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by EA Games / Westwood

8-01.jpg (6490 bytes)It’s no accident that Command and Conquer: Renegade opens with a techno-induced, James Bond style jangle of orange and yellow guns, bright white flashes, and the game’s hero Nick "Havoc" Parker running into action. Renegade has clearly opted to assume the look and feel of an action movie, which makes sense considering its standard action-movie plot and the comfortable conflict of a loose cannon commando and the gruff general who can barely contain him. This time around Havoc must stop Kane, arch-enemy and commander of the evil Nod forces, from using the toxically radioactive tiberium to make an army of undead super soldiers. Armed with his wits and a complex and satisfying array of weapons, Havoc takes on the entire Nod army, including a new elite unit called the Black Hand, to save Doctor Mobius and his daughter, as well as the free world, all without mussing his flat-top or forgetting the clever one-liners. The result? An innovative approach to first-person shooters that combines a broad array of vehicles and weapons, cinema verite style cut sequences, and a rich game world to produce an experience that will keep you involved and leave you hungry for more.

6-01.jpg (6828 bytes)The original Command and Conquer, a well-received real-time strategy game in its own right, was also heavy on action-packed combat. It’s no surprise, then, that EA Games and Westwood made Renegade part first-person shooter and part real-time strategy. This is an innovative take on first-person shooters, veering away from both the Quake III/Unreal Tournament kill-kill-kill approach and the intense immersion into story seen in titles like Half Life, NOLF and Deus Ex. Rather than focus on story or carnage, Renegade has General Adam Locke feeding Havoc primary, secondary, and even tertiary mission objectives. This setup combines elements of real-time strategy with the first person shooter genre, forcing players to think as much as they shoot. But don’t fear — there’s plenty to shoot at, from soldiers to vehicles to stationary targets. The weapons with which this shooting gets done come in an intriguing variety, from standard chain guns through energy weapons, tiberium rifles, and even an ion cannon homing beacon that contacts orbiting satellites and summons a blue beam powerful enough to destroy buildings. And because of the multiple mission objectives, there’s always plenty to do with these weapons; levels are large enough in the single player mode to accommodate player types from taskmaster through battle-hungry crawler, making available at least ten to fifteen hours of intense play.

3-01.jpg (4978 bytes)Nonetheless, as has become fashionable with first-person shooters, Renegade also offers a compelling multiplayer mode that pits teams against each other in an effort to destroy their opponent’s base while protecting their own. The multiplayer mode runs on a credit system, allowing players to purchase vehicles and reinforcements in exchange for protecting their resources and using them wisely. You can play with intimate friends via LAN or take it to the internet and challenge the world, making the hours of play time virtually limitless.

65-01.jpg (5198 bytes)Vehicles are also available in the single player mode, and I have to admit they’re one of the most alluring aspects of Renegade. There’s the quick and agile dune buggy or the slower but thicker Humm-Vee, both with top-mounted 50-caliber machine guns. There are light, medium, and mammoth tanks, as well as flame tanks, mobile rocket launchers, and armored personnel carriers. Hopping into any of these enhances the carnage with more powerful weapons fired from a safe driver’s seat. Plus you can literally roll over enemy troops.

12-01.jpg (5514 bytes)But vehicles and weapons aside, Renegade’s overall atmosphere is truly top notch. The atmosphere begins with cut scenes that are interesting for a couple of reasons. First, they’re rendered as if the camera were being wielded by someone involved in the action. The point of view bobs and weaves, swinging from one character to another without the smoothness of a steadicam or tripod. This evokes notes of Saving Private Ryan or other films that use similar techniques to mimic the hand-held camera of documentaries. The result is a rough appearance that gives the action immediacy and an illusion of realism. Unfortunately, this effect is hampered by unimpressive graphics that render characters in polygonal cartoon shapes, resigning their facial expressions to an awkward semblance of the real thing. However, the characters’ body movements are strikingly naturalistic, allowing them to deliver lines with their whole body the way live actors do. Couple this with voice acting that rivals the best action movies and the result is a batch of cut scenes that enhance the story instead of merely carrying it. There’s an interesting promise here, for where movies continue to be a passive form of entertainment that viewers enter only via their imagination, games have the ability to tell stories that the viewers become a participant within. Renegade’s cut scenes represent one more stride toward perfecting the relationship between cinematic techniques, which render stories with pictures, and gaming techniques, which immerse viewers in the action, making clearer the possibility that one day these two forms might merge.

51-01.jpg (5635 bytes)Unfortunately, the AI will have to improve tenfold before gameplay itself starts to feel anything like a movie. Whether it’s friendly units constantly stepping between you and the enemy, or a group of soldiers becoming stuck in the half-open doors of an elevator, problems range from merely frustrating to downright stupid. Some elements of game logic are forgiveable because of the way narrative functions in this particular genre. I understand, for example, that in order for the linear narrative of a game to work, players have to follow a particular path, and therefore the environment’s interactivity must be inconsistent, i.e. vases can be shot into pieces but all the rockets in the world won’t blow down the average wooden door. However, not until enemy units start thinking like real villains will players be able to think like real heros.

32-01.jpg (5752 bytes)Nevertheless, this drawback is not the fault of Renegade alone. In fact, Renegade excels beyond most first-person shooters in its ability to make the player part of its world, rendering a gaming experience at once rich and adrenaline-charged. If you’re a fan of real-time strategy or first-person shooters, if you’ve become bored with the standard routine of kill-kill-kill and are looking for missions to justify the carnage, or if you just like running over bad guys with a tank, you’ll want to pick up Command and Conquer: Renegade.

Paul Cockeram   (03/20/2002)


Ups: Immersive story; unique gameplay mixing RTS and FPS; great multiplayer; lots of vehicles and weapons.

Downs: AI can leave a lot to be desired; some visual aspects could be better.

Platform: PC