Rogue Aces is an air-combat rogue-like, but don’t let the “rogue” in that title fool you. The inherent limitations of a purely aircraft based 2D game severely lacerates the aforementioned rogue-like experience. It won’t hook most players in the same way as Spelunky or Rogue Legacy, but it’s at least a competent arcade shooter; One whose merits rest solely on its ability to waste time.
Rogue Aces consists of three core campaign modes along with distinctive arcade modes ranging from Hot Potato to Survival. The campaigns are the meat of the game, though among these, the absence of training aids is the only distinction between the normal and veteran campaigns. In the normal campaign, you have the option of automatically landing at the expense of some of that session’s scored points. However, it doesn’t restrict more skilled players from landing manually. For the skilled Rogue Aces player, then, that differentiation is practically nonexistent. The only other notably absent “training aid” comes in the form of icons indicating enemy airplanes. This doesn’t make the game any more hardcore as the limited screen real estate makes hunting down off-screen planes a chore unless they’ve been damaged enough to leave behind a trail of smoke. All it adds is busy work rather than challenge. The two modes are identical in structure aside from those minor alterations.
They also contain a fairly basic and addictive gameplay loop. Each session begins with an airplane on a landing zone and a randomly generated mission. After completing each mission, the plane will need to land before Rogue Aces doles out the next objective. These mandatory pit stops refill the plane’s fuel, health, rocket, and missile ammo. Each mission is generated randomly with each pit stop serving as a satisfying book-end to an excursion. This structure continues for as long as the player can survive. That endless nature induces a compulsive drive to perform better than before.
These campaigns are also where the rogue-like elements figure most prominently, though even then, they add so little compared to rogue-likes in other genres. Each session begins with choosing a male or female pilot, then deciding on one or two stat boosts for an immediate edge. Terrain is procedurally generated, though the land and enemy placement has next to no impact on the actual gameplay experience. The missions are all standard affair:
- Kill x number of foot soldiers
- Destroy x number of tanks
- Take out x number of enemy planes
- Neutralize the enemy base
- Destroy the train
- Take out the airship
The list goes on, but it’s all basic drivel that doesn’t really change depending on how long or high a stretch of land is placed. The player’s strategy is never altered to any noticeable degree, making each run feel the same even if the missions are given out in a different order or even if this base is fifty meters away as opposed to twenty meters away like the previous run.
Experience points are acquired for each completed mission. Leveling up unlocks new game modes. Gating unlockable modes behind experience points is an interesting idea that encourages players to maximize efficiency. The problem it presents, though, is an incredibly slow drip-feed of content. New modes aren’t unlocked at each level. Some require leveling up multiple times before a new one appears on the menu and unless you’re incredibly skilled, anything past level 5 is a slow burn.
This stilted progression prevents players from just jumping in and having fun like it wants you to. What if I want to play the veteran campaign? I have to dump a handful of hours in before the option is even given to me? What if I want to access the fun arcade modes aside from the starting Survival mode? I have to dump several more hours in? It flies in the face of the game’s arcade sensibilities.
It doesn’t help that the third campaign mode, Frontline, feels like a throwaway addition just to fill out the menu screen. Instead of being given one mission at a time as with normal and veteran, Frontline loads the player with all of the objectives at once–usually five or six per island. Once all objectives have been completed, you are returned to the map screen to pick another island with a similar set of objectives. Rinse and repeat.
Rogue Aces had potential. It’s a silly arcade shooter with some interesting ideas including hijacking, which by the way, can’t be done in the core campaign modes. Unfortunately, it squanders that potential with incredibly limited scenarios and a hamstrung progression system that takes too long to unveil its various arcade modes. That’s not to say it has no merit. You could find worse for $13. It’s an okay distraction to put on while listening to a podcast or talking to friends when you know you want to play something, but don’t want a game that requires too much of an investment to get into the thick of it. Waiting for a sale is recommended.
Disclaimer: A free Rogue Aces code was sent by Curve Digital for the purposes of this review