Inferno is a high-flying graduate from the Dick Dastardly School of Villainy; a neer-do-well with no shortage of disreputable schemes up his sleeve, just a terminal problem when it comes to executing even one of them. Take the thundering war machine he cowers within, for example. It’s a colossal brute, armed to the teeth, but Inferno has taken one too many lessons from the Death Star engineering squad because it’s got more eye-catching weak spots than a Gears of War boss.
Yet this only helps cement Inferno as the loveable star of Renegade Ops; a game that takes its cues from the cheesy Saturday morning cartoons of yesteryear. Its story is camp good vs. evil claptrap in the best way possible; Inferno has hatched a plan to destroy the world’s major cities and in the hands of a villain with less braggadocio and more sagacity, the planet would likely be a cloud of roving space dust long before the opening cutscene rolls to a finish. But in true Dick Dastardly fashion Inferno leaves a backdoor open every time he implements another of his fiendish moves and that allows a band of soldiers known as the Renegades to intercede.
And they do this by causing one colossal and explosive ruckus.
Renegade Ops is a 21st century rendition of Desert Strike; a twin-stick shooter on wheels by way of Just Cause 2. It features the former game’s classic shoot ‘em up gameplay – although it’s notably more frantic here – and the latter’s lush jungles, bountiful supply of explosions and morally dubious undertones. It’s a glorious uniting and it even sticks you in a helicopter now and again for good measure.
You play as one of the Renegades. Each of these mute lion-hearts comes packaged with their own personal war-vehicle, upgrade tree and special ability. Vehicles are all breakneck jeep-like things with mounted machine guns jerry-rigged on top and the only distinction between them – looks aside – is a raft of unique powers. One guy has an additional gauss turret that can only be put to use when motionless while another car can emit a powerful EMP blast that temporarily disables nearby enemies. I didn’t find myself utilising the special weapons too frequently on account of the fact that I chose the guy with the gauss turret and there’s little more detrimental in Renegade Ops than easing off the accelerator.
Missions are as explosive and breathless as you’d probably expect coming from Avalanche. Though you’re entrusted with new objectives frequently (objectives that require you to either hurtle to a new location or make something kaboom), you’re often left to mop up a spate of secondary objectives interspersing the core timed missions. Levels stretch on and on and so you’re always rocketing from one side to the other in a desperate attempt to squeeze in one more ferry or a quick kill while the primary quest timer tick tick ticks. It’s this seesawing between objectives that keeps Renegade Ops from tiring.
Combat too, is pretty nifty. Initial skirmishes with infantry and light-armored buggies afford you the opportunity to grasp the gloriously instant twin-stick controls and weightless driving, but the tanks, homing missile turrets and helicopters that rock up later possess more gumption than those nursery-zone bullet piñatas. They all explode in a crisp shower of neon detritus, though, which is all part of the charm.
There’s a tickling irony to the whole ordeal too because while you’re rescuing precious museum artifacts, liberating prisoners of war and vying to save the world, you’re also transforming ancient monuments to rubble, plowing through the homes of those prisoners and leaving behind a trail of destruction Inferno himself would pause to admire. There’s an amusing Team America vibe to the shenanigans; things would almost undoubtedly be better had you never bothered showing up.
As was the case with Just Cause though, the Avalanche engine makes a spectacle out of all the noise and fireworks. It wiles you to revel in the destruction. Drive through an electric pylon and, besides damning another batch of natives to days without television or light, the wires spark and fray with a curious delight. Dirt plumes from your vehicle as it charges on, birds eject from the treetops as you roar past and houses crumble with a bizarre eagerness. Everything seems to want to explode and most of the fun is in making that happen.
To top things off, bubbling away beneath all the explosions and hammy villainy is the workings of a natty XP system tied to an extensive three-tiered skill tree that lets you improve armour and weapons between missions.
While not especially inventive, what Renegade Ops lacks in originality it makes up for by being a mighty fine twin-stick shooter that manages to capture in every explosion and last-ditch rescue all the glory of its revered inspiration.