Review: G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra (Sony PS3)

It’s G.I. Joe against Cobra and Destro;
Fighting to save the day!
They never give up!
They’re always there;
Fighting for freedom
O’er land and air!

I love G.I. Joe. I love Larry Hama’s 150 issue run on G.I. Joe with Marvel Comics. I rooted for Sgt. Slaughter at Wrestlemania VII because obviously he was the good guy and not Hulk Hogan. I’m going up to Salem, MA for Halloween this year with a cartoon perfect costume of Cobra Commander, with both hood and helmet. I own Shout! Factory’s 17 DVD collector’s edition of the cartoon. I used to work for Hasbro. So it probably comes as no surprise that I LOATHED the movie in pretty much every way possible. It probably WILL come as a surprise though that I strongly preferred the much maligned video game tie-in. This is because the plot, characterization and overall feel of the game (save for the visuals) were patterned after the Hama Joes and the cartoon. It also featured actual Joe and Cobra vehicles ranging from the Trouble Bubble and Cobra Night Raven to the Snow Cat and the Armadillo. It’s little things like this that made the 7 year old in me squeal with delight while the 32 year old in me wanted to swear like a sailor at the camera, aiming and vehicle driving bits.

So what won out? Was there enough good in the game to make me go “Yo Joe!” or is it a game I’m thankful I didn’t have to pay for (God bless review copies!)?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Unlike most movie tie-in games that just rehash the plot of the original celluloid version, G.I. Joe is a sequel to the movie, taking place sometime after the film. How long is never said, but obviously long enough for COBRA to build itself up and for Destro to be fine with his new silver chromedome.

General Hawk and Stalker (who appears to be second in command here instead of Duke) lead the Joes in conjunction with an ex-MARS scientist, Dr. Burkhart, to stop this new ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world. The game takes you from the Arctic to the Middle East to some unknown jungle and then to the magnetic North Pole. Each step of the way two Joes kill hundreds of mind controlled and brain washed soldiers. There’s not a lot of story save for radio transmissions to serve for commentary between the Joes back at the Pit and the ones you are playing as. However, the story you are given is actually really impressive. Why? Because they managed to take the original G.I. Joe mini series from 1983 “The M.A.S.S. Device” and turn it into a game. Yes, just like the cartoon, you’ll lead squads of Joes to three different regions of the world to try and stop COBRA from gathering the elements needed to fully power up M.A.S.S.

There are a ton of Joe in-jokes, ranging from trying to slip in dialogue based on the song lyrics to Stalker yelling at one of the Joes for actually saying “Knowing is half the battle.” The game also puts in a lot of stuff from the Hama comics, such as several of the Joes like Stalker, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow all serving in the same ‘Nam platoon together. Although almost all of these awesome references to the comic and cartoon will be lost on people that aren’t familiar with both Joe continuities, those that are will no doubt be thrilled by how many references, in-jokes and homages are thrown in here.

Not that doesn’t mean the game is flawless in this area. If you’re going to go the movie route, would COBRA really keep Joes hostage? No, they’d have shot Heavy Duty, Shipwreck, Flash, and Snake Eyes in the back of the head and been done with it. ESPECIALLY Snake Eyes. I realize this is a way to get unlockable characters into the game, but it’s also illogical.

Overall, the plot, dialogue and characterization are a lot of fun if you’re a longtime Joe fan, especially when you unlock the four stage mission where you play as COBRA and Cobra Commander is just being a dick to you over your two-way radio. If you’re relatively new to the Joe mythos or it’s been a long time since you delved into either, most of this is going to be lost on you and not worth your time. It’s not great by any means, but it certainly holds closer to the 1980’s product than the movie did.

Story Rating: Enjoyable

2. Graphics

The graphics for Rise of Cobra are damn generic. Backgrounds are dull and muted without much detail or renderings. The mass of generic Cobra troops follow the same suit and get boring quickly. The further into the game you get, the more types of troops you encounter, but honestly, they all kind of look alike, which is annoying as hell. The only ones you can really tell apart are the Red Ninjas and the B.A.T.’s. Everything else are just blobs of black.

The bosses like Firefly, Destro and Baroness all look great… in the cut scenes before and after the battle. In the actual scenes themselves, it’s more uninspired visuals. The G.I. Joe force suffer the same fate. The look good in the menu selection when you choose your characters or in cut scenes and I like that the cut scenes use the Joes you chose for that missions, but I really hate the “all black battle suit” crap they did for the movie, ala X-Men. Thankfully you can get the REAL uniforms for Duke and Scarlett, but oddly enough no one else. This bothers me quite a bit because you can unlock Joe favourites like Shipwreck and Beachhead, but they’re done in movie style instead of “Village People sailor and masked bad ass” like they were in the cartoon.

The best thing about the graphics is that Double Helix has given up perfect replicas of a lot of the vehicles from the toy line. The problem is they are so perfect that they still look toys instead of real vehicles. Granted, I’m fine with that because of my love for the original Joes, but in the context of the “more realistic” film, they look out of place.

Oddly enough, the next best looking thing are the high definition Public Service Announcements. Sadly, Blowtorch and his “Porkchop Sandwiches!” is not one of the ones you can get.

The PS3 version definitely is the best looking version of Rise of Cobra, but even then it’s merely passable and something you’d expect from a budget game rather than a full $60 price.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

3. Sound

Although not all of the movie cast voiced their respective parts for the game, more did than in the 2007 Lost game, which I guess is a good thing. Except for the fact that the movie cast was pretty bad at actually acting and the replacements are about the same quality. Take that for what you will. Oddly enough Beachhead actually sounds like the cartoon one. Shipwreck however does not sound like a Jack Nicholson impersonator. The best voice actors are those for General Hawk and Baroness. I’d have said Snake Eyes, but the joke would be lost on some… The worst is by far Cobra Commander. He just sounds awful. When your choice for Cobra Commander can’t actually cry “COOOOBBRRAAAA!” correctly, you know you have a problem.

The music is well done, if not memorable. Several of the tracks are remakes of “classic” tracks from the cartoon. The main song you’ll hear throughout the missions until you block it out from the repetition is the old “tense situation” music from the cartoon. When you activate your “Accelerator Suit,” a cheap Dues Ex Machina from the film, a orchestral version of the opening cartoon song plays. It’s actually really good, even if it is cheesy as hell. It’s just too bad the game didn’t have the old Cobra song from “G.I. Joe: The Movie.”

Nothing here is amazing, or even that good, but once again, long time Joe fans will recognize and enjoy bits and pieces while everyone else will pretty much go, “Ho-hum.”

Sound Rating: Decent

4. Control and Gameplay

In a nutshell, Rise of Cobra is an awful game to play through. You have no control over the camera and it often takes the worst possible angles, preventing you from seeing your opponents. All you get on your screen is you and your slightly retarded partner. Actually controlling your character is okay, except for aiming your weapon. The right analog stick is supposed to let you switch between opponents, but this rarely works, and even when it does, it’s only temporary. Eventually I just gave up aiming and just ran around with my gun blazing without rhyme or reason. You will be amazed at how little accuracy is needed to play and beat this game. The only time I ever died was when I played as a Heavy Weapons character because they have such little health compared to the others I would sometimes forget you could get killed in one hit with Gung-Ho or Heavy Duty where it would just be a scratch for Scarlett or Duke.

Then there are the vehicles. The driving in this game is the worst I have ever encountered. It was hell trying to get the vehicles to steer in a straight line, and eventually I just got in them to earn the trophy for doing so. On the occasions where the vehicles WOULD move correctly, I just drove over COBRA agents, which was a bit amusing that it instantly killed them no matter who they were.

There are approximately twenty stages in the game, each between two and four levels long. Before each stage, you pick the Joe you want to play as and your back up partner that the computer (or another local player) will control. The stages are actually pretty long and it’s just mindlessly blowing things up throughout them. Occasionally you will find a teleporter that lets you switch Joes, although there is no rhyme or reason to where they show up. The only reason you’ll need to exchange characters is to get unlockables only obtainable by one of the three character classes: Commando, Soldier, and Heavy Weapons.

Your computer controller partner will just mimic you, and it’s about as bad as trying to use a Ranger as your main character in Phantasy Star Portable. Example: let’s say I am playing as a Commando like Kamakura, and my partner is Backblast, who is an awesome Heavy Weapons character. As Kamakura is a commando and better at hand to hand combat, one would think you could go in for close attacks and your AI partner would provide cover fire. Nope, that actually rarely happens. I can’t tell you how many times I watched my heavy character use his fists on boss characters instead of his guns, or waste special attacks on foot soldier cannon fodder. The game does work a lot better with two player co-op, but for some reason there is no online option, so you’ll have to invite a friend over to experience G.I. Joe themselves. Sorry.

Finally there is the whack-a-mole like missile strike mini game that was thrown in for absolutely no reason. It only occurs three times throughout the game, but it never manages to make any sense as to why it is there. In these stages, you and your AI partner are shifted to a top down perspective where you have to kill five waves of COBRA troops and vehicles before whatever you are guarding is destroyed or they cross an imaginary line. This plays relatively okay, but the computer will merely follow your movements around instead of actually helping you. This means you’re doing twice the work with half the effort. Playing the strikes in co-op has a completely different feeling because you now can hit two enemies at once thanks to another human brain being at the controls. It goes from annoying and stupid to laughably easy.

I’ve definitely played far worse games in 2009 with regards to the controls. Rise of Cobra is playable in spite all the issues it has, and at times, it can be fun. However, this is the “So bad it is good” kind of fun and is in no way shape or form worth paying for.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Bad

5. Replayability

With roughly two dozen characters in all, and nearly all of them being unlockables, you can replay the missions multiple times for a different feel. Granted, it’s not that different, and as soon as you realize Scarlett is by far the best character in the game, you’ll pretty much just want to stick with her anyway.

The game also has three different difficulty settings, each of which is noticeably harder, but that is due to more enemies coming at you than any real difficulty change. As well, the difference in levels changes when and how you can replace a character whenever you die, but as that should only happen if you are purposely screwing around, it really isn’t a factor.

Finally there is a ton of stuff to unlock, ranging from playable Cobra officers like Storm Shadow and Destro to PSA’s, which may be worth one’s time to unlock. However most of the unlockables are pretty useless, like file cards or concept artwork. Why not put in something G.I. Joe fans would actually like, like a digital issue of the Hama comics run, or even an episode of the cartoon? Did Double Helix REALLY think that a 10 minute piece on the recording of the score was what people wanted to find? Or a commercial for G.I. Joe: Resolute? Hell, no.

Still, the potential for replay value is here if you’re an OCD gamer that has to unlock everything in a game. For me, this was a once through, and while it’s amusing to play as Cobra at the very end of the game, there was no reason to come back to it after the credits rolled.

Replayabilty Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

You would think in a game where you can neither aim nor drive properly that it would be impossible to advance through this game. Well, not really. In fact, it is just the opposite. Rise of Cobra is an exceptionally easy game. The boss fights are the same as the rest of the game: mindless repetition where absolutely no skill is required. Granted it’s cool to see Firefly and Destro as big bads, but when the battle is just shooting waves of enemies and occasionally hitting the boss, it’s a little bit underwhelming. The Firefly battle is the best in the game because you also have to worry about a laser going off if you don’t shut it down at certain intervals. Still, it’s so easy, the laser never went off when I dispatched the Faceless Master.

Your computer controlled partner is immortal. It’s like a retarded kid got the Highlander gene. No matter how many air to ground missiles or Iron Grenadier lasers they are struck by, they will always be at full health. If you switch between your controlled character and this one, you’ll find yourself back at full health and ready to go. You can do this infinitely to never have to worry about dying – even on the “Hardcore” difficulty setting.

One good thing about the balance is that EVERY character plays differently from the next, even if we are talking about character from the same class type. For example, Kamakura, Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes are all commandos, but each one plays different. Snake Eyes sucks in every way possible, which is sure to annoy every G.I. Joe fan on the planet that he is the worst character in the game. Storm Shadow has a very fast gun but his special weapon paralyzes opponents. Kamakura doesn’t have the stun option, but he does do more damage and is slower. Scarlett is also a Commando, but she’s unstoppable, as she does a ton of damage close up and with a ranged attack. Her special attack is also the best offensive special in the game.

Overall you can make the following generalizations: Commandos are fast, have the most health, can take the most damage, and are the strongest in terms of hand to hand but weakest with guns; Combat Soldiers are average in all stats; and Heavy Weapons are slow, have the least health, take the most damage but do an amazing amount of damage. Your best bet is to take a Heavy Weapons character and assign them to the computer. Make sure it’s one of the GOOD Heavy Weapon characters like Backblast (Who isn’t a real Joe) or Gung-Ho and not a crap character like Heavy Duty.

So, although the game is pretty awful in terms of game play, it’s pretty easy. Somehow that makes the bitter pill easier to swallow when you’re trying to get through the game. Rise of Cobra is completely broken, make no mistake about it, but if you’re a big Joe fan or really want to increase your trophy count, you’ll find Rise of Cobra an okay experience. Yes, just okay.

Balance Rating: Poor

7. Originality

There’s nothing that makes Rise of Cobra stand out at all. It’s a generic run and gun in every sense of the word. The only thing that makes this game feel like a G.I. Joe product is the logo and the skins. This could easily be “Generic Action Game #10,456” which makes the sixty dollar price tag all the more offensive.

Rise of Cobra is a pretty bland game, but I still maintain this was a far better experience than sitting through a movie with a Middle Eastern Zartan, Tommy from 3rd Rock From the Sun as Cobra Commander, a white scrawny Destro and a litany of other sins that the movie inflicted upon my brain.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

As bad as this game was, I have to admit I had a hard time putting it down. I beat the game in three sittings. The first sitting was because I generally like mindless shooters and felt the game was like a 3-D Ikari Warriors, especially with the aiming and driving. The second was more “Can I get Beachhead yet? Can I get Beachhead yet? Can I get Beachhead yet?”

The third was “Oh well, I only have the Jungle left and…crap! There’s a fourth area! Oh well, at least I never have to play this…hey! COBRA Mission. I might actually enjoy this again.”

The thing is, as fun as the game is for the first hour or two (mainly thanks to nostalgia), you eventually find your eyes glazing over due to how long and dull the levels are. It doesn’t matter which location you are in, the missions are always the same, the enemies are mostly the same, and the progression is the same. It really is quite dull, and I basically put my brain on auto-pilot to get through this.

Ultimately, I found myself wishing I had both of the old 8-Bit G.I. Joe games for the NES again. Of course, Snake Eyes sucked in those too…

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

Well, G.I. Joe did big business at the box office. Not as big as Transformers 2, but it was #1 for a week or two. Generally, the video game of a blockbuster movie sells enough for the publisher and developer to break even, so I’m sure the case will be the same here. I even have people who knew I was going to do this reviewing asking me if I had changed my mind about whether the game was worth paying full price for even after multiple “No’s.” Knowing this, people are going go for this no matter what I or anyone say about it regarding the negative aspects.

That said, if you liked the movie, it won’t be enough to like this game. If you liked the cartoon or comic, you’ll at least appreciate the many homages and references to those. If you liked both, then you’ll most likely be able to ignore the control issues and have fun playing through this game. I won’t lie; there were times I laughed at the in-jokes or had a big smile on my face when I saw something from my childhood. Everything else was a bit of a chore for me. This is really only for big time Joe fans, and even then, I’d suggest buying an NES and the two 8-Bit G.I. Joe games instead. It might even be cheaper to go that route.

Appeal Factor: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

I’m still in a bit of sticker shock regarding the price EA is charging for this. At twenty dollars, or even thirty, I could recommend this game as a budget title. It’s not offensive, it is playable and it won’t make my “Top Ten Worst Games of 2009” list by any stretch of the imagination. However, sixty dollars for this is a bit of a rip-off, and I think EA knows this all too well.

The extras are pretty bad, especially considering what they COULD have put on this disc. File cards and fake memos from COBRA? Really? It’s not like they couldn’t have teamed with Shout! Factory to get actual episodes out there on a blu-ray disc for us…

Worst of all is the fact there are several Joes in the game that are not actually from G.I. Joe. Backblast? That’s not a real Joe! Agent Helix? The developers put a Mary Sue Mascot in the game instead of, say, Lady Jaye or Cover Girl or Jynx? There are more female Joes than just Scarlett, after all. This actually felt like a pretty big middle finger from Double Helix to me, and I’m sure other Joe fans would have preferred the slots be taken up by actual G.I. Joe characters rather than fake characters, or turning Dial Tone into a girl and changing Main Frame into Data Frame and giving him the Mark from Revelations: Persona skin dye treatment.

Rise of Cobra is not a bad game, but it’s certainly not a good one either. It’s just another cheap cash-in by Electronic Arts to quickly slap together a licensed tie-in product and rip gamers off for something that should never have been sold at full price in the first place. For every good thing thrown into this game, I can name about four or five bad things, and it really disappoints me that in 18 years, the only good Joes games have been for the NES, with the four player arcade game being both rare and merely okay.

Wait for this to hit the bargain bin.

Miscellaneous Rating: Poor

The Scores
Story: Enjoyable
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Bad
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Poor
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Poor

Short Attention Span Summary
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is by no means worth full sticker price. The controls are awful, the camera is worse, and the extras are pretty poor compared to what they could have thrown in. Everything else about the game is mediocre or below average and at the end of the day, it’s a pretty shallow game that would have been better suited as a budget game. As a long time fan of G.I. Joe, I appreciate that the game tried to stick more to the comics and cartoons than the movie tie-in it was supposed to be and I enjoyed the attempt at turning the original Joe mini-series “The M.A.S.S. Device,” into a video game, but there’s just too much wrong with this title to recommend it. From Snake Eyes being the worst playable character in the game to Double Helix throwing in fake Joes instead of real ones, The Rise of Cobra feels like it was made by Dreadnoks rather than quality programmers.



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3 responses to “Review: G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra (Sony PS3)”

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  3. Christopher Bowen Avatar

    Love the irony of the old-school 500px. image.

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