It's amazing when you sit down with a game that you had the lowest of expectations for, only to find an incredibly well put together experience. It certainly doesn't happen that often, but Rogue Trooper from Eidos and Rebellion is one of the most impressive third-person shooters in recent memory. Based on the comic of the same name, Rogue Trooper is far from the average run and gun shooter, with players able to tackle levels in a variety of ways, using stealth or more gung-ho tactics.
Set on Nu Earth, a land torn apart by war as the Norts and Southers battle for control, you play as one of the Southers' Genetic Infantrymen (G.I.s). These laboratory-created, blue super soldiers give the Southers an upper hand in the war, but a G.I. General betrays the squad during a mission in the Quartz Zone. The entire G.I. battalion is wiped out - all except one. As the 'Rogue Trooper' you set off to bring the traitor to justice.
If you're worried about not being able to follow the story because it's based on a comic, you needn't be. The story is told without any prior knowledge being necessary, and while the narrative is strong, it's not the focus of the game. Rogue Trooper is the star, along with his buddies. You see, while the bodies of his comrades were killed, their minds lived on inside bio-chips. Rather bizarrely these chips can be placed inside equipment, so Gunnar is placed on the gun, Helm on your helmet and Bagman on your rucksack. This effectively gives you a four-man team in one soldier, and lets you do a little more than your lone-soldier status would suggest.
Each of your bio-chip buddies can be used in various ways, with Gunnar coming in handy as a deployable gun-turret and a stabilised sniper rifle, Helm is a dab hand at hacking computer terminals (despite simply being a helmet), and Bagman uses scrap (gathered from fallen enemies) to make new ammo, weapons and upgrades. This isn't all of it though, as you'll also get a handy holograph ability, some really cool mines and plenty of weapons. The opening levels introduce various new abilities, but by the time you're half way through the campaign, battle tactics are literally bursting from Bagman's rucksack.
Each level and set-piece really can be tackled in a number of ways, and it probably won't be until you've finished the game for the first time that you realise how you could have done things differently. With all the tools you have at your disposal it's worth taking a moment to assess the situation at hand. While you could charge in guns blazing and grenades flying all over the place, you could also send the holographic you out to the side to catch the eye of the enemies, while you sneak round the left, and stealth kill a number of them from behind. Or you could use another combination of tools to play the section in an entirely different way.
The game literally begs you to play through it again. Although the final confrontation goes overboard slightly in terms of being outnumbered, it really makes you think about what you're doing. It's pretty easy to focus on a couple of tactics for most of the game (at least on the standard difficulty setting), but to bring down the traitor in the big finale you absolutely must play like there's more than one of you on the team. Whether it's the handy mine drop as you're running or the deployable gun turret, by the end of the game you'll want to go back through (on the new Massacre difficulty level no less) and show the Norts who's boss.
While it's cliché to say it, the AI seen in Rogue Trooper really is the best I've seen in some time. Whether it's better than the AI in Halo 2 or F.E.A.R. is open to debate, but it works great. Enemies don't fall for the same stupid traps that they do in most shooters and they'll actively take cover and work as a team to take you down from your concealed position. Even on the lowest difficulty setting they put up a decent fight, and there's a nice variety of troop types that each have their own attacks.
Having expected very little from the game, it's amazing how many small touches Rebellion have included that raise the quality that bit higher: the animations each time you change your weapon or add a silencer to your gun are brilliant; the nicely explosive gas cylinders that enemies carry on their backs are perfect sniping targets; and throwing grenades while remaining in cover comes in handy on many occasions. The list could go on and on. If appearances are ever likely to deceive you, it'll be with Rogue Trooper. It's a far more intelligent and well designed game than many people will give it credit for.
For a multiplatform title Rogue Trooper impresses technically too. Environments are surprisingly large and levels are diverse, while retaining the feeling of being part of the same Nu Earth location. While PC and Xbox owners will have seen similar large environments before, the PlayStation 2 version really stands out as something rather more unique. It suffers from a bit of slowdown now and again, but only when bodies are rag dolling all over the place and explosions are filling the screen, so it's nothing to be concerned about. Add in 60Hz and widescreen support and you have a great package.
Your experience is bolstered by a strong musical score throughout, and some solid voice work. Some lines come off as a little cheesy, but the frequent comments from your buddies are all excellent, and weapon effects fit nicely with the strong arsenal that doesn't feature a weak link.
There's plenty of longevity to be gained from replaying through the main campaign, but multiplayer support over LAN or the internet is also available in all three versions, and for a change there's also an option to play against bots. Split-screen multiplayer is also an option in the console versions of the game. The action takes place over a number of large maps and the tactical gameplay translates well to the multiplayer arena, but given the game's less than spectacular early sales, finding opponents online isn't easy.
I don't think I've ever been as surprised as I was with Rogue Trooper. Whether it was down to my general lack of love for comic book inspired video games or the strangeness of the blue lead character, I don't know, but I'm so glad I gave the game a chance. The team at Rebellion have crafted a tactical combat game that hits the target so often, slight wavering now and again can easily be overlooked. It would be easy to dismiss Rogue Trooper as the game where you play as a blue man with a talking gun, helmet and rucksack, but that blue man is one of the greatest video game action heroes.