|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Vatra Games|
|Release: March 29, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Language, Violence|
by Steve Haske
From the early twentieth century all the way through WWII, propaganda was a pervasive part of life in the Soviet Union. Perhaps the most iconographic medium used were hand-painted posters, championing the figure of the socialist worker in a would-be utopian communist society, and decrying everything from the bourgeois class to (later) fascism. The most striking element of these pieces was the stark simplicity of their designs, with bold, hand-painted imagery and strong, clear text. One look at the promotional artwork for Vatra's twenty-plus-years later sequel to Rush N' Attack, Ex-Patriot, and it's pretty evident that this is exactly the kind of look they were going for.
But the game is confused. Though it's a nice thought, for what it's worth, that it appears they wanted to use this sort of art style to help sell the aesthetic and mood of the game, it doesn't make sense. If Ex-Patriot is supposed to be a re-visitation to the Reagan-era Cold War and all the Hollywoodized-Red 80's stereotypes that come along with it (and despite being set in present day, it basically is), the use of such propaganda had switched hands, now being the tool not of the crumbling Soviet empire, but the revolutionaries who wanted to end it. The last major use of nationalist posters and signage was during a brief revival during the 1960s, when the USSR was still heavily involved in the Cold War—that particularly characteristic Soviet atmosphere didn't really exist in the same way it had earlier in the twentieth century by the time of Gorbachev's presidency.
Though this has no bearing on Ex-Patriot itself, it is emblematic of its muddled design. The original Rush N' Attack (or Green Beret, as it was initially known in the arcades) was a run and gun shooter that felt a little like Contra, only with a heavy focus on melee. Ex-Patriot sets itself up like a stealth game, which is a good idea considering you're generally limited to your prison shank. Playing as Morrow, an escaped military POW and part of a crack spec ops team sent in to extract another prisoner who's been rotting in the gulag since before the fall of the Berlin Wall—you can sneak up on enemies and perform bloody stealth kills, as well as hide in the shadows to avoid guard patrols. That's all well and good, but the game doesn't really actually play like a stealth game.
There's no Metal Gear-esque alert system that respawns enemies if you're seen; you can't hide bodies of the dead, so if there's more than one guard patrolling an area it's impossible to not arouse further suspicion; perhaps most offensively, the enemy AI is so atrociously, insultingly stupid that there's really no point in even sneaking around. Walking on just about any surface in the dilapidated prisons, barracks and underground facilities that make up Ex-Patriot's bland palette of level design creates clunky footsteps, which none of your enemies can hear, even when you're right behind them. Without a risk-reward system for playing stealth, there's no incentive, so right off the bat half the game's mechanics are basically thrown out the window. I almost immediately abandoned skulking in the darkness for aggressive assaults on my adversaries, and the only difference was that I was probably able to get through the game quicker. The brain dead enemies only serve to make the dull combat something to do as you move from point A to point B. Yawn.