Before we begin, a disclaimer of sorts. The video game medium has a lot of things in it that can be considered offensive. Perhaps the violence in a certain game is too much, or maybe it goes overboard on inappropriate content. However, such games can still be talked about with tact and class. You can evaluate the game without having to sully yourself with whatever depravity that game is guilty of.
Rogue Warrior, on the other hand, is so steeped in its constant compulsion to curse that is would be a disservice to you all to try and scrub it up for a clean presentation, and frankly, it does not deserve it either. Rogue Warrior, if anything, seems to be designed as a vehicle for the swearing first and exists as an actual game second.
The story of Rogue Warrior begins not with the game, but with real world US Naval officer Richard Marcinko. “Dick” for short, or “Demo Dick” as the game insists is his extremely cool nickname. As a Navy SEAL, Marcinko did many things worthy of respect, admiration, and gratitude, and we certainly don’t want to waste any time here discussing his military career when we have an awful game to tear apart. However, it is what Marcinko decided to do after the military that puts him in our crosshairs today, and there’s no need to be gentle or reverent with what we’re going to be looking at today.
Marcinko wrote a book on his experience in the military called Rogue Warrior, and while I have not read it, from what I’ve read of excerpts, it’s not that bad. Some occasionally coarse prose and a bit of an irreverent tone at times, but it looks like a fine enough read and perhaps even a good look at life in the Navy for a guy like Marcinko. However, that wasn’t the end of the Rogue Warrior. Turning from an autobiography into a series of fictional novels, Richard Marcinko’s story started to stray into military fantasy, and the dials on coarseness and inappropriateness were gradually turning up. Casual racism in the narrative seems common from the excerpts I’ve seen, and while I again cannot attest for the quality of the general narrative of these novels, this downhill trend no doubt lead to what we would see in 2009, when the game Rogue Warrior was released on PC, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360.
Despite sharing a title with Marcinko’s autobiography, the story of the game does not follow real world events in the slightest. However, you do play as Marcinko in the game, perhaps the fictionalized version found in the Rogue Warrior book series, but hopefully Marcinko himself kept a fair distance from this game because I cannot imagine this character being likeable at all in a book, and a book requires a lot more investment than this short sloppy game from… Bethesda? Yes, Bethesda, the same people who can dish out amazing and influential games like Dishonored, Fallout, Skyrim, Doom, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and so many more… also put out this piece of trash. Surprisingly though, I found a lot less glitches in this game than I did their better titles, but that might also be because there was less game to have glitches in. Originally imagined as a game set in the present, it seems that Bethesda was not happy with the original angle that their partner in making the game Zombie Studios was taking, so they went to get Rebellion Developments to work on it instead. These guys seem to be pretty big on making generic shooters, occasionally striking a hit in their torrent of first-person shooters, so Rogue Warrior wasn’t exactly a bad choice… but it was certainly much worse than whatever Zombie Studios could have been up to.
Before we move on any further, we should discuss this game’s big claim to infamy: Richard Marcinko himself. Voiced by Mickey Rourke, and admittedly, he was a good choice for the job, “Demo Dick” is no human. He is an unfeeling murder machine, a middle schooler’s imagination of what a soldier is and the kind of boiled down soldier fantasy that usually exists only in parodies of overzealous patriotism and one man armies. Being the only guy with a gun taking on an army isn’t rare in video games, but Richard Marcinko takes it a step further by filling the air with an overwhelming cloud of constant expletives and obscenities that would make Satan blush and his foes flee in terror if any of them understood English. Any time an action is performed in this game, you’ve got a pretty good chance of hearing Marcinko dish out a stream of F bombs or insults at his foes, his situation, his commanding officers, the place he’s in, the weather, his goal, himself, and so on.
It is this reason that I needed to make such a warning at the start, because to best understand how absurd this typhoon of profanity gets, I must share with you the extremes the game goes to. Before you even start playing the game, the game is already dishing out insults on the difficult selection screen. The game’s easy mode comes with the subtitle “If you’re a pussy, select this one.” If this managed to bother you and you go to pick hard, the game now calls you out by saying “Think you’re fucking special, huh?” Only does the middle difficult hold back, instead letting out a “Bring it on, motherfuckers”. And bring it on it does, at least in the regards to more swearing. There’s no major need to worry about which difficulty you pick anyway. After going through all three, I can only say the real difference I felt was how long it took to heal from damage and how much damage enemy bullets did to you. Enemies are all found in the same place, use the same tactics, and levels are identical between difficulties. No matter the difficulty, you still sponge up way more bullets than you’d expect too, and this game uses the “don’t take damage for a while to heal back up to full” approach from other modern FPS games, meaning it’s quite easy to stay alive save for some ambush moments. You can’t navigate the menu with the mouse for some reason, but once you’ve worked your way through the menu, it’s time to begin. When the game’s menu can’t even hold back the directionless hatred of the main character, you know you’re in for something special in all the wrong ways.
The story begins and Richard’s already pulling out his sailor’s mouth, standing aboard a helicopter with two buddies who seem equally as mindlessly aggressive as he is. One even makes sure to flip off the camera when it pans to him, just so you know how bad and hard these dudes are. Thing is, after the three land in North Korea and take out some soldiers, the two companions are immediately killed, and Richard doesn’t seem to care much at all about it. He continues on like nothing really happened, remembering once in a while to say how much it sucked those two guys died, but mostly just beginning his campaign to kill every commie who stands in his way between here and over there. The goals in the game are brainlessly simple. It’s almost always just about advancing from one place to another, except sometimes, you may have to put an explosive charge down, or press a switch to open doors. There are no other objectives, so the game just ends up being about killing every enemy soldier between where you are now and where you need to be to end the level, Richard whipping out constant streams of curse words that only sometimes go together. It’s actually a bit surprising when he says a full sentence without peppering in one. Your hide will certainly grow leathery to being offended at all by it, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to stop any time soon.
In fact, before we move on, let’s take a look at a choice selection of a few of his famous phrases. Richard Marcinko in this game curses just like a middle schooler who realized he can get away with it finally at school… or perhaps, even more than that. Once back in middle school, I saw a kid going home early who declared that he needed to get all his cursing out now and went on a long stream of every bad word he knew before walking off. Marcinko’s got that kid beat. His first line in the game immediately gives you a good idea of what’s to come: “A spec warrior: one who gives a fuck.” Perhaps his most famous line has to be “Goddamn cockbreath commie motherfuckers!”, which he’ll yell at the North Koreans and later Soviets every now and again. If he takes a bit of damage, expect a “fuck piss goddamn shit” quite often, as that is his go-to response to being shot by bullets. Sometimes, he can’t even stop himself, letting out “Drop dead mother fucker you fucking amateurs” in one breath as he’s gunning down North Koreans. I had thought I had grown accustomed to Marcinko’s brand of speech after a while, knowing exactly what style he’ll take with his generically angry insults, but one really surprised me to the point I had to laugh at how audacious it was. In what was no different from any other firefight we’ve had before, Richard Marcinko belts out at his foes “Suck my balls, my hairy fucking big balls. Wrap them around your fucking mouth.” There was no way of topping that, and it’s still a line that stands out as the craziest of what the game has to offer. Lines like “Looks like the douchebag convention’s in town” just seem tame after a whopper like that, and the constant Commie bashing hardly seems quite as offensive in comparison. Thankfully, so much of his lines are just the kind of jabs you’d make at anyone, save some lines where he calls people “retard” or “pencildick” This is the level of offensive I felt I had to warn you all about, but at the same time, to ignore it would fail to give you a picture of how awful this game truly is. If I just told you he said some bad words, perhaps you would think me some sensitive soul unable to handle a bit of profanity. No. Demo Dick here is an endless stream of these, and even then, he gets to the point where he starts repeating himself. I’ve heard him brag so many times how he’ll stick his foes like a pig or gut them like a fish… usually right before he gets killed! And yet, no matter how loud and angry Marcinko gets, if the enemy hasn’t noticed him yet, they won’t notice him after he angrily shouts profanity towards them.
Moving back to the gameplay itself, Rogue Warrior feels a bit like a pre-teen was asked to design a Tom Clancy game. It’s got some first-person shooter staples, but nothing that makes it stand out. The levels are all drab, full of greys, browns, and variations of those two colors, and they cycle through the same kinds of places you’ve been to in other FPS games. A factory, a bridge, the requisite large residence, industrial area, interior area… nothing inspired or unique, and the game abandons realism as it throws explosive barrels in all these locations so it can’t even pretend it’s trying to be like a real military operation. Almost every level plays out the same way too, an alternating shift between areas clearly designated for stealth and areas designated for shooting. You can tell a stealth area apart from the shooting areas because every one of them will have soldiers looking away from the only angle of approach, leaning against a wall or edge wistfully and perhaps imaging they were in a better game.
Wonder what he’s thinking about…
Here, you can perform your kill move on them without alerting other guards, an option available to you anytime you are close enough to a foe. Once the move starts, Marcinko will have a possessed look on his face, like a rabid dog ready to tear into someone’s arm, and he’ll begin to stab his foe or snap their neck, sometimes quite noisily but still not breaking stealth.
Just like the swearing, you’ll end up seeing the same few takedowns after a while, ruining any appeal they might have for being flashy. One take down is especially bland and common, where Marcinko just punches the guy really hard in the face to kill him. Good job, Dick. Your fists are stronger than your guns.
Speaking of the guns, I hope you like automatics! Technically, the game has quite a few weapons, but the guns all feels so similar that you’re essentially left with variations on pistols, machine guns, shotguns, and then a sniper rifle and grenade launcher. The pistol has limitless ammo but is the only weak gun in the game, but it can also maintain stealth if you headshot a guy… not that the pistol seems too good at doing that. The sniper rifle has a few moments where it’s set up to be used, and since a shot is an instant kill no matter where you shoot a foe, it’s okay for those sections but is made too inaccurate for normal combat. The grenade launcher is so rare it might as well not exist and it runs out of ammo quickly, and the shotguns are common but have a spread so they’re a bit unreliable. The automatics, however, just take care of things so easily. It’s incredibly easy to hit a foe, the kickback negligible or even helpful in spraying your foes. No matter the difficulty, enemy soldiers always take the same amount of damage to kill, which happens to be only a few machine gun bullets. You can headshot for an instant kill, but its not worth the time to set-up save where the game gives it to you, as foes do not really dodge and move around like lost children or end up so committed to their cover that they might as well propose to it. All the machine guns work about the same and are the best weapon for dispensing with enemies, but if you thought ammo might limit them, you’d be mistaken. Save for the grenade launcher, the game is absolutely flush with guns and ammo for them. Every dead enemy drops their weapon, almost always a machine gun, and since the game has no secrets to hide or collectibles, any room off the beaten path (which there are very few of) ends up being a treasure trove of weapons and ammunition. The only way you’ll ever run low on ammo is stubbornness in switching out your weapons.
The gunplay is as standard as they come. Point and shoot, but unlike other FPS games, the pointing part isn’t even that difficult. You hardly ever need to aim down the sights. True, it will make you more accurate, but the aiming is slowed down and the gun model blocks your view a bit. Even under fire it’s not too hard to put your crosshairs in the general direction of a foe and spray, taking them down without much of a struggle. This mostly comes down to how bad the enemy AI is. Enemies clearly have certain cues and directions they are meant to follow, but they’re so reliant on them that the game’s only big visible glitches that I found came down to how enemies behave. Sometimes, you’ll enter an area before the game is quite ready, the soldiers suddenly moving at super speed to be in their proper spots. Other times, especially in a few missions where a base is exploding, there are enemies who exist solely to be destroyed by random explosions, but they can miss these explosions and end up just standing in place, firing if they see you but refusing to move at all. Throwing a grenade at them can lead to a few different results too. Grenades are plentiful and useful, but they range from reliable to useless depending on how the enemy feels. Sometimes, they’ll be close to it and not die. Sometimes, they’ll see a grenade and kindly run to stand on it with all their friends so they can die together. Other times, the do try to dodge the grenade and the grenade will do about as much as you should expect. It’s usually pretty wise to toss them into any clump, since you can at least judge by the deer-like scamper of your AI foes if they’ll die or not to it.
Coming back again to how the AI sometimes seem married to cover, you might notice a few times while playing that two guys will try to take cover in the same spot, leading to the slower one jittering around in front of the cover wildly like he had just been jilted. Neither will give up ground though, so just kill them and be done with it. When their path to cover is free though, even if they have an open shot on you, they might decide to instead moonwalk backwards to put their backs against it, even though a lot of the cover in the game won’t cover them entirely. As for you, the player, you’ll never want to use the game’s awful cover system. I used it once at the start, noticed how inferior it was to simply crouching and hiding, and never touched it again until I wanted to get the achievement for firing from cover. In fact, the game very rarely has a situation where you shouldn’t be crouching. You move a little slower for doing it, but enemies sometimes are slow to appear, so giving the game time to load them in will save you from ambushes from previously invisible foes. Sprinting, because of this, is pretty much useless, so crouch walk all the way and walk behind cover when it’s needed.
As for the enemy capabilities, you’ll only ever encounter foes who use the same weapons as you… but even less than you. They are limited to a few types of machine guns, the occasional sniper rifle user that is almost never in a good sniping spot as he exists more for you to steal his weapon than to be a foe, and some shotguns. Weapons are the only real way to distinguish between enemies, as no matter how they look, they all fight the same. The enemies with helmets and armor take the same amount of bullets to kill as the repairmen, who will spawn weapons into existence the moment they go from soldering and welding to being in combat or being killed. Most foes are best taken out from afar anyway, meaning shotguns aren’t a problem and that you’ll never get to land a finishing move. I’ve done many killing moves, but if you stagger a foe with a bullet, you can pull off a special finishing move. Why you wouldn’t kill these easily killed foes immediately is beyond me, and they’re usually too far off to run in in time to execute the move. Even trying to get it on purpose usually just made me either take a bunch of bullets or do a killing move instead, which is distinctly different of course despite accomplishing the same thing. Sometimes though, killing moves will have their own issues. If an enemy isn’t quite in the right position to be killed once you’ve pressed the button to execute it… don’t worry, he’ll quickly adjust himself to be standing in the proper position. This looks incredibly absurd when it happens, but what ends up being even goofier is when an enemy won’t adjust his position. Hammer that button multiple times and he’ll just start to twitch about as the game tries to start one of the killing move scenes but can’t.
This guy never once tried to shoot me as I hammered the E key, so I had to move a little to finally pull the move off. Don’t worry about getting shot during a killing move either, as you are invincible during it and can take as many shots as you like as you take your time strangling a dude.
If you want enemies who are already easy to be even easier, the game does toss in a few circuit boxes every now and then you can shoot to make the room dark. You have night vision goggles to see in the dark, but they’re only needed if you put your brightness super low because it’s still pretty bright in most areas after the lights go out. Enemies won’t see you though, looking around like fools even if you’re right in front of them, making for easy and boring kills.
Clearly far too dark for him to see me…
There are also fire extinguishers you can shoot to make a brief cloud that should hide where you are, but it’s never confused enemies I’ve faced before and just made things harder for me… not that the game really is hard at all. You’ll die, yes, but you’ll be barely set back and it’s incredibly easy to get back on your feet and shooting down the enemies that just took you down.
Now, if the gunplay is boring, than maybe that constant angry cursing is a sign this is some power fantasy game. It’s got to be all about some visceral kills and insane violence too, right? Surprisingly… no. Enemy models are completely solid, so don’t expect head explosions or limb loss during your rampage. In fact, don’t expect much blood at all. It’s surprisingly subdued, with no sign of entry points even as you stab a guy in close quarters. Sure, there will be a few gushes that are a bit over the top, but once you’re done stabbing the guy, he looks absolutely pristine. No blood, no wounds, just a body on the ground, eyes still open, expression nonplussed or mildly offended at best. So here, for your viewing pleasure… an assortment of the casually dead.
“Hi, how are you today?”
Just hanging around.
It may look like I’ve interrupted a guy kneeling before his table, but nope, he’s dead.
Almost looks like he died middance…
This one at least knows to be mad that he died!
Sometimes, after a grenade kill especially, they’ll instead get a sudden case of the chicken pox, but I wager that it was meant to look like blood splatter. These specks of blood all across their unmarred body is the most violent thing you’ll expect to see, not that Marcinko doesn’t try his best when he’s doing a killing move with his knife.
Of course, like with many games from this era, you can expect your usual amount of ragdolling. Bodies go limp the moment they die, allowing bullets to turn them into ballerinas before they plop to the ground. In a few levels, the game has scripted moments where explosions are meant to launch dead soldiers around, their bodies limply flopping about and landing in the kind of goofy positions you saw in the images earlier. It’s nitpicky to fault ragdolling when it’s brought hours of joy in more serious and actually good games, and it at least makes the kills satisfying in one way. Watching your gunshot cause an enemy to do a cartwheel in the air makes the shooting fun in a way the developers likely did not intend.
We diverted away from the story pretty quickly to focus on Marcinko and the gameplay, but the story does deserve a mention for being equal parts boring and absurd. First off, you might remember me mentioning that the original idea for the game was having it set in the present, and since you are infiltrating North Korea to start, I figured it was. It wasn’t until the Soviets enter later in the game that I realized this was the past, after which Marcinko helpfully mentions Ronald Reagan to even further help us along with realizing when the game takes place. To be fair, the loading screens do give a date for the missions… but they’re full of meaningless info and weird acronym names for the stages as well so the dates managed to avoid my attention up until then.
After your companions die at the start, Demo Dick goes off on his own despite being told to pull back and discovers the North Koreans are… making missiles! Missiles that they are giving to the Soviets! This information is enough for Marcinko to even further disobey orders, completely going against the admiral’s orders to pull back and let them deal with it. Keep in mind, this is the extent of what we know of their plan at this point. During the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviet Union both had plenty of missiles and were making more of them all the time. Richard Marcinko, upon discovering that the Soviet Union simply had more missiles, decides to go rogue, knowing he’ll be court-martialed because he just can’t allow the communists to have more missiles!
Of course, he does eventually discover there is more to it than that, finding that the Soviets have a system that will easily shoot down any U.S. missiles to prevent retaliation in a real wartime scenario. To stop this, Marcinko must move from point A to point B and place charges on things and that will completely eliminate the Soviet Union’s missile-stopping capabilities. The real world Richard Marcinko is a military advisor, but I doubt he had any input on this plot, since even he could poke a bunch of holes in this thin idea of how the Cold War happened. The main problem with this idea of preventing the Cold War from escalating would probably be destroyed immediately if the Soviets reacted reasonably to all the destruction Marcinko had unleashed in his journey to stop them. Losing so many missiles, buildings, and a major bridge, not to mention all the casualties from the USSR and North Korea both, all due to an official Navy soldier who will get off easy “because him going rogue worked”… yeah, things aren’t staying begrudgingly peaceful for long between the two nations. I will give them credit, as far as I can tell, Marcinko is never said to be off the hook for going rogue, the credits rolling right as he smugly tells the soldiers who rescue him that they can consider the stuff he did evidence for his defense during the court-martial.
After that, the credits roll, and we are treated to a song that is literally just Mickey Rourke machine-gunning through his lines in a remix. Surprisingly, it is a bit catchy despite having all the issues with constant swearing the game has, although that mostly owes to the funky beat and the line “Anytime, Anywhere, Anyplace” having a good patter to it. It’s a song to be enjoyed for how audacious it is, not for its actual quality, and its leagues ahead of the game’s usual soundtrack. When there is music in the game, expect either quiet and forgettable sneaking music or a lot of loud percussion and brass, most songs seeming to endlessly swell but having nowhere to go. It’s your typical kind of action music and it would be harmless if the music could fade away into the background or swap out with something new every now and then, but you’ll be treated to the game’s bombastic combat music constantly.
The game is pretty short, even though it feels much longer because of how many times it looks like it is about to end. Even the individual levels are short, but they drag on for being so bland and full of the same task dished out with little variation. Shoot enemies, move forward. Repeat until credits roll. The achievements are pretty nice though and even add a little variety to salvage this generic shooter stooped in terrible artistic direction. Trying to kill five enemies without reloading with a weapon is a fine challenge, and most of the others are just doing things enough times or playing on different difficulties. They’re fair and you can alter your playstyle a bit… but then you notice… something strange.
Yes, Rogue Warrior has multiplayer, and on Steam, no more than 35 people have ever been playing the game at one time, and it was likely a group of people who congregated just to get these achievements. Right now, you’re probably going to be the only person playing this on the planet Earth as its poor quality is no secret. Steam will try to sucker players in with incredibly low prices when it’s on sale, but even then, the multiplayer is absolutely dead, meaning most achievements are out of your grasp unless you want to find a few people willing to suffer through it with you. Sprinting might finally find its home here, but there are so many better shooters out there that there would be no reason to play this with other people, and the shooting will no doubt still be as generic as it was in the single player. You just won’t be shooting at incredibly idiotic AI this time. The fact online multiplayer even exists seems audacious, as if they thought people would actually want to play this with other people when most people won’t even play it by themselves.
Pulling back from it all, Rogue Warrior could have been just a forgettable generic shooter amidst a tide of them back in 2009. Instead, the designers made the fatal mistake of trying to inject an over-the-top personality into their lead, wrote a story that made little sense, and made the shooting itself unimpressive and unsatisfying. Some people may be tempted to look up this game to hear the streams of cursing and obscenity that spews forth from Marcinko courtesy of Mickey Rourke, but the lines are repeated so often that you’re better off just thinking up a bunch for yourself and saying them out loud in an angry voice. Don’t worry, this game assured me that as long as you’re cursing people out loudly enough, they won’t hear you, and then you can sneak up on them and kill them in a way that will leave their corpse clean enough to put in the funeral casket immediately.
Everything Rogue Warrior tries to do it does wrong. The cursing doesn’t make Marcinko seem hard, it makes him seem juvenile and pointlessly angry. The cover system is pointless compared to constantly crouching, and the machine gun is so good at what it does and ammo so common that weapon variety is meaningless. Stealth sections have no thrill since they’re set up perfectly for it with no challenge to pulling off the killing moves, and the killing moves themselves end up equally as repetitive as the voice lines. Coupled with a plot written about a guy with military experience by people who seem to have no understanding of the military, and you’ve got yourself a game that went from run-of-the-mill shooter to a game that stands out as awful in a genre that is full of generic and uninspired games.
Rogue Warrior, allow me to review you in the words of Richard “Demo Dick” Marcinko himself…
“It’s a total goat fuck.”