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Contra: Rogue Corps

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: Sept. 24, 2019


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PS4 Review - 'Contra: Rogue Corps'

by Cody Medellin on April 14, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Contra: Rogue Corps is a twin stick, third-person action game drawing upon its roots in fast and focused combat.

The name Contra conjures up memories of pure running and gunning action, especially with a friend in tow. For several generations, it has been in the top of its field alongside titles like Metal Slug and Gunstar Heroes, and it was guaranteed to be a game that's easy to get into yet challenging enough to provide to be fun. It's difficult to maintain that level of quality across a long-running series, so there have been a few poorly executed titles. Unfortunately, Contra: Rogue Corps will be remembered as the latest member of that group.

Although the story may never really be important in this series, it is notable how Rogue Corps makes an effort to tie into Contra III: The Alien Wars. Three years have passed since aliens have invaded Earth, and the humans have managed to win with a massive cannon that eradicated the invading forces. Relative peace was supposed to come, but instead, a twisted city has risen up from the ground. Nicknamed the Damned City, it's home to alien abominations and advanced technology. While many succumbed to the city's psychological meltdown, others who were immune became hired guns to retrieve the technology or prisoners. You play as a member of the Rogue Corps ā€” a soldier of the alien wars, a woman with an alien in her chest, another alien with a more scholarly bent, or a cyborg panda ā€” as you tackle various missions in the city to earn your keep.

The core mechanics aren't what's expected when you first hear about the game. Instead of being a side-scrolling shooter, this is more of a twin-stick shooter with constant perspective changes. From time to time, it will be similar to the old arcade game Cabal or the Sega Genesis game Dynamite Duke, where you weave from side to side while moving a cursor to shoot enemies. Missions are selectable and split between standard ones and more exploratory ones, and you can grab loot to power up your guns and yourself. Finally, you have special moves like a dash, the ability to carry enemies and objects, and the chance to initiate instant kills on certain foes.

For all of the new elements introduced in Rogue Corps, you can easily point out the ways in which their implementation could be tighter. The twin-stick shooter mechanic would work fine if your aim felt smooth and your character weren't a chore to move. The special shooting gallery sections feel off, and the platforming feels arbitrarily thrown in, cheapening the gameplay instead of adding diversity like prior Contra titles did when they shifted mechanics. It doesn't help that the enemies rely on a swarm technique to challenge you, while the bosses are bullet sponges with no intelligent patterns to decipher and hardly any drive to kill you.

The flow feels stunted due to a variety of factors. The game throws in loads of monster closets, with enemies always spawning at random spots. Getting in the glory kills to unlock a door means you have to watch the same lengthy cut scene, and the same thing happens when you activate a bomb and have to watch your character ride it to the ground. Combined with the doors that need to be shot to divide areas, you get the sense that the game wants to slow you down instead of let you go at your own pace. It's strange since the countdown clock is ticking down the entire time.

Perhaps the most damning of the bad gameplay mechanics comes from the guns themselves, which now employ a cooldown system. In reality, this isn't that bad of a decision since it forces you to switch weapons often, and most modern players can compare it to a reload system in other shooters. At the same time, when you take into account the name of the game, it feels unnecessarily tacked on considering how well past games worked without it. Given the smaller library of guns this time around, it is another reason the shooting doesn't feel as solid as it should.

Rogue Corps has some redeeming qualities. The loot grind means that you'll be awarded for gun parts that change out some of the traits, like better cooldown time and more damage, but some of those improvements are so minor that you'll be hard-pressed to see the changes immediately. The same goes for the body augmentations; it takes a while to gain the necessary parts to have a significant impact. One intriguing aspect is the fact that you can select your surgeon to implement the body changes, and paying for a more skilled surgeon comes with a higher risk of getting a quirk that may or may not be beneficial. This would be worth checking out if the grind for cash weren't so severe, since it takes several levels before you can afford one paid augment. You'll likely ignore everyone but the surgeon who gives you the listed benefits for free.

While playing solo was always an option, co-op was always the preferred method for tackling any game in the series. Every multiplayer option in Rogue Corps ranges from bad to worse. Co-op for the campaign is for up to four players, but it can only be done online. With an absent online community, you'll need to convince friends to get a copy. The same fate befalls the PvP mode, which is supposed to be a mix of shooting and sports, but we couldn't discover what it was due to no one being online. If you want to play locally, you'll only be able to do so on one mode, and that's only good for loot harvesting. It's fine if you want to farm for good gear and weapon augments, but it isn't something that you could convince others to play, since the campaign has always been the bigger draw of the series.

Like much of the game, the presentation is rather bland. The character models aren't memorable, except for some of the massive bosses, but the camera swings around so often and pulls back so far that details get lost and every enemy looks like a nondescript purple blob. The color palette is reminiscent of the less desirable end of the PS3/Xbox 360 spectrum, as everything is muted enough to look drab, and the game's middling frame rate doesn't help matters. The lack of impressive particle effects and the not-so-impressive number of on-screen foes kills the spectacle, as you get the feeling this could've been released on an older system.

Audio exists. The music carries some familiar riffs from the older games, but it is otherwise forgettable, especially since it only plays during action scenes. The voices are decent, but the dialog is groanworthy and repeats often enough that you'll tune them out. Surprisingly, the sound effects lack any punch, so the constant shooting and explosions lack a satisfying feel.

If Contra: Rogue Corps were known by any other name, it wouldn't be so bad. The idea of a twin-stick looter shooter is intriguing, and the shooting can be decent even if the level flow isn't exciting. However, that reliance on the franchise name comes with certain expectations. The overheating guns, restricted co-op, and missing weapon sets run counter to what fans have come to expect from the series that's been around for over 30 years. If you aren't too discerning, this may be worth a look if it's in the bargain bin. If fans of the series pick up Rogue Corps, they will be disappointed.

Score: 4.0/10

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