Now, the final proof the retro market is hopping: We've also got lazy cash-ins. Rush'N Attack: Ex-Patriot, the franchise reboot nobody was clamoring for, is the most mystifying resurrection of a moribund property since the big-screen version of Car 54, Where Are You?
No doubt Rush'n Attack, Konami's 1985 arcade hit, has its adherents. A fast-paced action-platformer, what was most noteworthy was that its hero was armed primarily with a knife. The sequel, Ex-Patriot, keeps that conceit. When it begins, your character, Morrow, is busted out of a cell in a remote Russian gulag with blade in hand. (You may remember that this was also the same basic premise of Wolfenstein 3-D, which is not the first time that Ex-Patriot will make you wistful for a better game.) Sometimes one unique idea can be enough to hang a whole game on. That is not the case here.
You might expect that close-quarters combat would lead to intricate duels, but in practice the knifeplay is sluggish and rote. As the game progresses, Morrow unlocks several attack combos. Rarely more than three moves long, the combos are nevertheless practically impossible to pull off, thanks to our hero's overly elaborate animation sets that give no clear visual indication when you're supposed to input the next move. Nor does mastering combos unlock new ones -- they're just doled out, one by one, over the course of the game.
Rush'N Attack: Ex-Patriot does succeed in one area, and that's adding a second pun to an already corny title.
For the most part, though, if you are constantly engaging in close-quarters combat, then you're doing it wrong. Ex-Patriot is nominally a stealth action game. Rather than rushing and attacking, more often you are waiting and attacking. This is not, in itself, a bad thing. Ex-Patriot wants to give you the thrill of hiding in shadow as your prey wanders, unaware, into arm's reach. And so Morrow can disappear into shadowy doorways, tuck himself into crawl spaces, and duck beneath walkways to ambush enemy patrols.
But those three tactics? They're always the same, from start to finish. Never do you have to experiment with hiding spots, or apply something you've learned in a new way. The doorways in the prison look like the doorways in the lab look like the doorways in the base. Even the dramatic audio cue that plays when you ice a passing grunt loses its luster before long. You find yourself in long stretches of ducking into a doorway, maybe whistling to catch the attention of a guard, knifing him real good, and then repeating. If you stop to wonder why none of the other guards ever seem to notice their buddies' mangled corpses littering the hallways, then congratulations, you've just put more thought into this game's design than its designers did.
Ex-Patriot may be a mediocre action game, but when it adds pure platforming elements, it's downright abysmal. A brief but perceptible delay between your button presses and Morrow's movements means that, if he's running at full speed, he will take two or three additional steps before jumping -- often the difference between a successful leap and a plunge into a vat of acid. Or he'll keep climbing a few rungs up a ladder into an enemy's line of sight, instead of halting just below. His limited repertoire of free-running actions, including wall-jumping and hanging off ledges, work well enough until you really need them to, when Morrow suddenly exhibits a rebellious streak.
Even if you could traverse the world more adeptly, there's no need to. Ex-Patriot has a mini-map reminiscent of the one in Shadow Complex, with the key difference being that Shadow Complex gave players reasons to want to explore. Despite a few alternate routes -- which are always ventilation shafts -- Ex-Patriot is essentially linear, and provides no sense of Metroidvania-style progression from building out the map. By finding blue crystals in tucked-away places, you can increase Morrow's health meter, but that's it for character growth.
While finding the occasional med pack is certainly a help, most of the time, there's no reason to explore out of the way places if you're already well supplied. More often than not, you'll head off course in search of a power-up, only to find that you don't need it. You might find a pack of grenades that buzzes when you touch it, indicating that your supply is full. Can you ever find an upgrade that will increase your grenade capacity? Of course not. That would make too much sense.
Rush'N Attack: Ex-Patriot does succeed in one area, and that's adding a second pun to an already corny title. Most games these days are content with merely one play on words. If only that ambition had extended to any other aspect of the game. This is the worst sort of throwback: It neither recalls fond memories of 1985, nor keeps pace with the state of games in 2011. It does not need to exist.
This review is based on the XBLA version of Rush'N Attack: Ex-Patriot purchased by Joystiq.
Mitch Krpata is a freelance writer based in Boston, MA. His work has appeared in the Boston Phoenix, Paste magazine, Slate.com, and Kill Screen, as well as in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die. He scribbles occasionally at his blog, Insult Swordfighting.