Rogue Corps is so far removed from the rest of the Contra series that it barely deserves the Contra name. This new action game has the look and feel of a mobile title slapped together over a few weeks to make a quick buck. The character models are unattractive, environments are repetitive, and the twin-stick shooter gameplay is a bore, made worse by the bizarre inclusion of a gun cooldown mechanic, obtuse stats, and a loot system. The Contra series had switched up the gameplay formula in the past with varying degrees of success, but Rogue Corps is one of the more disappointing game revivals in recent memory.
Legacy of War
Contra is a relatively straightforward series: A militaristic alien force ravages Earth, and it’s up to a handful of diehard soldiers to take down the extraterrestrial mastermind commanding the hordes in order to save humanity.
Contra isn’t a thinking person’s game series, and it never really tried to be. It’s as video-gamey as games come, which is perhaps why the series is such an iconic one. There are innumerable sci-fi horror and pop culture references injected into the game’s many iterations, as well as some surprisingly grotesque body-horror monstrosities and mutants in the later stages of each title. They’re cheesy, gory run-and-gun games that embrace all the violence and action of 1970s and 1980s sci-fi films. At its core, the Contra series is about big guns, disgusting aliens, and brutal side-scrolling action. Contra Anniversary Collection is a great way to experience classic Contra game.
Contra: Rogue Corps is Konami’s attempt at reinvigorating the franchise with modified and modernized gameplay, like looting, stat-based character development, and online multiplayer action. The problem is that the development team doesn’t seem to understand what makes these gameplay systems good, nor does it seem to know what makes Contra games fun. So, Rogue Corps is a Frankenstein’s monster of a game—a patchwork of padded and highly repetitive missions, poorly balanced weapons, and awkward gameplay choices that don’t feel like Contra (or a good game in general).
Rogue Corps is slow and boring. The game abandons the side-scrolling gameplay of old and adopts a top-down visual style with twin-stick shooting mechanics. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, Rogue Corps trips right out of the gate by giving even the most basic, mindless enemies too much health. It can take several shots to gun down a basic grunt, and the game throws waves of them at you as soon as you start a level. Unfortunately, Rogue Corps also includes an overheat gauge, which limits how long you can shoot your guns. The system penalizes you with a five-second cooldown if you dare to play Rogue Corps like the Contra games of old.
But wait, it gets worse: Your basic movement speed is fairly slow, until you decide to aim with the right stick, as one would correctly do in a twin-stick shooter. While aiming, you unfortunately move even slower, so even the most mindless of shambling zombies can out-hobble your top speed. To offset your crippled movement speed, Rogue Corps gives you a dash that zips you around the battlefield and damages enemies. Of course, this completely reorients your character, so you must realign yourself if you want to get some shots as an enemy closes in again. All of these elements add up to create a distinctly un-Contra feel; there’s no pace to the running and gunning, and overheat management feels like a tacked-on mechanic to force players to stay engaged in the otherwise mindless combat.
And boy, is Rogue Corps is mindless. You shoot waves of grunts in enclosed, urban areas, and then move on to the next roomlike section to do the same. Occasionally, you encounter a tougher variant that requires you to dash into it to weaken it. Sometimes you’ll encounter a mini-boss enemy, which is a large creature with too much health that aggressively charges at you, leaving itself open to shots in the back.
Once you’ve finished a level, you’re dumped into the game’s hub area. There, you can sort through the garbage loot you’ve amassed or take on another mission to do it all over again, but in a remixed series of city rooms this time. Amassing loot and perks feels valueless, because far too many upgrades offer passive buffs with cryptic effects. For example, what does Dodge Attack +8% mean? Does it affect your dash invulnerability? Do you have a random chance to dodge an attack? There’s no resource for what many of these abilities do, so it feels like you’re being rewarded with homework every time you complete a mission.
The real shame is that, as you chip away at the list of missions and make progress, you begin to see some of that grotesque alien charm that made the older games memorable. Your first major boss fight pits you against a giant skeletal robot, which is clearly designed after the robot boss from Contra: Alien Wars, which in turn was inspired by the famous T-800 Terminator. Later in the game, you encounter a silly eye-riddled subway train boss, which eventually explodes to reveal a massive, centipede-like mutant baby that scurries along the tunnel to attack you. Truth be told, these unique bosses are the only real highlight of the game. Unfortunately, even these nuggets of enjoyment are marred by tedium. The fights are not particularly challenging, so bosses have massively padded health bars to lengthen the encounter. After grinding through a handful of repetitive missions to get to said boss, you may not care enough to even fight the damned thing when its mission becomes available.
The game seems to be designed around multiplayer co-op play, which would explain why enemies and bosses have such outrageously long health gauges. The issue is that, quite simply, no one is playing Contra: Rogue Corps, so getting a game going with others is embarrassingly fruitless. The game offers a local couch co-op mode, which is nice, but you can’t do campaign missions in local co-op; only exploration-style missions. So, there’s really no point in it, because if I managed to convince someone visiting me to play a co-op game, Rogue Corps would be at the bottom of the list.
Beat With the Ugly Stick
Contra: Rogue Corps is not a pretty game, nor is it a smooth game. It’s locked at 30 frames per second, and no amount of fiddling with the game’s limited visual options can change that. No tweaking improves the visuals, either, which could have been ripped right out of a PlayStation 2.
Unsurprisingly, Contra: Rogue Corps doesn’t require much horsepower to play. According to the game’s Steam page, your gaming PC needs at least a 3.2GHz Intel Core i5-4460 CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 graphics card, 4GB of RAM, and 14GB of storage. The game supports Steam Cloud, Remote Play Togther, and 36 Steam Achievements.
Won’t Buy That for a Dollar
Truth is, I get no pleasure from trashing a bad game, especially one from a franchise I hold dear. Despite its rough-looking reveal trailer months back, I genuinely hoped that the game would shape up to be a fun Contra spin-off—one that might reinvigorate the series for all to enjoy. But the fact is that Contra: Rogue Corps has too many obnoxious design choices that make it a chore to play, made worse by the slow and highly repetitious gameplay. It’s not worth your money.