The video game industry is really weird. In the last few years, indie has become the new cool in certain circles. My opinion may be skewed as I get older and more jaded, or it may be because of my particular tastes in games, but the line between “indie darling” and “expensive AAA badass-fest” is getting thinner and thinner for me. What defines a AAA title at this point? Budget? Team size? At the end of the day, none of these questions matter as long as the game is good…right
I don’t know if I’m really excited for the next generation of consoles. Well, that’s technically not true. New hardware is always exciting in a shiny new toy sort of way. However, the games that have been shown so far haven’t exactly tickled my fancy. Watch Dogs seems like it has a cool premise, but how many more games am I going to play in my lifetime where I run around a big city being devious? Then you have games like The Crew or Forza Motorsport 6 or one of the 700 other racing games that were shown at E3 last week, and you start to realize that it all kind of blends together.
Now before you close this tab and disregard this article as another “Down with mainstream, long live the indies!” tirade, know this; the most fun I’ve had with a game this year was actually a 2011 game from the developers of Just Cause 2 (one of the more recent examples of a big-budget game that got by on ridiculousness and dumb fun). Renegade Ops, originally released in 2011, is on sale at the time of this writing on Playstation Network. I downloaded the demo to see how it ran and played with a friend the whole way through. For those who don’t know, Renegade Ops is basically a send-up of the 1980s in terms of gameplay, tone, and style. While games like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon take the aesthetic of that era and rework it into something more modern and fresh, Renegade Ops feels like it’s a remake of some obscure arcade game that nobody played. Specifically, it brings back memories of Konami’s Jackal, released on the NES in 1988. In both games, you play as a Jeep driver rampaging through a nondescript South American forest and mowing down unnamed villains with machine guns. Renegade Ops fortunately doesn’t rely on poorly-emulated pixel graphics or pseudo-nostalgic music, instead opting for comic book-style exposition and realistic graphics for the game itself. These both lend themselves to actually feeling like you’re controlling an isometric remake of Cobra.
I’ve been enjoying Renegade Ops so much not because it’s a game with big explosions and huge high score counters popping up on screen constantly, but because it feels like the developers over at Avalanche really just wanted to make a certain type of game without being limited by the iron fist of a massive publisher. While playing, I can’t shake the feeling that a bigger budget version of Renegade Ops would probably control better and have a longer, more complex campaign, but it would also have the unavoidable stench of an authoritarian publisher limiting the vision of the developer and forcing the game to appeal to the largest possible demographic. At the end of the day, I don’t hate publishers. I mean, Renegade Ops was published by Sega of all people. What I dislike, and why I can’t get excited for these next-generation launch titles, is the feeling that there’s anything getting between what the developer wanted me to play and what the game I launched on my console of choice is.