Retro gaming is a strange habit. In the vast majority of cases, we know that better gameplay can be found elsewhere. Although we're not playing these classics for the mechanics (well, apart from the genuinely revolutionary ones), we're playing them for nostalgic value. In recent times, several retro games from the 1980s have made their comeback. Some good, some rubbish. With a platform like Xbox Live, developers have a space to distribute bite-sized chunks of retro goodness. That's where Konami gets involved. Sixteen years after the original arcade release, Rush'n Attack is here with a sequel called Ex-Patriot and it's not even close to being good. Wait a second... what?
Players take control of Sid Morrow as he tries to escape from a nasty Russian prison. The story is mostly trash; it's a typical, cliched East versus West plot. Inspired by the Cold War and the persistent threat of fear (a result of 'Mutually Assured Destruction'), Ex-Patriot deals with the problems caused by nuclear warfare. During the Cold War, American intel suggested that Russia had discovered a new material called 'Ulyssium', so powerful that it could create the most destructive nuclear missile known to man. The Central Intelligence Agency formed a new task force called 'Harvest' to address the nuclear concerns. Sid is a member of the latest Harvest squad and must rescue a long lost operative, exploring Russia's nuclear capabilities at the same time. Ex-Patriot's story is B-Grade and if it was a movie, Steven Seagal would be the leading man. But if that sounds somewhat enticing, then go for it, just be prepared to read lots of dialogue boxes.
Rush'n Attack: Ex-Patriot is not a tribute to the original, it's confirmation that some franchises don't work outside of whatever era they were conceived in. The gameplay is boring, unimaginative and repetitive. Sid's takedown moves are pretty cool, and he can unlock new combos that try to keep the combat fresh. When you realise just how dumb the enemies really are, then you won't need to use any of those extra skills. Unless you're within three feet of a patrolling guard, chances are he won't see you. You can either hide in a doorway to silently kill him and take his weapon, or else you can hack and slash from start to finish. It's a disappointing outcome either way. Because each area looks so similar and objectives are both vague and poorly instructed, you're going to get lost. The map isn't user-friendly, the level design tries to mirror Shadow Complex but fails miserably; and when you're asked to traverse dangerous obstacle courses surrounded by evil green goo, Sid handles like a clunky 'Action Man' figurine.
Controlling Sid is a real nuisance when he needs to climb onto overhead walkways or do any type of platforming. He has a tendency to mistime jumps or miss ledges; it happens too often and slows down the fast paced combat. Despite the banality of the combat, sprinting past enemies and slicing their throats has its moments. And that's about the only positive in the entire game. New weapons including rocket launchers and flame throwers do nothing to improve Ex-Patriot, and just like Sid's acrobatics, rockets will miss their target. When you finally manage to escape the prison after a terrible boss fight (where upon respawning, we were surrounded by enemies who appeared out of thin air), new opponents emerge including hungry hounds who bite and rush. We met them for the first time after picking up an assault rifle, but the hit detection is so bad that it's almost impossible to hit the canine, even when crouched. "Switch to your knife!", the reader yells out. Well... that's awkward. Sid can't swap between weapons, he can only drop them. Pressing in the right stick will allow you to whip out the knife again, sacrificing the gun and leaving yourself open to enemy fire. It's frustrating and it's not necessary.
Visually, Ex-Patriot is dirty. Really dirty. The texture work on character models is awful, and this is supposedly running on Unreal Engine 3. Environments look ok, but as stated earlier, they're all the same in any given chapter. There's no audio to speak of either, since the characters are voiceless and have zero personality, making it impossible for the player to establish a connection. Guns sound like guns, generic enemies sound like generic enemies; these are the basics, and Rush'n Attack: Ex-Patriot refuses to go beyond the bare minimum. Some of the artwork is decent, but hardly memorable. As for replay value, there's no co-operative play and the only online element is a leaderboard. If you enjoy hunting collectibles, then by all means, feel free to shimmy around all of those hidden locations again. Even a hardcore completionist will struggle to find a convincing reason to go anywhere near Ex-Patriot after blitzing through its short, unsatisfying campaign.
What can we learn from Rush'n Attack: Ex-Patriot? It's bad across the board, and for 800 MSP (AU$13), it's not worth the money. We're more than willing to give these reboots a chance, as they have the potential to bring plenty of enjoyment to the table. However, when something as cheap and unpolished as Ex-Patriot comes along, our only option is to tell the truth. Rush'n Attack; Ex-Patriot is not a worthy sequel, it's miles behind Shadow Complex, and proves that retro status doesn't guarantee anything in this generation. Get it right next time, or else don't bother.