This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Contra: Rogue Corps.
Prologue: Will Destroy the Galaxy for Cash
My latest book in the Jacques McKeown saga, Will Destroy the Galaxy for Cash, is available now from audible.com! As an audiobook. Obviously. That's kind of their whole thing.
Ah, nothing quite like an unambiguously shit game to brighten a critic's week; it's like standing under an elephant on a hot summer day and taking a long, relaxing stream of piss to the face. Konami are fucking unstoppable! Every single thing people used to like them for, all lined up by the shallow grave one by one, and popped off with a systematic coldness that would trouble Heinrich Himmler. Castlevania? POW, God of War ripoff. Metal Gear Solid? POW, zombie survival. Silent Hill? POW, Homecoming, POW, Shattered Memories, POW, Downpour, POW, cancel Silent Hills. I think it's dead now, Konami. "Are you sure? That bit just twitched." POW, pachinko machine. And now it's Contra's turn; what have you got in store for this one, Obersturmführer Konami, you fucking monster? "Why, a Diablo-y, Gauntlet-esque looter-shooter, of course." Although, I also get a bit of a Smash TV vibe, because after playing it for six hours, that's precisely what I wanted to do.
You may recall I had a bad feeling about this one after its E3 presentation; the first warning sign was that they gave us all a Contra-branded hip flask when we came in which, in retrospect, might have been an oblique hint as to what the game will eventually drive us to. And then I actually played it, and things swiftly went downhill; phwoar crikey, this one's a stinker, listeners, and it says something when you can tell that from the E3 demo, when the game is supposed to be pared down to its best bits and tarted up as much as possible to wow the media. Goes to show: you can put a giant turd in fishnet tights, but all you'll get out of it is a lot of very small, cube-shaped turds.
Anyway, set after the alien wars depicted in the retro Contras, Contra: Rogue Corps is concerned with a mysterious alien city that rises from the ruins, which is supposed to be full of treasure that we assuredly want, but doesn't seem to be doing anything besides sitting there having treasure and monsters, which is a classic example of a "non-plot", a depressingly common setting for live-service multiplayer video games: a plot with no active villain, or ticking clock, or clear solution; just an environment with a generic sense of permanent, non-specific peril that can never change or develop for fear that XxNobChopsxX might stop his grindy eight-hour quest to make themselves able to grind 1.8% more efficiently.
But never mind. We play as one of four cuh-razy mercenaries; there's standard Contra dude with standard allergy to shirts and gun the size of an industrial lathe, and then there's three other twats that you'll try out once each and then go back to the standard Contra McRib that walks like a man 'cos at least A) I understand how his special power works, and B) it isn't fucking useless, and C) he doesn't seem to be trying so hard to be quirky and interesting that his deely bobbers are about to explode with the effort.
The other three are an alien with a posh accent who throws a sort of black hole grenade with the suction power of a handheld vacuum whose filter hasn't been clean since the 70's; there's a giant, vicious panda - pandas being the fucking spirit animal of the quirky magenta game - who has the power to drop stationary turrets that can't rotate and which, as such, the enemy can outwit by moving slightly to the left; and there's the token hot lady, who's a gender-swapped version of Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a katana buried in her stomach orifice - Where do you fucking start with this one? - and who ostensibly gains power when she pulls the sword out. Not sure how, though; as far as I could tell, it mainly just makes her faster which, admittedly, is a pretty special power in this fucking game, where, by default, every character moves like someone filled their shoes with depleted-uranium Lego.
The contrast between the tone as set by the story and the tone and pace of the gameplay is startling; we kick off with a fucking Saturday morning cartoon, showing our heroes leaping into action with football rattles sticking out the ends of their excited stiffies, but then, the instant their feet touch the ground, it's like someone fired the starting pistol and the gates opened to reveal eleven old ladies with Zimmer frames, shuffling forward lest their sagging knickers drift any further down their veiny thighs. You move slow; your gun overheats if you fire it for longer than it takes to say "Contra: Rogue Corps can eat my briny piss." Every mission is a tedious death march through the same environments, fighting the same enemies, regularly broken up with a larger mini-boss enemy where the strategy is always to get it to charge, nonchalantly old-lady-shuffle out of the way of the charge, and then shoot it in the bum, repeat twenty billion times. After five or six missions along these lines, you are graciously permitted to fight a unique boss fight that has another two hundred billion hit points on top of the usual twenty.
All in all, it's as much fun as redecorating a dentist's waiting room, but the biggest and sweatiest bubbles in the wallpaper are thus: firstly, there's a lives system, and if you run out, you have to start the current grindy, repetitive mission all over again, and that's another ten wasted minutes hacked out of your limited time on Earth that could've been spent on education or half an episode of Arrested Development, and secondly, it's co-op focused, so you can't fucking pause in single-player. So at one point, the aliens apparently forged a sinister alliance with my orthopedic surgeon, and my attempt to beat a difficult mission halfway through the game was foiled at the last moment when she rang up to confirm my appointment.
I think whoever was in charge of the wacky story must have seduced the daughter of whoever was designing the gameplay, so they took revenge by never missing an opportunity to make things slow and boring. Between missions, we go back to home base and have to deal with the "looty" half of "looty-shooty" by laboriously sorting through our latest crop of equips and weapon add-ons that apply completely mystifying upgrades. "+5% defense against generic damage"? What the fuck is "generic" damage? Damage that basically does the job but isn't focused on innovating at this time?
At first, I thought the game just flat-out didn't have any plot after the intro cartoon, like that was the lure to get us into the tedious grind, the glowy light on the front of a deep-sea anglerfish, the advert for a retirement home that shows old people smiling. But no, the plot does continue! There's a new cartoon after every chapter; the game just doesn't fucking show you them! You have to go to the profile menu to watch them from the video archive, and why would I ever go to the profile menu? What's likely to be on there? My current level? Number of hours played? That would only depress me! There's no rational reason not to just automatically show the cartoon after you beat the chapter; it's got to be daughter seduction!
"So was there anything you liked about Contra: Rogue Corps, Yahtzee?" (Man, even the fucking title sounds like a grandparent falling down a staircase.) Well, I did kind of like how, on the menu, instead of saying "quit the game," it says "terminate the game"; that language is a lot more in line with my feelings after I've played Contra: Rogue Corps for any length of time. Yes, please terminate this fucking tosh; please murder it. If only there was an option for "ejecting it from my hard drive with a fucking clay pigeon launcher".
- Gone rogue again: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Hey who remembers when "Contra" was just a name for a Nicaraguan counter-revolutionary
- Hey who remembers those adorable Reagan-era political scandals