Review: Rogue Trooper: Quartz Zone Massacre (Wii)

Can a last generation port based upon a licensed property possibly be any good?

Rebellion and 2000 A.D. are both British veterans of their respective fields: video games and comics, and like Marmite and potato crisps, both go well together. Unlike Marmite crisps, however, Rogue Trooper: Quartz Zone Massacre is a winning combination in anyone's book.

If you've never read the comic the story is laid out as follows: Nu Earth is a human colony world in the future that has been wracked by unending war between the Norts and the Southers. The Southers have created the Genetic Infantrymen (GIs, get it?) - super soldiers that can fight without the cumbersome breathing apparatus required by normal human soldiers in the hell that Nu Earth has become, in the hopes of winning the unwinnable war. Thanks to the duplicity of a traitor general in the Souther ranks, the GIs are slaughtered during their first major offensive in the Quartz Zone.

You take on the role of Rogue, the last survivor of the GIs, who is attempting to seek revenge against the traitor responsible for the massacre of his fellow soldiers. He's not really alone, however, as the personalities and knowledge of his fellow GIs are encoded on computer chips that have been removed from their skulls and slotted into some of his equipment. Rogue and the personality chips from some of his colleagues make him a one-man army literally as well as figuratively, an interesting concept that makes the game stand out in the sci-fi themed action game market.

Rogue's colleagues are installed into three pieces of equipment: Helm is in Rogue's helmet and is used to hack doors or enemy computer systems and create distractions via holographic decoys; Gunnar is in Rogue's rifle and provides some targeting assistance as well as the ability to act as a sentry by putting the rifle on a tripod; and Bagman is in Rogue's backpack, and manufactures extra ammunition and new weapon mounts for his rifle from material scavenged from dead enemy troops and found on the battlefield.

The visuals are quite good and appear to be faithful to the comic, with nice use of colour and respectable polygon counts. Despite being a port of a PS2/Xbox game from several years ago it holds up well against current games developed specifically for the Wii, with good use of ragdoll physics and atmospheric lighting effects. Surround sound is well-implemented and your chip colleagues will chime in with amusing little comments or useful information, though this can be turned off if the banter is annoying you. The voice acting is top-notch and the cut scenes are a mix of in-game engine and pre-rendered footage that compares well with the rest of the game visuals. The presentation creates a rich and immersive world which will no doubt make you want to check out the collected Rogue Trooper comic strips if you aren't already a fan.

The basic controls work well: the pointer controls the gun and - in an improvement over Resident Evil 4's controls - the camera, with a user-configurable dead zone and vertical and horizontal sensitivity settings. Twisting the Remote in sniper mode controls the zoom which steps through a few levels of magnification nicely once you get used to it. The B button fires; the A button is used for contextual actions or diving for cover when moving, and C is used to crouch (this can be set as a toggle if desired) for avoiding fire and sneaking up on the enemy who can then be dispatched with a click of the A button. The + and - buttons bring up menus for viewing an area map and manufacturing ammo and equipment with Bagman, or making use of your other colleagues' abilities to act as sentry and distraction. The D-pad enables switching your equipped gun mounts and grenades as well as toggling sniper mode and using medical packs to restore health.

The Nunchuk control stick is used for movement as well as aiming and throwing grenades using motion controls, although sadly the aiming portion of grenade throwing presents the weakest of the controls in the game. Preparing a grenade throw involves entering "aiming mode" by tilting the Nunchuk up, which shows the arc for the grenade throw assuming your throw is unobstructed. The distance can be altered by the control stick and then the grenade thrown with a flick of the Nunchuk. Unfortunately, there is no user settable sensitivity for the Nunchuk tilt, so casual positioning of your left hand may initiate grenade aiming mode (which disables character movement) accidentally; the lack of feedback when you're in this mode and obstructed can be frustrating until you realise what's happened. Using the the Z button (otherwise used only for targeting enemies from behind cover) to toggle aiming mode or even just using the pointer to indicate the target for the grenade throw without having to stop and aim would have been better solutions. When it works, it works very well for putting grenades where you want them, though it's good that you can also just chuck a grenade straight ahead with a simple Nunchuk flick and no aiming involved.

The game is structured as a series of missions which see the character going through urban battlefields and alien landscapes on foot, broken up by a couple of vehicular rail-shooter sections and occasional use of gun emplacements. The HUD does a great job of ensuring there's no confusion over where you're supposed to go next, even in the more complex multi-tiered levels. Most missions are fairly linear with several objective points and numerous enemies, but you have a good deal of flexibility in how you dispatch them which keeps the action from feeling repetitive. You can snipe from a distance (hitting the breathing apparatus of an unsuspecting Nort is always good for a laugh) or try sneaking in for quick kills up close and personal. Using a holo decoy to draw enemy fire towards your waiting sentry gun whilst flanking the enemy and attacking with pistol and grenades also works a treat. You'll need to use different tricks because the enemy AI is generally quite good: targets will move forward and attempt to outflank you, liberally throwing grenades to drive you out from cover. Once under cover themselves enemy soldiers under attack tend to stay there, so don't expect to just wait for their heads to pop-up to be hit by your sniper fire - a welcome change from first-person shooters like Call of Duty.

Whilst some might criticise the game's length, it certainly provides a good bit of fun and can be finished in a few days of play, with the basic campaign being enjoyable enough for multiple replays. There are two further difficulties to try out and cheat settings to play with which get unlocked after the first playthrough, as well as bonus artwork (it's quite interesting to see how close the game's art design is to the original comic and where they diverge) which is unlocked by reaching certain milestones in the game.

Finally there's also a local co-op multiplayer mode which can be played with 1-4 players using splitscreen. Players can choose skins selected from Rogue and his buddies before they fell on the battlefield, each of which has different abilities in the game. There's a choice of five different maps, with three Progressive maps having the goal of getting to a pre-determined objective and two Stronghold maps, where the goal is to survive for a set length of time against a never-ending Nort onslaught. In both cases players share a common pool of lives and points are scored for all actions in the game. Secondary objectives are present in most of the maps which provide additional point scoring opportunities and bonus points are scored for lives left over at the end of the game.

Conclusion

Rogue Trooper stands out for two big reasons: it's one of very few decent third-person 3D action games on the Wii and it's a good quality game based upon a licensed property. Rebellion deserves credit for making a quality translation of this game for the Wii and it's nice to see a new independent face in Reef Publishing bringing it out. Having tackled one 2000 A.D. property here's hoping Rebellion gets a chance to try their hands at another in the future. Judge Dredd, anyone?