G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Consoles: Xbox 360, PLAYSTATION, Wii, PlayStation 2, PSP (PlayStation Portable), Nintendo DSTM, and mobile devices.
“He fights for freedom, wherever there’s trouble.”
This statement, first uttered as part of an animated promo for the forthcoming G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toy line back in 1982 might very well apply to the latest incarnation of characters that have captured the imagination of millions for over twenty five years. Electronic Arts release of the official movie tie-in game “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” takes Duke, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Heavy Duty, and others on a trip around the world to defeat the forces of the “newly discovered” Cobra organization. Not so much an adaptation of the movie as it is an immediate sequel, this third-person arcade shooter delivers a great albeit simple diversion for fans of G.I. Joe both new and old.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the Rise of Cobra (RoC) adaptation is a straight forward third-person arcade-style shooter. Fans looking for a Joe-centric version of Call of Duty or HALO will have to look elsewhere for their first-person shooter fix. Instead of a complex game engine for only the higher-end consoles, EA opted for a more basic multi-console family-friendly approach. Reminiscent of the classic G.I. Joe arcade game, players guide two-Joe teams through four different campaign environments (tundra, desert, jungle, and arctic) in either single player or cooperative two player modes. It’s a basic game set-up that can be played by all ages in terms of both mechanics and family-friendly content.
The game mechanics are relatively simple; players have a primary attack, melee attack, special attack, and access to the oft-maligned Accelerator Suits as a limited invulnerability mode. There are no ammunition drops or ammo counters as the primary mode of attack features and endless supply of offensive projectiles. Characters can squeeze the right trigger for a short attack or hold it down for a sustained fire, activating a “target lock” feature automatically. This lock allows players to run and dodge enemy fire while still whittling down their opponents damage capacity as indicated by a small bar icon. The target lock is a mixed bag, however, as it frequently locks not on the biggest threat in range but instead on the nearest destructible item. In other words, a SNAKE armor could be bearing down on a hapless Joe who is meanwhile firing away at a destructible crate. The target lock can be switched but sometimes this can delay fire for a few precious seconds, allowing enemies to whittle down a player’s health. Melee attacks, like the primary attack, have no ammunition or energy requirement and can be used endlessly with reckless abandon. The character’s secondary attack is more devastating and is charged by dealing damage to Cobra and MARS forces. The more damage you do the faster this charges back up. The final element of the game mechanics involves the Accelerator Suits. Take out an enemy without taking any damage and earn points toward this short-term invulnerability. Once enough power is earned, simple use the “action button” and the suit kicks in. It’s recommended that players use this sparingly as the suit only lasts for a short period of time, before disappearing. (The suit remains in place for as long as it takes for the soundtrack to play the classic “A Real American Hero” theme through.) After that, it’s back to the standard attacks.
If the game has a strong suit, it’s found in the overall graphical design. Each mission environment is highly detailed without reusing too many backgrounds over and over as the original HALO was fond of doing. The desert has blowing sand, the jungle has lush foliage, etc-all the better to help immerse the player in the game play. The Cobra and MARS vehicles are given a “movie face-lift” with new versions of the Battle Android Trooper and SNAKE Armor (a real bear to take down) being deployed while both the Resolute and classic versions of the Cobra HISS tank are used. (C’mon, who doesn’t love blowing a HISS tank to bits?) The Joes aren’t without some familiar vehicles of their own as the Armadillo, MOBAT, and even the Snowcat all make an appearance. The vehicles aren’t indestructible, however, and can eventually go up in a ball of flames. Still, it’s a heck of a lot of fun mowing down hapless Neo-Vipers with some “old friends”. Even the Joes have been given a facelift as the core cast of the movie is slowly freed from captivity through the course of the various missions. Most of them are sporting their movie reactive armor but some characters such as Kamakura and Sgt. Flash are given completely new designs. Others, such as Gung-Ho and Shipwreck (and eventually Firefly) are seen in their Resolute togs. It’s important to note that both the unlockable Agent Helix and Sgt. Flash have figures based on their EA designs. Hopefully Hasbro will continue this trend and eventually give fans an EA-inspired SNAKE armor and Kamakura figure.
If the game has a weakness it’s found in the amount of repetition in the game play. As I stated earlier, it’s a fairly basic arcade style shooter. As such, there’s only so many times wave after wave of Neo-Vipers can be reduced to clouds of nano-mites before a player’s attention starts to wander. Even some of the “boss fights” get a bit repetitive as the same actions are repeated over and over just to take down a particular villain. Also, as was mentioned earlier, the target-lock feature of the game can be a bit hampering as Duke and company will decisively lock onto an energy crate instead of the pair of SNAKE armors barreling down upon them. In many ways, this game really harkens back to the classic arcade games of the 80’s in terms of the complexity of game play offered. Don’t get me wrong, the game is fun but there are moments where I found myself simply “spraying and praying” and waiting for a particular sequence to end. The other element that hurts this game in my eyes is the lack of online co-op play. Honestly, I can think of nothing more fun that meeting up with some of my “Joe bro’s” over Xbox LIVE and spending a few hours talking trash and vaporizing Cobra troopers. Sadly, this component is missing.
I’ve not divulged any details of the game’s plot as some fans have desperately been trying to avoid movie spoilers. I’ll say this-the cut scenes in this game actually have generated more excitement for the movie for me than many of the trailers shown on television. It’s obvious that the game’s designers include more than a few Joe fans as there are nods to classic Sunbow elements as well as a real reverence for the source material. This game plays much like an updated version of the classic arcade game and that includes the sheer fun of charging a bunker as a favorite character and reducing it to rubble. Perhaps it’s the fact that many of my favorite Joes are playable in this game (Gung-Ho, Flash, Shipwreck, and Kamakura) or maybe it’s the fact that this really does feel like a great update to a franchise that has, in some ways, stayed too mired to the notions of the 80’s rather than moving forward. It might even be the fact that the score for the game is nothing short of epic, proving to be more enjoyable than the film score by Alan Silvestri. Lastly, it could be the unlockable media content which includes classic Public Service Announcements and a hi-def Resolute trailer that just reduced me to a happy fan boy. Regardless, the reverence for the franchise is seen in just how lovingly crafted of a game this is.
So what’s the bottom line? Is this a game that hard-core Joe fans and casual gamers are going to love or is it another movie tie-in game that will hit the bargain bin in a few months? Honestly, I think it’s a little of both. In some ways, the game’s simplistic play may turn off many of the older fans out there. Yet this same element works for the game in terms of hooking the new fans that are no doubt Hasbro and EA’s target audience. If hordes of screaming children want this game after seeing the movie and end up spending countless hours blasting away Neo-Vipers, then the game has succeeded. In some ways, it’s very much an updated version of the classic “A Real American Hero” game that I spent hours playing on my Commodore 64 as a young Joe fan. In the end I think that this game will be like many movie tie-ins, having a limited shelf-life at full price before dropping down significantly to a $19.99 price-point. However, I do feel that the game play is rewarding enough that hard-core fans and parents just might want to give this game a try closer to the movie’s release date. After all, there’s nothing better than summoning an Accelerator Suit to the cry of “Yo Joe” and hearing a full orchestral rendition of my favorite cartoon theme. Call me a fan boy who’s been out of the game for a while but I’m loving this game and I think that many fans young and old will too.