. And because the geyser of Gears-inspired games has dried up so significantly in the last few years, Rogue Trooper Redux doesn’t feel like just another rehash. Everything old really does become new again.
As a re-release of an 11-year-old game, Rogue Trooper Redux packs the fun of a shooter from yesteryear. However, once that comforting blanket from the past falls off, the harsh light of modernity reveals a few cracks in Rogue’s armor.
The story here is a bleak one. There’s a poisoned planet, a perpetual war and a race of genetically engineered soldiers who are not allowed to die. That’s what happens when your personality is stored on a microchip and laboratories are busy churning out clone bodies. Despite the disturbing setup, Rogue Trooper Redux focuses on the power fantasy of mowing down a battalion of soldiers grossly unprepared for the raw strength of our blue-skinned, shirtless protagonist.
It’s a dumb game, which I mean in the most affectionate way possible. Enemies yelled out their locations, mishandled grenades and walked cluelessly into my sniper’s scope with the reckless abandon of a starving man not looking both ways before running to an ice cream truck. And in a way, ice cream is the perfect food to picture when you try to imagine what it’s like to play Rogue Trooper Redux: a treat that’s tasty in small doses but lacks any nutritional substance.
Rogue Trooper Redux is a tactical shooter in that there’s a choice in how you kill enemies. As you march through linear locales on a desolate planet, enemies pour out of subterranean vehicles or bumble around in crowded control rooms. I killed more than my fair share of respirator-wearing troops with my automatic, but there are so many more ways to shed blood. Laying down an assault rifle as a sentry gun and then flanking enemies with a pistol was a surefire way to score kills anytime alarm bells rang. Or I could equip a silencer and dispatch enemies like a stealth assassin if the mood struck me. There’s also a hologram to distract enemies. It’s like using the sentry gun — “I’m actually behind you!” — except more futuristic.
All these tactics are fun and effective. But for the vast majority of my 10-hour adventure, I just used my sniper rifle. Discretionary tactics required a level of forethought that was unnecessary considering the level of intelligence of my overmatched foes. Why waste time setting up an elaborate trap when I can exterminate anyone who wanders within my sight from the comfort of cover?
It’s unfortunate that Rogue Trooper Redux so rarely requires any fast thinking. There was one stretch where two mechs kept gunning me down and I couldn’t figure out how to progress; a sniper rifle is the least effective weapon against a machine-gun-toting robot, after all. But after banging my head against the wall for a dozen or so deaths, I realized there was an easy solution: scrambler grenades. I short-circuited both of my banes with one of these bad boys and exterminated the only enemies who gave me grief with a few quick shotgun blasts.
I kept pining for more scenarios like that to push me to think beyond my most rudimentary instincts. But level after level let me tear through baddies with the basic strategy of using my sniper rifle when far away and the shotgun up close, and ignoring my sticky grenades, beam rifle, mortar launcher and hologram abilities completely. I still enjoyed the campaign because I have a soft spot for brain-dead enemies and sniper rifles, but it was far from the most rewarding adventure. A few scenarios where I had to use my incendiary grenades or attract ability would have gone a long way toward diversifying the experience.
Maybe there’s a reason Rebellion avoided mixing things up. The normally sharp controls can’t hold up when the pressure is turned up. I eventually got six guns, and though I could switch instantly between the two I had most recently used, it took a whopping three seconds to switch to a new one. That was a mighty long time when enemies were rushing toward me unexpectedly and I was holding a rocket launcher instead of a shotgun.
Rogue Trooper Redux pauses when you switch through abilities, but inexplicably, weapon switching happens in real time. Couple that hiccup with the lack of a reload button, and I just had to scratch my head. Guns reload automatically (some when the clip is empty, and others when you stop firing), and I can’t tell you how many times I unconsciously tapped the square button waiting for a reload that never came.
The few times that Rogue Trooper Redux takes a detour are unfortunately the weakest moments of the campaign. Even though I craved some variety, being forced into on-rails vehicle sections meant cursing cheap enemy placement for the next half hour. The turrets on the train and chopper you ride in these segments are slow and unwieldy, so the best chance for success is to memorize where the enemies are, die a horrible and painful death, and then plow through those same foes after respawning at the checkpoint. Yes, I wanted variety, but there’s no doubt Rogue Trooper Redux is at its best during the methodical levels.
Another aspect that ties into the methodical combat the game excels at is the health system. Rogue Trooper Redux’s approach to health lies halfway between regenerating health and med packs. I could refill most of my life bar after a fight by hunkering down for a second while I caught my breath. But that was only a half measure. To get back to full strength, I needed a med pack, which costs currency that you salvage from dead soldiers. It’s dark hunting for dead bodies to rummage through, but it forced me to scour the environment rather than hiding behind cover all fight long.
That salvage can also be used to upgrade weapons and purchase new abilities. Normally, tinkering in menus during shooters feels like a slog to me, but Rogue Trooper Redux makes this fast and painless. There are a couple new upgrades per level that take just one click to purchase, and then you’re back on the battlefield, sniping and shotgunning until all that remains are the dead who challenged you. Enemies don’t drop extra ammo, grenades or med packs, either. Those are purchased through the same menu. Ideally, having to buy more sniper rounds should have forced me to use the beam rifle or mortar launcher occasionally, but there was so much extra salvage that I never ran out of credits to buy more rounds for my favorite weapon.
Once the end boss is vanquished, the game doles out silly options as a reward. I have to admit, I would have happily played through the entire campaign with low gravity ragdoll and extreme ragdoll if given the chance. Exaggerated physics fits right in with the goofy AI continually giving away its position by yelling for backup. The game also features one-off missions against waves of enemies if you’re itching for more action. These can be played cooperatively (though I sadly never found a Rogue mate) or by your lonesome, but aren’t as fun as the core missions. It’s more exciting to march through a stage than defend a small area because the controls are at their best during slow-paced confrontations.
Rogue Trooper Redux is a fun game, but after plowing through the campaign I’m left wondering why it exists. Why re-release a game that’s perfectly adequate but doesn’t do anything particularly noteworthy or special? What’s even more puzzling is that it ends on a cliffhanger. Considering there has never been a sequel, I would have rather have seen how Rogue’s next chapter played out than tread down a well-worn path once more.
Rogue Trooper Redux was reviewed using a final “retail” PlayStation 4 and Xbox One download codes provided by Rebellion Developments. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.