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Rogue Ops
Platform:  Playstation 2
# of Players:  1
Developer:  Bits Studios
Publisher:  Kemco
Features:  Analog Control, Vibration Function, Multi-tap
Ratings:  Mature
Memory Req.:  PS2 Memory Card- 112kb
Fans of stealth/action games will find that Rogue Ops is an overall excellent entry in a crowded genre. Developed by Bits Studios (Die Hard Vendetta for the Game Cube), the game scores high marks with its cool visual style and solid mixture of action and creative problem solving. As Nikki Connors, players take on 8 different missions set in locations throughout the world as she tries to put an end to the terrorist organization Omega 19. Sure, the “agent out for revenge” plot is as old as the hills, but when a game comes along and introduces a character like Nikki, a little contrivance here and there can be forgiven. This is one of those games you’ll play through on each difficulty level just to test your gaming skills.

The game opens with a short tutorial that gives you all the information you need to complete the missions in the game, and there’s no handholding after that. What makes Rogue Ops so much fun is that there’s often more than one way to complete a mission, but it’s absolutely necessary to use everything you learned in the training stage as some of the puzzles and traps are truly brain-busters. The talented folks at Bits have clearly and cleverly designed the environments and gameplay to fit a players’ particular style while introducing them to some of the non-lethal aspects of stealth gaming. One early level has Nikki trying to secure a statue in a Museum without killing any of the guards or getting discovered. You can have her take one of two ways down from a balcony, pickpocket one of the guards patrolling for a keycard, grab a keypad code from a file cabinet and move on to a trickier area where she’ll need to use a retina scanner to capture a strolling guard’s eyes before he moves out of range. Later missions have you guiding Nikki through a missile silo, stealing millions in bonds from a really well guarded bank vault, and donning winter gear for a deadly mission somewhere in Eastern Europe.

Unlike most action games, control in Rogue Ops relies more on context-sensitive areas more than jumping puzzles, and some gamers more used to less brainwork may find some areas tough to complete. An icon appears on objects that Nikki can interact with in the environments, and you’ll need to guide her up, under, over, and around them. Trust me, if you pay attention, the solution to the majority of the games’ trickier puzzles and traps will be less of a problem that setting off the occasional alarm and having to deal with trigger-happy guards. Nikki controls pretty well using both sticks (similar to a first person shooter), and although there are some similarities (a box to push every now and then, a statue or artifact to grab), this definitely isn’t a Tomb Raider clone. For starters, the combat is far better, and Nikki’s a hell of a lot more interesting than Lara Croft (sorry, Lara, the love affair is o-vah). Nikki’s a dead shot with a sniper rifle (and any of the guns she uses), can throw shuriken, and gets to use some ridiculously cool gadgets like insect-sized flying spy cameras, a heat/electrical/laser sensing VISER, remote mines, and that cool retinal scanner mentioned above (Unlike the Xbox version, you don’t have the option of playing with the Xbox Live headset to switch out weapons, but the d-pad works just fine in any version of the game). There’s also an adrenalin shot that slows time down, Matrix style, but you probably won’t use this at all except for a later tough boss battle. Speaking of bosses, yes, the game goes for the tougher than usual to kill guys that require multiple hits to take down, but I don’t think it’s possible to have a game that has movie style “boss” battles. You know, where there’s a 10-minute car or foot chase with thousands of rounds fired, then a knock down, drag-out fistfight that ends when the bad guy falls screaming off a high place and/or gets blown up. There’s no hand to hand combat in the game, but if Nikki can sneak up behind an enemy, she can pull off some nasty-looking stealth kills complete with the sounds of bones cracking and a cool X-Ray shot of your target’s bones snapping. You don’t want to leave those corpses to cool out in the open, either. Nikki can dump them in lockers or hide them behind boxes to keep the heat of her tail for a bit.

Visually, Rogue Ops has a very stylized look to the characters with Nikki getting the most polygons and some really cool animations. She went through a few changes (the hair was brown and longer at one point), but is blonde and oddly enough, reminded a few folks here of Renee Zellweger. I kicked those folks out while I was playing- some people watch too many movies. The real stars here are the lighting and environmental effects. While nowhere as stunning as the visuals in Splinter Cell, Bits has managed to give the different areas here some really sharp special effects. The Xbox version is the best looking, but the PS2 manages to do most of the same graphics with not too much trouble. The game has a number of nicely directed cinemas that give it quite a cinematic feel. All Bits needs to do is work on the character renders a bit more (particularly the facial animation and anatomy), and any sequels will score even higher. The game has a great music score with some tense tunes that ramp up as you encounter stuff you should have avoided, and the voice acting follows the 70/30 rule, as in 70% of the voices are dead on perfect, and the other 30% come off as a bit goofy. Omega 19 seems to be made up of mostly former failed Eastern European comedians with bad accents, but the good guys all sound great. There is a bit of intentional humor sprinkled throughout the game, though. It’s mostly Nikki’s reactions to her orders and the occasional bit of swearing. Rogue Ops gets its M rating for quite a bit of blood and some language you wouldn’t want Junior to hear, so keep that in mind if you’re a concerned parent-type.

As this is the first game with a new character, there are some major and minor issues to be ironed out for any future sequels. Firstly, more controller options (like in Bloodrayne, for example) and better enemy AI overall would be welcome. And as mentioned above, some art issues need addressing. There’s also a bit of clipping similar to that found in many other 3D games where dead or unconscious enemies seep through walls and such. As far as AI goes, the difficulty settings here determine enemy view area, accuracy and damage taken by Nikki, as well as the amount of health she recovers from first aid kits. On Amateur, the enemies tend to be a bit too blind in spots, while Agent goes for more of a Goldilocks effect- a mixture of good, bad, and just right. Assassin is flat-out merciless from start to finish. You really have to get one hit kills and walk like a ghost through the game. I’d prefer to see a much longer game with no difficulty setting other than that the game starts off in an easier mode and gets harder as you progress. In other words, by the middle of the next game you’re obviously skilled enough to deal with tougher enemies, and by the end, all the gloves should come off completely. Of course, that would kill most gamers out there who need a strategy guide to navigate the options menu, but you can’t become a better gamer by spending more money on a book. In fact, for Rogue Ops, there’s NO official game guide- you’ll have to hit Kemco’s official web site for the best source of help. Whatever you do, stay the hell off of GameFaqs unless you want to read dozens of “I’m Stuck, Help!!” postings from people who don’t bother to read the other posts that answer their questions, or the eye-rolling “Is Nikki HOT” or “Nikki or Lara?” threads.

Enough with the constructive criticism, this is one of those “sleepers” that definitely deserves your attention. If you’re looking for one of the best surprises of 2003, you’ll definitely want to grab a copy of Rogue Ops. If the next game improves on the aspects I mentioned above, and adds even more challenges, Nikki Connors just may become a household name…


Greg Wilcox

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