G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Review
It’s one of the hottest action flicks of the summer and it reunited kids of the ‘80s with one of their favorite action heroes. “G.I. Joe” was a mainstay of popular culture a couple decades ago; I can still remember watching the cartoons in the afternoon after coming home from school, and playing with those plastic figurines. After “Transformers” was resurrected several years ago, it’s no surprise to see another ‘80s cartoon get the big-screen treatment, nor is it shocking to find a video game based on the movie in question. Of course, the transition from film to game and vice versa rarely works, and we weren’t impressed by any media we had seen before heading into this review. We had hoped our reservations would prove to be ill-founded and Double Helix had provided us with an entertaining Contra-like experience but instead, we get a terribly mediocre presentation with laughable visuals, crucially flawed gameplay, and a fun factor that barely registers. If you’re wondering, the PS3 version ain’t much better, and neither version is worth your hard-earned money.
The graphics in this PS2 iteration really are atrocious. The cut-scenes are below average but the gameplay visuals are just a mess; the character detail and modeling could easily exist within a PS1 game, the backdrops actually reminded us more of the original Metal Gear Solid (and really, not much better), and with repetitive environments, lackluster levels, and special effects that are almost entirely devoid of flash and panache, The Rise of Cobra is thoroughly disappointing from a graphical perspective. In all honesty, this game might not have passed for anything decent when the PS2 first launched nearly nine years ago; now, in direct comparison to recent titles on the aging system, this title looks even worse. It appears as if the developers failed to put any effort whatsoever into the clarity and general detail, and while we didn’t necessarily need a technically accomplished production, this is just unacceptable. The coloring is boring, the clipping and other errors are painfully evident, and that jagginess is just out of control. Sadly, you will laugh when you first gain control of your characters.
The sound isn’t much better, but some decent voice acting tries to compensate for the abysmal effects and terrible balance issues. The actors from the movie do lend their voices to the characters in the game, which helps, but the writing is so bad, there’s little they can do to increase the script’s appeal. The sound effects are generic at best, as there’s nothing here you haven’t heard in action games dating back to the 32-bit era. Furthermore, that ridiculous lack of balance runs rampant; there are times when you’ll actually have to reach for the remote to alter the volume because the speech will suddenly override all effects and music, or perhaps the effects will jump in with a surprising assault on the ears. You can tell that much of the soundtrack comes from the film, but the difference is that one set of tracks is professionally implemented into the entertainment product, while the other one is…well, amateur-hour. Even the different weapons all sound virtually identical, and what should be bone-shattering explosions are relegated to dull, muted booms that just remind us we’re playing a game with severely outdated technicals. And so, nothing good here, either.
The gameplay tries to make up for the serious shortcomings of the graphics and sound, but despite a not-so-valiant attempt at recreating the old-school run ‘n gun style, we end up with an adventure that falls well shy of expectations. The premise is relatively simple, as you might expect: the “Joes” are doing battle with M.A.R.S. and Cobra, and you will set out on a variety of quests, many of which are designed around the “seek and rescue” objective. Basically, any new characters you rescue – there are 12 in all – will become available in your Party Roster; Heavy Duty is the first ally that requires saving. Throughout your missions, you will battle legions of baddies, and that includes mechanical turrets, tanks, and of course, the major villains that are likely familiar to fans of the series. It’s a typical third-person shooter that lets you run, dodge, fire (switch targets manually with the right analog stick), select a special ability with the Circle button, and enable the bad-ass Accelerator Suits when you’ve eliminated enough foes. Sounds kinda exciting, right?
Well, by all rights, it should’ve been. But there are multiple problems. First of all, the fixed camera doesn’t work at all, as you will often be firing blindly at targets that are well off the screen, and the camera usually sits too far behind your characters. This continues to be a problem and can become awfully frustrating when dealing with particularly tricky encounters that would require you to see more of your environment. Secondly, the control itself is a little too jerky and unstable; you move about quickly, but simple maneuvers like taking cover and executing a melee attack aren’t fluid in the least. Thirdly, while the dodge can be effective, we fail to see how it’s always superior to just running around; we’d get hit no matter what we did. And because the “cover” would always disintegrate within seconds, its usefulness was questionable. Oh, and let’s not forget that without a lock-on feature, you’d just have to point your character in the general direction of the enemies and fire away. Switching targets didn’t really help much, either. Yep, there are all kinds of problems.
Then we have to mention the facelessness of the characters themselves. It’s as if we’re playing with random dudes and dudettes that have no real personality (besides the times when they talk), because most of them play similarly when out in the field of combat. There also doesn’t appear to be much of a benefit to selecting certain allies for certain missions, which makes everything boring and repetitive. If Heavy Duty has a freakin’ mini-gun in his arms, how come he doesn’t appear to do any more damage than Scarlet or Duke with their firearms? What’s the deal? And if we can’t really aim our “special ability” (which usually has to do with a secondary fire for your weapon), how is that effective? Perhaps the only mechanic that really functions as it should – and even then, it’s iffy – is the ability to switch between the two characters at any given time just by pressing R1. This lets you experiment with both characters whenever you wish, and the AI when the computer has control of them isn’t too bad. But as we just said, because each character feels very much the same when in battle, there’s usually little point to switch. At one point, we just said, “yeah, who cares?”
Lastly, let’s not forget our least favorite feature: the fact that we don’t get any checkpoints in the levels, which means that if you lose all your lives, you will return to the very start of the level. In other words, if you fail to defeat that tough boss, you’ll be returned to the starting point. This is, needless to say, immensely frustrating. Some may view it as an extra challenge and an appropriate return to the roots of “pure gaming,” but we just call it lazy programming and entirely needless in this day and age. The storyline is almost non-existent and even though we didn’t need MGS-quality, we could’ve used something that might’ve been slightly compelling. Instead, all you really do is run around and rescue members of your team, which gets tiring very, very quickly. Factor in the multitude of drawbacks associated with the control, camera, and basic battle gameplay, and you’ve got a game just reeks of a developer’s defeatist attitude. Apparently, they just figured a PS2 game had to look and play like crap, so they decided not to try. What other explanation is there?
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra certainly looks and even plays a little better on the next-gen systems, but this PS2 version should be avoided at all costs. There’s very little in the way of redeeming qualities, and just about every aspect of this production has its fair share of problems. There’s no need to elaborate further; just stay away.
Oh, and we don't have any PS2 screenshots, but if you want to check out the PS3 screens, feel free. Just picture those pics...only a lot worse.
8/11/2009 Ben Dutka