The original Rush’N Attack was always one of my favorite Konami games from the 80s, one that could easily sit alongside many of their other classics, such as Castlevania, Contra, and the underrated Jackal. Not surprisingly, Konami’s been pretty busy releasing updates to these and many other of their most venerated gems, and it was only a matter of time before the classic Cold War thriller joined the fun. Rush’N Attack: Ex-Patriot from Vatra Games (also handling the upcoming Silent Hill: Downpour) tries to bring back the feeling of the classic arcade/NES game by way of recent HD recreations by mixing mixing updated visuals with a familiar 2D perspective and gameplay tweaks similar to recent updates like Bionic Command Rearmed (the first one) or Shadow Complex. Unfortunately, this is one update that doesn’t begin to compare with either of those two, let along the action-packed greatness of the original.
In Rush’N Attack: Ex-Patriot, you take control of Sargent Sid Morrow (aka Wolf Spider), member of a secret CIA branch called “Harvest” that’s sent into Russia to infiltrate and investigate the Soviet weapons program. When further tasked with retrieving an abandoned member of the original Harvest team, he and his teammates are captured by the Russians, quickly learning they’ve been busy mining a new energy resource from an old crashed meteor called “Ulyssium”. With this resource they’re able to make newer, deadlier weapons and even use it to create enhanced super soldiers. Naturally, this can’t stand, and it’s up to you and a fellow prison escapee to stop their plans without heating up the Cold War all over again.
The core of the game retains many of the action elements from the original game, but sports a complete visual overhaul using Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, which both adds and subtracts from the overall experience (see below). There’s also a new emphasis on strategy and stealth, making the gameplay feel like a mix of Metroid and Metal Gear as you sneak and attack your way around the various locales, many of which you’ll be visiting again and again (read: backtracking). You’re now able to cling to and scale walls to reach higher areas, while a new leveling system unlocks powerful combos as you play. A new energy meter replaces the one-hit deaths of the original; perhaps the most appreciated new feature in the game.
You start out armed only with the classic knife for close combat attacks, but will soon come across other temporary-use weaponry, including rifles, grenades, and rocket launchers. One of the best new additions is being able to use stealth to avoid enemy units or security cameras, both of which trigger alarms that results in the classic ‘rushing attack’. Another neat thing about the stealth system is the ability to perform stealth kills that reward you with a higher score and just look cool by hiding in dark areas or by entering dark doorways, then exiting for the kill as an enemy passes.
Alas, its a shame that such a key gameplay feature is so mishandled in practice, as poor controls and enemy AI can make pulling off stealth attacks a chore, if at all. You’d think you’d be able to get the drop on baddies, but most times you’ll sneak behind an enemy only to have them turn around right before you go in for a stealth kill. I’m thinking this is probably due to poor implementation of the Unreal Engine, which looks decent enough when scaled-out but transforms into a chunky mess when fully zoomed in, and even bogs the game down with unstoppable animations that remove all control until they play themselves out.
Its also frustrating when well-timed jumps across platforms result in unintentional falls to your death, or when trying to fight more than one baddie at a time, who often block your attacks and leave you with no way to counter theirs. Enemies will also bat you back and forth like a ping-pong ball until you’re dead and flung back to the last checkpoint. This is especially true when battling against bosses, which are poorly constructed and resort to cheap tactics like trapping you in a bash-fest of damage in which death is your only escape. Given how often you’ll be backtracking to previously explored areas (and fighting previously killed enemies) this can get really exhausting really quickly.
Rush’N Attack: Ex-Patriot could’ve been a great return to one of Konami’s most underappreciated classic, but is misses the mark completely thanks to poor controls, cheap enemy AI, and visuals that actually detract from the gameplay – despite using the lauded Unreal Engine. There’s also no co-op action or online multiplayer whatsoever, another unfortunate blemish considering even the original supported 2-player simultaneously. While some hardcore fans may appreciate the game’s shift from pure side-scrolling action to Metroidvania-style exploring and leveling, and may even consider the lackluster combat a bonus challenge, most will probably want to get their updated retro-fix from superior reissues such as Capcom’s first Bionic Commando Rearmed or Epic’s own Shadow Complex.