Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Microsoft Xbox 360)

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Genre: Action
Developer: Electronic Arts
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 08/04/2009

Summer blockbusters may be fizzling away for the year with the season coming to a close, but that’s not stopping some familiar names from dropping onto the silver screen for a twentieth century reimagining. This latest effort modernizes one of the many treasured cartoon series I enjoyed prior to hauling off for school – the battle of red lasers versus blue lasers (lasers are the other half of the battle if you didn’t know): G.I. Joe. The original running of the series saw a span of quality, video game wise, from a decent couple of games on the NES and a frantic four-player arcade title to a crazy-ass VCS snake fight and a ho-hum vehicular-based Commadore 64 entry, but now the Joes are making a transition to the current generation of gaming. Unfortunately, the end result is no rise of the phoenix – the revamped image of the 2009 movie may turn off nostalgia buffs and the horrid presentation and boring gameplay make this title a no sale for anyone hoping for a solid action title.

Surprisingly, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra takes place after the events of the movie, which serves as a storyline on how Duke became involved in the organization. Now with everyone already familiar with each other and introduced into canon, the team encounters a new in-game battle in which Cobra is again up to something, locating teams in places such as the Arctic, deserts and jungles in an attempt to steal items and resources that will allow the evil empire to construct a new threat to the world. Even though the movie and game takes some liberties with stories over the origins and plots of the original comics and animations, the original work does feel refreshing for a movie-based game, even if fans of the original series might gnash their teeth at the thought. The problem, however, is in how the story is told: Generic character portrait stills, overlaced with Matrix green color to emulate coded transmissions, and uninspired dialog chug the story along. If the story does accomplish one thing, though, it reminds me of the hokey, overly-elaborate domination schemes cliché to any “Ëœ80s cartoon villain – it’s downright ridiculous and contrived, but if you lived through the DiC series of decades past, that’s par for the course.

The game does throw in a handful of characters from the series not seen in the game, and not being tied down to a movie appearance does give them a little bit of a shine, but they are never seen outside of dialog bits. The storyline also sees fit to ignore snippets from the movie, which made me scratch my head a little bit, but I suppose that is the least of the game’s worries in regard to its painfully generic story that would fit in along side any NES-era military game. Speaking of NES games, the only modes up for offer include the option to play the game’s single mode with one player or two – there’s no online modes here. Perhaps there was a treaty signed prior to the events of Rush’N Attack that mandates the U.S. can only attack terroristic entities two soldiers at a time. I don’t know, history isn’t a strong suit of mine, but at least the Joes are given more than knives.

Being on the Xbox 360, you’d think G.I. Joe would have some decent graphics under its hood, but the whole time I ran through the title, I couldn’t get over how painfully bad some aspects of its visuals were. In the scope of epic battle, the camera seems like it is positioned a mile away from the action, resulting in tiny character models without a shred of detail running around and rolling with shoddy animation. There were times where I was reminded of playing a slightly more detailed C: The Contra Adventure (hint: that game was released on the Playstation One), but, realistically, the visuals almost seem like they could have been possible on last-generation systems. You’ll see some jaggies outlining the characters, a lot of environmental objects don’t mesh with the terrain, and buildings and other terrain look washy. There is essentially zero detail in the game’s visuals and they look quite dated, which even carries over into the CG movie scenes, where the environments remind me of the computer generated scenes you see in the video game development school commercials. I will admit there are some decent lighting effects to be seen in the game and the environments do vary (although they are cliché to about any other shooter game from the arcade era), but the bottom line is this definitely does not look like an Xbox 360 game.

At least the game turns it up a little bit in the sound department. Even though you’ll spend at least 80 percent of the game listening to lasers and explosions, they are very serviceable, with some of the effects slightly harking back to the “pew pew pew” effects of the cartoon. While, oddly, most of the movie cast didn’t see fit to voice characters in the game, it does host a few notable names and for every shaky voice sample in the game, you do get a small handful of worthwhile performances that actually fit the character being portrayed. Most of the action washes out the music, but when players activate their accelerator suits, a rendition of the “Real American Hero” theme, unfortunately sans vocals, noticeably belts through to give players an extra tingle of nostalgia. The sound is perhaps the only serviceable aspect of the title, though, as it all goes straight downhill from here.

This is, without a doubt, the most boring game I’ve played all year. To sum up the gameplay: players shoot things and move forward. Understandably, this concept has yielded some legendary games and G.I. Joe tries to desperately cling to a few mechanics that are mostly standard in any shooting game on the market right now in an attempt to emulate those legends. But with such poor execution, the title feels like an Xbox LIVE Arcade title gone wrong as opposed to an honest, full-fledged retail release. Everything in G.I. Joe relies on an auto-targeting button, meaning players merely tap the button and hold the trigger while they watch a white bar decrease to nothing – which takes a while because everything, including bonus items, take a damn ridiculous amount of ammo to put down. If you enjoy auto-targeting systems that would rather target bonus point items instead of that soldier blowing holes in your face, you’ll be in luck with G.I. Joe, as getting the targeting reticule to actually target what you want is a game within this game. The melee moves lack animation and have questionable hit detection, but this might also stem from sky-high camera that makes it a bit tough to determine the spacing you need for a melee attack.

There are very few deviations in the gameplay, unless you consider smashing a few barrels or other landscape materials a break from the shooting, so as you can imagine the gameplay gets extremely repetitive after a few levels. The game is so repetitive that, at first, I could only stand playing the game a few levels at a time, but, eventually, I spent a few hours (that seemed like an eternity) plowing through the game, which is anything but impossible on the casual difficulty setting. The difficulty settings create an odd balance and point toward some questionable design choices: The difficulty only seems to dictate when or if your characters can respawn when they are put down during battle, and checkpoints only serve to respawn characters on the medium difficulty – yes, that’s right, if you die on higher difficulties, you do the entire level over again. Characters are respawned immediately on the casual difficulty, which is great for those who just want to plow through the game, such as children and families, casual players or what have you, but it seems the difficulty is still cranked up a bit in any scenario and there is just no penalty, aside from a loss of score, for dying.

If you’re playing solo, the A.I. is just plain stupid, most often times refusing to assist you in assaulting obvious targets, wasting special weapons and mindlessly shooting at whatever its auto targeting locks onto first with minimal results. However, this is another area where no thought is put into the difficulty balance, as your A.I. partner never, ever takes damage, and when you can hit a button to cycle to that character, you essentially have infinite health as long as you are not next to each other and getting straight up demolished by fire. The health system on its own is very unintuitive, relying on cover to regenerate (which gets destroyed almost immediately where applicable) unless you are the A.I., which seemingly regains health at a magically faster rate, and is displayed by a tiny indicator above the player’s head. Meanwhile, every enemy gets a bar-based life meter, which makes it crystal clear where they stand on the mortal realm.

Perhaps the only true breaks players get are amid scripted events that place players at the controls of vehicles and satellite weaponry. The satellite weaponry is the far more entertaining distraction of the two, creating an arcade-like experience that is infinitely more fun than the rest of the game, but that’s not to say it couldn’t use some polish. At certain points, players will have to defend an area by raining down lasers on to enemies viewed from a top-down perspective. Unfortunately, all of these areas are limited to only two types of enemies and they end incredibly fast. The cursors mirror the green and orange seen in the character HUDs and can often time meld in with the environment while in movement, the camera seems to zoom out even further making the enemies hard to see, and the dumb as crap A.I. isn’t much of a help, especially with the powerful tanks. The other piece that breaks up the action, but keeps players in the main gameplay, is the addition of vehicles, which, admittedly, G.I. Joe features a handful of classically-notable franchise vehicles. Unfortunately, the vehicles limit players to the ground, but the real atrocity here is in how the vehicles control, with a ridiculously oversensitive steering wheel-style control scheme. As luck would have it, the only time the camera would come in close to the action was when I was in a vehicle, resulting in some view-blocking close-ups, but that’s the least of your worries when you’re frustrated with how the vehicle operates.

Perhaps the only other good thing I can say about G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is it does host a gratifying number of unlockables that pay homage to the franchise, even going as far as to offer the infamous PSA shorts as hidden treasures. Also, while not everyone that people my age may fondly remember are represented in the game, after using icons earned by accumulating set amounts of points, players can have access to a fair amount of Joes, and even four Cobra members. Each character has a strength and weakness dictated by soldier class and, surprisingly, they all have different basic and special weapon sets, leaving players some strategy when deciding on a team suitable to their play style. The achievements also dictate players with a wide range of tasks, but let’s just face it here – unless you’re a diehard G.I. Joe fan or looking for achievements, you’re not going to want to play this more than once, and given how poor most of the game is, you might not even want to play it once.

The Scores
Story/Modes: DREADFUL
Graphics: BAD
Control/Gameplay: AWFUL
Replayability: POOR
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: AWFUL
Appeal Factor: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: POOR
Final Rating: VERY BAD GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary

While you’ve got some serviceable sound, some nostalgia nods and a good amount of unlockables that come from aspects outside of the grip of the movie, everything else about G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra ranges from poor to downright awful. The title looks like a game out of the previous generation of consoles, there are a huge number of questionable development choices made in the gameplay, the gameplay itself is the most boring I’ve personally encountered in a game this year, and everything about this title screams rushjob. How people can compare this title to Contra baffles me as it neither has the style, nor, more appropriately, the fun, of any mainstream title of that series. When you can nab well-done shooters such as Gears of War for $20 or arcade-type shooters such as Shadow Complex for $15, and even Contra or Gunstar Heroes for $5, there is absolutely no reason to pay full price for this title and it may barely service you for a rental.



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