IGN Review of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
I grew up in the '80s and owned more than a hundred G.I. Joes. I was obsessed for the better part of my childhood with the action figures. Needless to say, I watched the show as if it held the secrets to the universe. So when G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra feature film was announced, naturally I vomited on myself. Nothing good can come from dredging up '80s nostalgia. What's next, bringing back Molly Ringwald's awkward dance moves from The Breakfast Club? What was worse, I knew that a summer feature meant new toys (that were lesser versions of my '80s collection), some form of fast food joint tie-in, and a new videogame. Cartoon-to-movie translations don't have a great track record for quality, but attempts at cartoon-to-movie-to-game translations fare even worse.
Still, I held out hope that the folks at EA could come up with something at least decent. They did not. G.I. Joe is an unattractive, repetitive and humorless videogame with only a few bright moments.
The core idea for G.I. Joe is sound. Create a modern-day version of Contra with the Joes as the central figures. The first issue with this is that EA is hampered by the feature film. The movie strips away the unique outfits of the Joes and so the game has some very bland looking character models. Gone is what made G.I. Joe so memorable for kids of the '80s. The personality just isn't there. The characters look boring as do the environments (snow level, jungle level, desert level, lava level, bored-out-of-my-mind level).
The gameplay is simple. Move forward through linear levels, hold down the trigger and shoot everything in your path. Like Contra, there are some tough moments that require you to dodge incoming fire or risk death. Unlike Contra, it's just not very fun after the first hour. Destroying the same enemies, conquering the same obstacles and running through the similar levels gets old. G.I. Joe is a lengthy game and will probably take about eight hours for most people to finish. But I wish it was half that length, because it gets bogged down by its repetitive structure.
Often the G.I. Joe game seems trapped by the ideas put forth in the new movie. Case in point, the Accelerator Suits, which are a major feature in the film. When you've killed enough bad guys, you just have hit a button and activate the suit. The suit makes every character look the same and gives each identical attacks (and a manly voice). So if you thought the personalities were already being muted, just wait until they are fully stripped bare by these stupid suits.
EA has thrown in some of the vehicles from the old toyline including HISS tanks and the Trouble Bubbles, which are welcome additions. You also get to drive a number of Joe vehicles. But instead of having the sensation of driving a Warthog in Halo, it feels as clumsy as if you were steering one of your old toys by hand. Part of the problem is the static camera, which is an issue on foot but tends to be more troublesome once in a vehicle.
There is offline co-op on the same system. It's nice to be able to play with a buddy (why should one person suffer alone?), but online play is pretty standard these days. This is a full-priced retail game. It's ugly and not very satisfying; the least it could do is give gamers a feature-set equal to other titles.
Playing solo, you can switch back and forth between characters with the tap of a button. This becomes a necessary survival skill. G.I. Joe features a regenerative health system that recovers quickly if you use cover (what's the fun in that?) and slowly if you play out in the open like a normal person. On casual difficulty, dead characters instantly respawn. On medium, you recover a downed hero at the checkpoint (most levels have three). And on hard, once someone dies, they stay dead through the rest of the level. Though it is marketed as a game for a general audience, G.I. Joe is surprisingly unforgiving. I never want to shift to "easy" difficulty, but for me, medium stopped being fun halfway through the game. The first rule of game design: You never want your game to stop being fun.
A big part of the issue is that G.I. Joe betrays the long-held conventions of "checkpoints." For the past few decades, when the player sees "Checkpoint Reached" on the screen, they know that should they fail, they restart at said checkpoint. G.I. Joe has a new innovation where checkpoints don't do squat. If you fail on medium or hard, even if you're three checkpoints in and at the final boss, you have to begin the entire level over again. Checkpoints aren't safety nets in G.I. Joe, they are actually just load points for the next section of the level. Don't call it a "checkpoint" if it's not actually a checkpoint. It's a betrayal of the faith gamers put in a developer.
For all its many issues, there are some things G.I. Joe does well. Every character has their own weapon and special attack. That seems like a minor thing, but it can prove important in battle. You may find yourself playing characters you never liked in the cartoon (or whom you've never heard of) simply because their special attack is more effective than that of Snake Eyes or Duke.
Expect plenty of unlockable Joes (a dozen in all) along with four playable Cobra villains. Each level is packed with collectibles, including file cards similar to the old G.I. Joe's back-of-the-box details. You'll find several PSAs taken straight from the cartoons. None of the Public Service Announcements explain the "other" half of the battle (is it lasers?), but at least each one drops some knowledge to make you 50% prepared for war.
Also, there are some Joes not in the movie brought into the game. These characters, such as Wild Bill, are truer to their old selves since they aren't weighed down by any baggage from the film. And the story, which takes place after the events of the film, plays out like one of the week-long sagas from the cartoon. Cobra is collecting pieces from around the world to build the mysterious MASS Device and the Joes must go globetrotting to stop the international terrorist group. It's a goofy plot, but a good fit for G.I. Joe.
©2009-08-04, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved