Though Hi-Rez Studios has been around for decades, they didn’t really grab my attention until I tried Paladins on the Nintendo Switch. During a time when Blizzard’s hero shooter wasn’t on the platform, Paladins served as a solid free-to-play alternative. Even now, some may choose to play Paladins over Overwatch on Switch due to the former running at a butter 60 frames per second while the latter can struggle maintaining 30.
The studio’s latest free-to-play game is Rogue Company. This time, it’s a team-based third-person shooter where dueling mercenary groups attempt to complete their objects. Does it do enough to stand out in a saturated shooter market?
Players will squad up into groups of four while assuming the role of a unique hero. Each character possesses their own weapons, abilities, and perks. However, you don’t get access to their full kit. Instead, you get a starting gun and a small sum of cash to buy upgrades. You’ll earn money by downing enemies and completing objectives, which you can then use to progressively spec your character just the way you want. You’ll never get enough money to buy everything, but it does give you some room to tailor each hero to your liking.
Of the characters that I have played, I really enjoy using Dallas and his powerful rifle. If someone else scoops him first, I go for Dima to leverage his explosive grenade launcher ultimate. Though the characters seemed very similar at first, their unique attributes became more apparent over time.
You’ll start out with access to six heroes and have the ability to buy more. Unlike Paladins, there isn’t a one-time payment option that allows you to unlock every current and future character forever. Instead, you can pay real money to unlock heroes or grind the in-game currency to score heroes for free. Though I miss the lifetime payment option, I think the pricing plans are reasonable and the starting roster is a fair slice. If you really want to grind for heroes, you can do that too, though I think the time investment will be too much for most.
Your crew of four will compete in one of three game modes: Demolition, Extraction, and Strikeout. Demolition is the equivalent of Search and Destroy from the Call of Duty series, where one team aims to set up and detonate a bomb while the other aims to disarm it or kill the opposing team. Extraction is a control mode where teams attempt to hold specific areas of the map. Strikeout is a variation of deathmatch where each team can only respawn a certain number of times.
Regardless of the mode, Rogue Company is not a frenetic affair. Despite the game having a few ziplines and low walls to hop over, the actual pace of play is governed by the overall slower foot speed of every character. Running into any encounter will likely turn you into a bullet sponge. Instead, there’s a greater emphasis on managing your shots, gaining a positional advantage, and coordinating with your teammates. There are certainly exciting moments to be had, but there’s a deliberate pace of play that the game really pushes players towards.
Beyond that, two of the three modes put players in one-and-done settings. If you die, you’re sitting out for the rest of the round. The added pressure can really force players to slow down and really be mindful of their decisions. However, I personally struggled to get into a rhythm. Between no respawns and buy phases between each match, it almost feels like you spend more time waiting in Demolition and Extraction than playing. This likely isn’t true for more skilled players, but these two modes aren’t my cup of tea.
Once I found Strikeout, I couldn’t look back. Respawns aren’t plentiful, but I appreciate being able to quickly reenter the battle. With more time to fight, I felt way more satisfied with my efforts after each round. Strikeout is likely to be the least competitive of the three, but it’s my favourite to play.
Its overall gameplay is solid, though its presentation is a mixed bag. I appreciate that the game runs at a smooth 60 frames per second, even on the Nintendo Switch. Yes, there are a few concessions to visual fidelity, but the Switch version is a viable way to play, unlike the notable sacrifices that come with the Switch version of Overwatch. Having played it on PS4 and Nintendo Switch, I choose the latter for convenience. Regardless, the game supports cross-platform play and cross progression for a seamless jump between every version.
However, its overall presentation comes off as bland, even though the game is trying really hard to be anything but. Characters look unremarkable and lack the charm that other hero shooter rosters possess. It also hurts that their weapons and abilities are standard genre fare. Music by Run the Jewels feels bolted-on as a grasp at coolness but doesn’t really match the overall vibe of the game. Even the inclusion of Dr. Disrespect’s arena as a stage just make it feel more like a hodgepodge of things rather than forming an identity of its own.
There are aspects of Rogue Company that I adore. When in the thick of a Strikeout firefight, I’m having a blast. This mode alone is hogging of all of my gaming time. I also appreciate having cross-platform support and access to a capable Nintendo Switch version. And for the price of free-to-play, I’ll likely put many hours into this one without spending a dime. That said, I think I will support the studio by buying a few characters at some point.
However, there are large swaths of the game that don’t interest me, from two-thirds of its gameplay modes, to its bland presentation, to gameplay that could use a bit more flavour. Despite its cringe-worthy efforts to make this game appeal to a wider audience, this one is going to appeal a smaller crowd that appreciates this game’s tactical and methodical approach to combat.