Nostalgia is one of those things that you cannot compete with. That’s why game companies do remakes, re-releases, and sequels; familiarizing yourself with something that you fell in love with once gives you some wonderful feelings, and helps to bring you back to the time when you first found you enjoyed this particular point of interest. There’s a dark side to nostalgia as well though, when companies don’t get it right; like I said, nothing competes with nostalgia, and ruining people’s memories of something they once (or still) adore is a good way to bring out the fanboy/nerd rage in any of us.
Developer: Double Helix
Aug. 4, 2009
I have owned and played with more G.I. Joe and Cobra toys than I care to admit, so when I received a copy of G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra for review, I tried to do away with the nostalgic bits for a time, to see the game for what it was rather than what I wanted it to be. It turns out that this wasn’t necessary though, as the game has a surprising amount of that Joe character, even with its many faults in place. The story is not based on the movie entirely, despite the sharing of a title; instead, it pulls from G.I. Joe’s long history in both the use of characters and story, and delivers an entertaining–if somewhat drawn out–game experience.
G.I. Joe plays somewhat like a 3D Contra: you spend the bulk of the experience holding down the fire button and dodging incoming enemy fire while everything around you explodes. In that sense, it’s a good bit of fun, as you don’t have to worry about much besides making sure everything is destroyed except for you. Vehicles are just as ridiculous as they were in the cartoons and the toy line, with lasers and an infinite number of missiles and rockets firing from 37 places at once with each press of the right trigger. Every character in the game–of which there are 16 total (12 Joe and four unlockable Cobra)–has their own play style thanks to their special move. So you may like Duke a lot, but find that there’s a similarly playing Combat Soldier with a better special move that helps you more. There are three classes in all to master–Combat Soldiers are balanced, Commandos are great close range fighters, and Heavys are your big, cannon and mini-gun wielding Joes.
Co-op mode can be fun, especially given the game’s over-the-top nature, but if you don’t have a pal to play with, you can just switch between the two characters on your own, which allows you to build teams of classes you love. Putting Snake Eyes and Heavy Duty together was my favorite, as you got a close-range melee attacker with a katana mixed with a big dude holding a mini-gun to take out structures and cannons.
So those are the good parts of Rise of Cobra, but there’s a lot holding this game back from being a success. The camera is atrocious. I hate complaining about cameras, because I feel like it’s something we as gamers can adjust to if we play the game for more than five minutes, but you can’t adjust it in this game. If you’re going to take control of the camera away from the player, you have to make sure it works perfectly, and it doesn’t in Rise of Cobra. There will be times where the camera pans or switches direction on you, and there will still be enemies behind you–or worse, newly spawned enemies will come up from behind you from where you can’t see. You take fire, you start shooting in a random direction, but you don’t know if you’re hitting them. The targeting is supposed to be done automatically, but it also targets barrels, structures, and point bonuses in addition to enemies, so if you left any of those behind you could be shooting at those while you get shot to death by a foe you will never see.
Because of the way the difficulties work–on casual, you respawn when you go Man Down in exchange for some points, on advanced you are revived at a checkpoint, and on hardcore your character is out of action until you complete the level–this camera problem is significant. Dying on the harder difficulties because of the camera is frustrating, especially because of the checkpoint system that isn’t really a checkpoint system at all. Sure, it’s called that, but it’s basically just a loading area for the next portion of the level. If you fail a mission, you restart all the way back at the beginning, not at your previous checkpoint, which is a great feeling if you made it all the way to a boss fight or were killed because invisible foes hidden by the faulty camera took you out. This makes it so the game isn’t fun on the harder difficulties at all. I love punishing difficulty levels, because there’s nothing more satisfying in gaming than beating something that seemed impossible, but when it isn’t intentionally designed to be difficult, and is instead difficult due to poor design choices like the camera and checkpoint system, then I’m not as pleased.
The character design is also poor, though that is not Double Helix’s fault; that one is on the people who made the movie. These characters, originally designed in the cartoon in a way that made you instantly aware of what their job was, are all clad in leather or fatigues now, and this similarity in look takes away from their personalities. It’s even more obvious when someone like Wild Bill–who isn’t in the new movie–shows up, because he’s just like you expect him to be in both look and sound. This isn’t a problem with the Cobra leaders–Firefly, Destro, and Baroness all look like they are supposed to–but for the Joes…well, they look like a generic team of heroes fighting a much cooler opponent. The problem is exacerbated when the Accelerator Suits from the new movie are worn as well, because no matter who you use, the voice screaming, “YO JOE!” is the same, and all of a sudden even your female characters are bulked up and about six inches taller than they were.
There aren’t very many cutscenes in the game, but I’m not being hyperbolic when I say they remind me of things I saw in the old Command & Conquer games from the late 90s. They look worse than the in-game graphics, are very fuzzy and blurry looking, and add nothing to the game experience. Since the in-game environments and character models are somewhat bland and unappealing, you can imagine how bad these scenes look. I’m a gameplay over graphics guy for sure, but their inclusion, based on how they look, is just baffling.
Last, the game is too long. That sounds like a strange complaint when you’re talking about whether something is worth your money or not, but it’s true. There is not enough variety in the missions to justify the length of the game–at one point, the game even said what I was thinking when it was time to destroy yet another generator to open up a laser-defended gate. Normally I would be all for replaying levels to collect more items for unlockables and to find all of the missing Joes, but the levels in the Jungle are the same as the ones in the Arctic, except without snow. Sure, you’re geographically in a different place, but you wouldn’t know it by the way you play the game. So maybe it isn’t that the game is too long, but instead that there aren’t enough ideas in place for you to want the game to be as long as it is.
Blast Factor: While G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra didn’t do anything that offended my nostalgia or made me regret loving the cartoon series during my childhood, it did offend me as a gamer with its poor level design, awful camera, and occasional lack of personality. There are redeeming qualities though–the story is a perfect fit for the Joe universe, some of the unlockables (like the PSAs from the cartoons) are good a good time, and it can be fun with friends–but I have a hard time justifying the price tag.
G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra is available on all major platforms. This review was written based on the Xbox 360 version, which retails for $49.95.