Renegade Ops hands-on preview – forgettable title, memorable action

Unlike its bland, should-have-been-a-subtitle moniker, Renegade Ops is not a game that you'll easily forget after spending a little time with it.Wetook it for a quick spin just before E3, but now after playing a few complete missions and testing out the local co-op play, it's quite clear that this vehicle-based shooter is one of the more intriguing downloadable games on the horizon past Microsoft's current Summer of Arcade slate.

Renegade Ops does boast an impressive pedigree, though, as the original offering hails from Just Cause 2 developer Avalanche Studios, which puts that open-world hit's engine to smart use in this top-down shooter. With some proven firepower under the hood, Renegade Ops' visuals come to life in a way we don't typically expect from games with zoomed-out overhead shots, as the impressive animations – like small buildings crumbling apart in sections as you crash your armored truck through them – and explosive effects really pop off the screen.

But what you're doing on the screen is arguably even more entertaining, as the missions let you whip well-armed four-wheelers around the likes of jungle and desert stages, blasting enemy armaments with machine guns, rockets, flamethrowers, and other special attacks. Plus, you can occasionally swap to helicopters for some high-flying asides. In the parlance of 16-bit favorites, it's like the ideal blend of Desert Strike and Micro Machines, and the loose feel of the vehicles and over-the-top narrative sequences keep Renegade Ops from feeling monotonous or overly serious.

We were able to play through the first four missions in the Xbox Live Arcade version (the Achievements seem to indicate nine total missions in the game), with each spanning a solid 25-to-30 minutes of rambunctious vehicle antics. During that time, we sped around the lush environments blasting tanks and APCs alike, plus we rescued prisoners, destroyed bases from within, and escorted a civilian vehicle to safety amidst enemy fire. We also swapped to the air for a couple quick helicopter sequences in which an enemy-controlled tanker ship and later a locomotive fell equally under the wrath of our constant fire.

Each of the four playable drivers has a unique special ability – an indestructible shield, EMP blast, airborne rocket strike, and heavy gun, respectively – plus you'll earn experience with each kill or in-game action, which is used to upgrade things like ammo capacity, armor and weapon speed. Naturally, having four characters also makes for an opportune co-op experience, and the online affair lets you team up to dominate on the ground and in the sky, though you'll be battling your comrades for the points and power-ups along the way. We were only able to test out the local split-screen two-player alternative, but as expected, playing together adds that little extra spark to the proceedings.

Even amidst a recent surge of awesome downloadable games, Renegade Ops seems primed to be one the more enticing digital releases of the near future, thanks to engaging, fast-paced vehicle action and worthwhile co-op play. Though the generic title may slip your mind, the slick visuals and rollicking vehicle combat should make Renegade Ops quite easy to remember when the multiplatform release drops in September.

Aug 5, 2011