Rogue Stormers is what you would get if you modernised Lord of the Rings and made all of the main characters of the fellowship carry bad-ass weaponry and a have a sociopathic thirst for goblin blood and then genetically modified it with Metal Slug in the world of the Oddworld games.
Sounds awesome right? But is it? Read on to find out.
Rogue Stormers is a smart combo of the classic old-school shooters of yesteryear with some of the modern refineries of current day gaming injected into to it to make an intelligent and progressive 2D, side scrolling, shooter experience.
As soon as you boot it up, the game oozes character, it also oozes all the story you need to know in the initial opening sequence and the artwork is awesome. What do we need to know? Ravensdale is under siege and there’s a whole manner of nonsense taking over; Hector Von Gurg and his army of mechanical minions and goop infused goblins have taken the city and it’s up to you, the Troopers to take it back. How? By eviscerating them with a whole host of explosive, gassy and destructive weapons of course!
My first impressions of the game were ones of befuddlement. There is very little to go on when you enter the game, other than you are an angry trooper named Brecht. Three quick tutorial boxes appear and you’re off on your way. The befuddlement came with trying to get to grips with the controls, the go-to jump button is LT, which felt counter-intuitive to begin with. Not only that, when wanting to go down a platform you need to jump and press down on the directional stick, which is also a bit bizarre and not always accurate. On a couple of occasions I died, or was accosted by some angry goblins because I had jumped when I wanted to scale down the level. The controls are changeable in the options and you can pick one of three control schemes with some buttons carrying the same function. Other than that, the controls are fine and the characters seem to handle well. There is a dash (playing on Xbox One, RB) which allows for ninja-reflex style manoeuvring as well as the jump. Firing is done with the right thumbstick primarily and works well, though aiming is sometimes frustrating for specific directions.
The game is reminiscent of the Oddworld games in its feel and the way it looks, which is very much a good thing. The backgrounds are full of detail and depicts a city under siege, the foreground levels continue this trend but don’t feel out-of-place in their presentation. Moving platforms and environmental dangers are obvious but fit with the aesthetics of the world they are in. The subtle changes that indicate areas you can interact, highlighted floors (such as brighter wood) indicate areas you can traverse between. Though it is to be said it sometimes isn’t immediately clear which areas you can walk through, when regarding walls of houses, for example. Throughout the environments are an array of humorous posters and images that the goblins have set up to establish their rules on the city. My personal favourite being “Hard Orc Cafe” and “Goopela“, a play on Nutella, that delicious spread but for Orcs and Goblins. There is a lot of humor and character and I love that. The environments change when you head underground or between levels, and become more cavernous or industrial depending on your locale. When underground, the level areas are more claustrophobic adding a new tactical consideration to your gameplay, as fighting the same enemies in confined spaces makes it more varied and challenging.
The levels are procedurally generated and are different every time you start the game. The developers claim there are over a million combinations, I’m not going to try to test that claim out, but it could be that one combination is just the position of a particular building or hazard, as I had come across familiar environments on some of my playthroughs, not that it is a bad thing, just an observation. There is a basic map in the top corner of the screen that reveals the basic terrain as you enter a new square. It seems each level can be at maximum “16 squares” (4×4) but this varies between level and how far into the game you are. I can’t be sure but it feels like the levels get more sinister and threatening as you level your character up.
Upon starting the game, you only have one of five Troopers to choose from, Brecht. By playing through the game to completion you unlock access to the other characters:
- El Casador
Each character has their own unique starting weapons and perks as well as a special ability. By using LB you can activate the special ability and it will recharge over time. These abilities can be a life saver at key points when the battles get heated. For example, Brecht’s special increases his rate of fire with wolf howl for a short amount of time, perfect for taking out a ha-rang of little goblins. Because of each character’s unique weapons and abilities, they all play slightly differently which is great for variety and a new challenge. El Casador has a powerful sniper rifle which has a good range and high damage, but his rate of fire is low, as it Camille with her rocket launcher but her damage is high, as if her area of effect due to the explosive nature of her munitions.
I would say it is highly unlikely you will get through the games seven levels in one go on your first playthrough. It’s not how the game is designed or how it wants you to play. It’s safe to say you will die, a lot. Like many games of this nature, it relies on certain repetition to accomplish your completion, learning how particular enemies work; the blue orc fires a yellow energy ball, but the green orc with the cannon arm fires a bouncing grenade, so I just need to avoid the blast radius (indicated by a yellow danger field). It feels a bit like trial and error to start with and those goddamned balloon goblins, GAH! Especially as some of the later levels become quite overwhelming and the some of the baddies get a fair bit meaner.
The bosses are more classic style of bombarding you with projectiles and things going on, but not in an impossible way and they have a lot of attitude. So how do you get better? By collecting XP of course.
Occasionally, when enemies are killed they will drop either health, gold or XP (indicated by glowing blue dots – the size determining the amount of XP). When you fill you XP bar, located underneath your health, you will earn a level upgrade which you can apply at the end of the level (if you make it) or when you die. Any upgrade points applied are saved to your character, so when you start again, your character is more advanced and better equipped to handle what the game throws at you. You will get to choose an upgrade through a slot machine, the “Perkalator”, and pick one of two upgrades that are randomly made available to you.
There are a total of 60 permanent upgrades per character, so there is plenty to work on as you play. Furthermore, you can boost you character in-game with a variety of different perks. Perks only last the length of the game (so once you die they’re gone) but can make a huge difference to your characters build as you play. Some will afford you positive increases (such as a double jump or increased hover time) and some will buff you but at a cost (for example, a massive increase to your damage but with a reduction to your HP).
You could fly through the levels pretty quick and potentially struggle, but part of the fun I found was exploring all the level had to offer and locating as many perks as possible, making the boss fights easier. Throughout the game you will come across a variety of different chests:
- Standard silver chests – contain a random assortment of money, XP, secondary weapons, keys or health.
- Locked silver chests – requires a key to open, usually contains a better selection of various items, including perks.
- Locked money chests – requires 500 gold coins to unlock and contains a random selection of consumables.
- ‘Hungry’ chests – requires 30 HP to unlock and will give you a substantial reward for sacrificing your health.
The items you can find in the chests, or at vending machine that provide items, are randomised and I did find it infuriating at times to spend my precious health or gold to open a ‘hungry chest’ or vending machine (for 250 gold) to get 30 XP or something like that out of it, but that adds to the excitement and sheer terror that then follows when you’re ducking, dodging and diving off the edge of your seat trying to not die…again! With thorough exploring and lots of carcasses tossed to the side, I finally was able to beat the final boss at about level 23, so many retries were had.
I admit some of my deaths were silly and the result of panicking and not because the game felt cheap or unfair, which I think is key to shooters like this. They are meant to be difficult and challenging and the sheer number of bullets on-screen at times are meant to be fear-inducing, but it never felt on the level of Ikaruga in terms of difficulty and the variety in the different enemies meant there were various different things to watch out for. Not everything fired bullets, some enemies were about the physical damage and some of the deaths were from retreating into a pit of fire or explosive bridge I had forgotten about. Though I will say in almost every playthrough there were instances of an enemy being propelled, or just getting stuck, in the environment where I was unable to attack them. But, sometimes, they were able to attack me, which was a little galling.
The shooting is fun and feels like each weapon packs a wallop, especially some of the secondary weapons you can find amongst the glut of ravenous enemies, so you’ll surely enjoy the opportunity to blow away some more goblins and orcs. The secondary weapons are hugely satisfying and I found myself relying on them quite heavily once I realised how useful they were (thank the developers for the health grenade!). The secondary weapons often carry abilities of their own, for example there is a grenade launcher and it may have a ‘bouncing’ perk attached, or a ‘blackhole’ perk which draws enemies towards it as it causes damage.
The sound in the game is functional enough and doesn’t set the world on fire, the open theme, which is also the main track for the majority of the game, is a funky electronic bassy affair that does the job. The orcs and goblins are all appropriate in their presentation, though there aren’t any phrases or quips as none of the characters or enemies talk. The weaponry began to grate after a couple of sessions and at times when the music wasn’t there, the sound of Brecht’s machine gun firing over and over gradually had me moving the volume to zero for a bit.
In terms of replayability, Rogue Stormers definitely has you covered. Thanks to the random generating of the levels, weapon availability and perks and mean a different playthrough most of the time. Not only are there a mass of upgrades to unlock but there are also a load of story unlocks to reveal that add more of the humour to the game. The story unlocks are memos or newspaper clippings between some of the enemies and the heroes that help portray some of the story. It’ll take some time to unlock them all. For the completionists out there, there are a range of achievements that require multiple playthroughs, some with certain characters (meaning upgrades will be needed to succeed with less stress). Not only that Rogue Stormers has a four player online and offline multiplayer mode. At the time of writing I have only been able to test the “couch co-op” as the online servers were unable to find me a game to join or to host. Whilst trying to play “couch co-op” we found it difficult to assign to multiple gamertags to the game, when I was signed in all the players were my own gamertag, despite my playing partner having a gamertag of her own, seemingly meaning she could not earn achievements and develop her own characters, which is a shame. Hopefully this is something that is an error and will be fixed via an update in the future. Though whilst we were playing, the game functioned well without any slowdown when there was increased activity on the screen. In “couch co-op” at least.
The character animations are effective enough though they do not seem really detailed and it is relatively difficult to distinguish between the different Troopers when in singleplayer. In multiplayer the characters are different colours, presumably so people know who they are playing as and don’t get confused. Given that every character more or less has a colour of their own, it might have been as well just creating them like that. There is a lot of variation in the colour of the orcs, in fact you need that in some cases to remind you of the threat they pose. The orcs are more distinguishable in their details, they are a large enemy so you can notice the different weaponry they carry, as well as their color. The goblins are differentiated by their size and some wear pants or a hat, indicating a different enemy with different attacks. All the characters are in 3D which work well on the backdrop of the environments.
Rogue Stormers is relatively easy to pick up and play and invokes memories of days gone by when you picked up a controller and just got on with it. Striving with every playthrough to get that little bit further, or take out the next boss until you get the best kills score. The addition of more modern-day mechanics, such as the upgrade system, definitely add to the replayability factor and the reward the player for pressing on and mastering the game. The fun humour and character mean a lot in a game like this and it ties well with the style and the artwork. The quest to save Ravensdale from the those filthy goblins and orcs should be reason enough to give it a go, you’ll have a great time doing it, on your own or with a comrade.