Crispy Gamer

Rogue Warrior (Xbox 360)

Rogue Warrior is an action game based upon the real-life exploits of bad-ass Navy SEAL, author and action-hero inspiration Richard Marcinko. In-game, the soldier is voiced by Mickey Rourke. He shoots many, many people and says "f***" a lot. Here's a bit of info on Marcinko, culled from the instruction manual:

Commanding Red Cell, [Marcinko] was directed to use his team to test the Navy's anti-terrorist capabilities. As a result, he was able to infiltrate seemingly impenetrable, highly secured bases, nuclear submarines, ships and other "secure areas," including the Presidential plane Air Force One. In doing so he reportedly embarrassed several superior officers, whom he accuses of involvement in his subsequent conviction for misappropriation of funds and resources under his command.

Wow, what an awesome premise for a videogame! That, however, is not the premise for Rogue Warrior.

Rogue Warrior
The real Marcinko, and the game's version. Hey, it got the look right, at least.

In 2006, Zombie Interactive was developing the game as a squad shooter in which players could seamlessly drop in and out of games. Much like Left 4 Dead's online campaigns, you'd just pop into the role of whichever squad member was open at the time and get right to the game.

That's also a good premise for a game based on Marcinko's exploits, but it is not the premise of Rogue Warrior. Bethesda was unhappy with Zombie's progress. The developer was fired, and Rebellion Developments started over more or less from scratch. All that remain of the squad shooter are two compadres who are offed in the game's opening moments.

What Rebellion came up with is being touted as a "personality shooter," which is apparently positive game-industry jargon for "low-rent Splinter Cell clone." This version of Dick Marcinko is like an angrier, more vocal Sam Fisher, albeit with a significantly restrained weapon loadout and skill set. This is the made-up Marcinko that has been the star of dozens of adventure novels. Nothing wrong with that, but the character has been done to death in gaming.

From a gameplay perspective, Rogue Warrior offers very little. It's a corridor shooter with some slightly open environments and a few destructible elements. Run right up to an enemy and you can tap a button to perform an instant close kill. Some of these are contextual; close-kill a dude near a railing, for instance, and you'll throw him over the rail.

Rogue Warrior
Think of Marcinko, there, as the game, and the poor guard as you.

But the kills repeat frequently (there are a couple dozen) and often show up in the wrong context. Would a SEAL really stop to perform a complex knife kill when three nearby guys are firing on him? Doubt it, but this Marcinko does. Good thing he's invincible while in insta-kill mode.

Beyond that, it's basically shoot, shoot, duck, use some night vision, sneak up on a guy, shoot some more. Stealth is always a theoretical option, but rarely becomes a huge part of the game. Though the enemy artificial intelligence is about as smart as a developmentally challenged fourth grader, these guys can hear you a mile away and see even your slightest movement, often in total darkness. The stealth is entertaining to use, but is generally unreliable. Everything boils down to a firefight.

Marcinko is an established champion killer, so you won't earn any new skills as the game progresses. You won't run across any bosses or find crazy new weapons. There are no side quests, alternate routes, secondary objectives, secret items or Easter eggs. Depending on your point of view, Rogue Warrior is either as focused as a laser or as simple-minded as a puppy.

The whole endeavor feels like it was rushed. The game engine performs fine, but the level design is rote and there's a real lack of variety in the art. Though you travel from North Korea to the USSR and visit a few different environments, it all looks and feels the same. The small, convincing details aren't there.

Rogue Warrior
Blood is actually something you'll see very little of. There's a lot of crunching and gurgling, not much gore.

A lack of polish is apparent. Close kills don't always work if you're crouched. Zoom in with a sniper scope in the snow, and you'll see that the scope simply amplifies everything. Thus giant bitmap snowflakes fall in front of the lens. Aren't no two snowflakes alike? Not here.

The charm, if you can call it that, is that playing Rogue Warrior is like being on Xbox Live with Mickey Rourke. (Or like riding in a car with me while driving in Atlanta traffic.) His dialogue consists primarily of gems like "goddamn c**kbreath commie motherf***ers!" Colorful stuff. I haven't heard a game character talk about balls this much since I played Top Spin. Usually I'm the one saying "get dead, f***bag!" It's nice to have the game taking care of that for me.

There's a multiplayer component that works well enough, though I wasn't able to test it extensively over Xbox Live. (There was almost no one playing in the pre-release window; I don't expect that to change much after release.) But the basic game mechanics are so, well, basic, that the multiplayer doesn't really come alive anyway. Quick kills are fun in multi, and you can vault over stuff (which you can't do in the solo game; go figure), but otherwise it's basically the solo game with better opponents.

The best enjoyment I got out of Rebellion's effort came as the credits rolled, playing a song with Rourke's curses assembled into crude lyrics. It'll only take you five or six hours of play to get the same reward, and this may be the easiest set of Achievement points you can earn since the last Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. This is the point where you should be thinking: The legacy of a famous Navy SEAL is reduced to this?

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 game provided by the publisher.