Monday, April 27, 2009

Rogue Warrior Preview (Xbox 360)

The shadowy world of special military operations is well explored territory for video games. A ton of titles have centered around the highly trained commandoes and ninja-like warriors that execute operations that the public usually never even knows happened. It’s well-traveled ground.

But rarely do games focus on one specific real-life character. Rogue Warrior, from publisher Bethesda and developer Rebellion (probably best known for the Aliens vs. Predator games), centers around the exploits of one Richard Marcinko, a former Navy SEAL who has most definitely been there and done that.

Known as “Demo Dick” to his friends—and probably his enemies as well—Marcinko is a legendary figure in the special-forces community. Former Navy SEAL, security expert, soldier, assassin and all around bad-ass, Marcinko has written a number of books about his exploits, some of which are truthful, other ones that stretch it a bit. Whether the story told in Rogue Warrior is true or not doesn’t matter—the tactics and techniques employed definitely are.

In Demo Dick’s line of work, it’s all about getting in to a well-secured place undetected to complete a necessary job such as blowing up a bridge or taking out a high-value target. It follows that one big component of the gameplay in Rogue Warrior is, naturally, stealth. Splinter Cell this is not, but infiltrating a guarded military base doesn’t have to mean complex sneaking skills and tranq guns. Sometimes you gotta kill people.

One of the pillars of Rogue Warrior is its take-down system. When you’re in infiltrate mode, you can sneak up on enemy guards and perform incredibly brutal kill moves: Stab dudes in the throat, break their necks, slash their throats, stab them in the sac (ahem, if you know what I mean), grab their guns and shoot them in the face, toss them over a railing…there are 25 different kill animations to try and get grossed out by. I’m still trying to figure out how stabbing a guy directly in the forehead works exactly, but according to Demo Dick, who has worked directly with the developers on the game to maintain authenticity, he’s done that before.

With all that excitement in place, there is still a lot of standard shooter action as well. Ducking behind cover and engaging in some gunfire is a cornerstone of shooters—that’s why they call them “shooters” after all—and you’ll do a lot of it here. In the level demoed for us, Demo Dick’s character did a lot of shooting as he broke into a facility on the North Korean border of the Soviet Union to sabotage a train full of missiles making their way to Moscow.

That’s right, I said the Soviet Union. Rogue Warrior takes place in the ’80s when the U.S. and U.S.S.R were at the height of their Cold War with each other. The setting is reinforced by an awesomely cheesy soundtrack, as well as the voiceover work of Mr. Mickey Rourke as Demo Dick. He’s appropriately gruff and foul-mouthed for the role. “April fools, mother***ers” is my personal favorite line so far.

Right now, Rogue Warrior looks like your pretty standard shooter, but we still haven’t played the game for ourselves or seen any levels outside the one demoed. But the voice work of Rourke adds a fun dimension, and 16-player online multiplayer will be in the mix, too, so the final product could find a way to rise above the genre. If it doesn’t, I predict someone is getting stabbed in the cojones.

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