I will admit, I am a huge fan of 80s cartoons, but I am not one of those superficial crybabies that gets offended when you change something to modernize it. G.I. Joe is not a sacred ground for me, so when I heard a live action movie was in the works I said “I bet it will at least be entertaining”. Alongside each summer blockbuster must also reside a tie-in videogame, and this time EA has the pleasure of delivering the goods. The Rise of Cobra has decided to inject a little bit of old-school flavor to the mix by calling on classics such as Contra and Ikari Warriors for inspiration. What we end up getting is a solid, if not predictable shooter, that manages to entertain, but still comes up short in a few key areas.
On the surface you will learn everything you need to know about the game. You choose two characters, pick a level and move through it rarely releasing the fire button. This is classic arcade action at its most basic level, but for fans of the genre it works. Each character possesses different advantages and disadvantages such as stronger weapons, hacking abilities and of course nostalgia. The levels are your atypical endeavors consisting of themed backdrops such as snow, desert and lava and surprisingly the game runs around eight hours to see and do all the missions. I never found myself with a lack of new things to unlock or levels to conquer, and the score attack which rewards you for competing on a higher difficulty is certainly a welcome addition.
Controlling your Joes can be awkward at first. You use the left stick to move and the right trigger to fire. Your aiming is also controlled by your movement, and the game uses an auto lock-on system that chooses which target it wants to aim for. This works most of the time, but far too often your reticule will lock onto an innocent barrel as opposed to the Cobra scum firing at you. You can flick the right stick to switch targets, but even then I found myself having to tap it far too many times to get a lock on to the only dangerous entity in the area.
There really isn’t much else to the core gameplay, which can be looked at as both a good and bad thing. Mowing down wave after wave of enemy certainly is fun, but the repetition never lets up, and at a solid eight hours you are likely to grow tired of it after a while. This is remedied by the score attack and collection aspects. I found myself repeating levels over and over (both alone and in co-op) to attempt to improve my score. Finding all the data cards and secret items also kept me coming back for more and more. Having to have a certain class of character to open a door is a neat idea, but when that is really the only differential for that class it can feel kind of lame.
There are a ton of characters to unlock in the game including a nice selection of Cobra favorites. This was probably my favorite part of the game: pure nostalgia. Sure the characters look a bit more like generic soldiers now as opposed to their colorful 80s counterparts, but being able to control these childhood favorites for the first time in nearly two decades certainly brings out the kid in me. In addition there are also some original PSAs to unlock that continue to enforce that “knowing is half the battle”. I also love the fact that whenever you activate your accelerator suit it plays the theme song from the original game. You can tell that the developers were fans of the original series.
This wouldn’t be a fair review without discussing some of the criticisms I had with the game. First and foremost there are times when the difficulty can be a major turnoff. The game uses a checkpoint system, each level basically being broken down into three segments. You would imagine that you can continue from these, that is usually the point of a checkpoint. However, on harder difficulties if you manage to lose both characters, you have to start over from the very beginning. On medium you can respawn one fallen teammate at each checkpoint, but on hard once both are dead; you are simply going to have to start over. This becomes annoying quickly, especially when you are trying for some of the more challenging Achievements/Trophies.
My second biggest gripe is only half-justified. Co-op is awesome, it really makes this game much more enjoyable, but it also feels gimped by comparison to other games. For starters there is no online mode, so it is couch co-op or no co-op at all. Second all of the Achievements/Trophies are only given to player one, even if player two is signed into their profile. This is extremely lame because it means you will have to play through two times if your partner wants to earn them as well. The last problem I ran into was the vehicles. While I loved breaking up the action on foot, controlling these proved to be more of a chore than it was worth, most of the time I found myself skipping over them in favor of just walking.
Visually the game won’t win any awards for its incredible graphical effects, but it gets the job done. Levels are well designed and characters resemble their counterparts in the movies, but some of the standards we have come to expect a sadly absent. Minor details such as leaving proper tracks in the snow, invisible walls and the occasional gauche animation really make the game feel like a high-def version of an Xbox game. The sound fares much better with some decent voice acting (though the writing can be called into question) and of course the music. The symphonic score sounds like it was written for a movie, and really feels out of place in such a low-key environment. The music is incredibly well done, and being able to hear the original theme song during action sequences only sweetens the deal.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a fun game. For better or worse the game takes an unusual spin on the whole movie-to-game tie-in and creates an experience that gamers from the 80s would likely relate to. I really enjoyed my time in the game, and while I wouldn’t necessarily say it is for everyone, I think fans of action/arcade shooters and G.I. Joe would be wise to give it a look. I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun I could have with a game if I stopped worrying about everything it didn’t do, and just enjoyed what it did. Even with its problems Rise of Cobra is an entertaining, and fun experience for fans of the subject matter.