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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Graphics: 4.4
Gameplay: 4.9
Sound: 4.6
Control: 4.2
Replay Value: 4.5
Rating: 4.6

It was a huge summer theatrical release and not surprisingly, they decided to make a video game to go along with it. But one of these days, a publisher is going to realize that if the game isn’t worth owning, they might not make a very big profit…and if it’s as bad as G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (especially considering the production costs for PlayStation 3 games), it’s a lose-lose situation. It’s one thing if you wish to pay homage to old-school titles that preached nothing but nonstop action and simplified gameplay, but it’s quite another if you can’t implement the idea correctly. On the surface, and as I discussed when reviewing the PS2 version, we have a good premise that yields plenty of promise, but all we ultimately receive is a seriously flawed action title that includes iffy controls, sub-par technicals, and a repetitive style of gameplay that is neither interesting or engaging. The most annoying part of games like this is that it could’ve been pretty damn good, had the developers simply put in the effort. We can always use straight-up action games that allow us to kick back and relax, but this just won’t cut it.

While the graphics are certainly better than what we find in the PS2 version, they’re still far short of the standard expectations these days. Again, we understand that Double Helix never intended for Rise of Cobra to have flashy, eye-catching visuals that cause the player’s jaw to drop, but we deserve better than this. The cut-scenes aren’t too bad but the gameplay visuals are well below average, what with their jagged edges and decided lack of sharpness. This drawback was heavily pronounced in the PS2 iteration but unfortunately, it ain’t much better here, and that’s just plain ridiculous. We needed more in the way of detail and the levels lack much inspiration and originality; there was just so much more that could’ve been done. We don’t need an open-ended adventure – after all, this is supposed to be similar to a next-gen Contra - but we’re so limited in terms of level design that we soon lose all interest in our surroundings. The color palette is dark and boring, the presentation is bland, and above all else, the overall quality is well below the standards that have been set thus far in the generation.

The sound suffers from a lack of balance in the sound effects (though not as badly as in the PS2 version), and the generic, old-fashioned style just doesn’t resonate with nostalgic tidings of good times. Sure, we get that games from yesteryear didn’t exactly boast musical composition prowess, and we really only had a few electronic boops and bleeps, but really, we’ve left that behind. The developers could’ve given us a soundtrack that was less repetitive and more indicative of the current era, while still keeping to the tradition set during simpler times. The voice acting is okay – we get many of the actors from the movie – but as the writing is piss-poor, the actors can do little to save this script from obscurity. That balance issue we attacked during our review of the PS2 version is still evident, although it’s not quite as glaring; weapon effects and soundtrack never gel correctly, and we’ll often miss entire words spoken by certain characters at certain times. It’s just a messy production in terms of both visuals and sound, and that’s that.

The game is set up as follows: two “Joes” head into battle, usually in an attempt to save an ally. As you progress and rescue more allies, you can use them in battle; there are 12 usable characters in all, and they each have different default weapons and special skills to use on the field of combat. You begin with Joe and Scarlett and the first character you unlock is Heavy Duty, who saunters into battle toting a big ol’ minigun. The hordes of enemies will continue to come at you throughout each and every level, and you can use certain objects for cover, all the while attempting to lock on and survive. It’s a third-person shooter mechanic that lets you run, dodge, fire (you can switch targets manually with the right analog stick), enable special Accelerator Suits with the triangle button, and access the character’s special ability with the circle button. It’s you versus the M.A.R.S. villains and it isn’t going to be easy; there are plenty of familiar faces on the enemy’s side, and you’ll have to take ‘em all down. The speed of the action remains fast and furious throughout.

Unfortunately, everything takes a turn for the worse in the first five minutes of play time. The first shortcoming you will notice is the jerky, unstable movement of the characters; dodging just doesn’t feel right, and trying to lock on to enemies is an issue and a half. You’ll also notice that the camera doesn’t always accommodate the action on screen; it will often sit way too far behind your advancing characters, and because the camera is fixed, there’s nothing you can do about it. Also, when diving for cover behind obstacles, those obstacles will likely be shot to shreds in seconds, thereby rendering them next-to-useless. Then we’ve got the lack of diversity that should be apparent in the cast of characters you can utilize: it just doesn’t seem to make any difference who we use. The weapons seem to do the same amount of damage – even Heavy Duty’s minigun doesn’t appear to do that much more damage that Joe’s automatic gun – the special skills are tough to use without a true lock-on feature, and those Accelerator Suits basically make every last fighter identical in nature.

Where’s the fun in that? Fans of “G.I. Joe” want to sample the characters they grew up with, and in the cartoon, each character behaved very differently. In this game, it really makes little to no difference who you bring with you, and the only positive aspect to this is that you always have two fighters in battle. Switching between them is as easy as hitting the R1 button, but that’s about the only special feature that works correctly in this game. The computer AI is mostly lame and while ally AI seems to be a bit better, you can usually cause more damage with the character you control (as it should be, I guess). Progressing through the missions feels almost like doing the same quest over and over and over; how many times are we supposed to set out to rescue another member of the team? Most all the boss encounters are low on the intensity meter and few require anything in the way of real strategy. The majority of the time, you’re just running around, battling the camera almost as often as you battle your foes, and hoping that somewhat erratic manual targeting works out. In the end, it just isn’t much fun.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra fails to deliver the goods on any conceivable level, and it’s simply because the production is mediocre in terms of both technicals and gameplay. Right from the start, you will notice the somewhat unstable control and as you move forward through the game, you’ll be annoyed at the faceless characters, the repetitive missions, and the many little hang-ups that come together to hinder the experience even further. There are plenty of decent action titles out there and sadly, this isn’t one of them. The movie won’t be winning any awards, either, but at least it might titillate its target demographic…the game certainly won’t.

8/25/2009   Ben Dutka