G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA (X-Box 360)

Before I really get started, I have to comment on the strange parallels that can be drawn between the Rise of COBRA film and the game...now that I've had a chance to experience both, it's incredible just how similar they both are when compared to their peers.

Both of them are fairly shallow on plot...they rely purely on action without a whole lot of character development or deep meaning. They have also both taken fire for the quality of the effects/graphics, as well as the essence of the media, whether it's acting or gameplay.

And yes, as a person and as a G.I. Joe fan, I recognize all of these faults and can site them one-by-one as I experience each of them. Yet in spite of these issues, I have a freaking blast doing both as well.

At this point I think we all know what to expect from licensed video games. At least, I'd think we would. Typically, a video game based off of a movie is a substandard affair, something marketed and sold mostly as a movie add on rather than a video game that can stand on it's own merit. Even the best summer film out there can get saddled with a shaky game (case in point, Iron Man and Transformers). G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA has not yet had the chance to establish itself among other summer tentpoles, at least in movie format, so how does it compare in the realm of video games?

Well, it's about what you'd expect, and is on par with those previous two games I mentioned, but that's not necessarily good news. It all depends on where you stand.

While I own an X-Box 360 and a Playstation 3 both, I'm not what you'd call an avid gamer. I dabble here and there, I have a GameFly account that I use moderately, but besides that I really don't do a whole lot in the video game world. I'll go on stretches where I play way too much Halo 3, but by and large I use my game systems for movie streaming and not much else on a regular basis. So, take this review more from the perspective of a G.I. Joe fan and not so much a video game afficianado.

The Style

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is your typical third person combat shooter done in a very straight-forward arcade style. Electronic Arts and Double Helix were obviously not going for substance here, they were going for a very fast-paced arcadey shoot 'em up in the veign of the old school Ikari Warriors or Contra.

Now, I actually purposefully waited until after I'd seen the movie before I really sat down to write up the game review, regardless of the fact that I've had the game for a few days now. I kind of wanted to get the whole picture and see what the expectations were and why the video game makers made some of the decisions they did, but now that I've seen both, I'm getting a feel for things. Basically, the game makers decided to take the movie formula and really port it to a game system. Where the film has a breakneck, fast-paced, hectic story that never stops to take a breather, the game is much the same way. Gunfire hails from every direction at any given moment, and you won't get any deep character development or rich plot points, but you will get a ton of action, chaos, and destruction. In that way, the game really builds off of the movie in a somewhat nice way.


The Graphics

Right away, the graphics make an impact. Unfortunately, it's not really a good one. While the game captures the frenetic pace of the film, the splashy effects and brilliant cinematography are lost in this console port. In fact, I might go as far as to say that the graphics here are somewhat reminiscent of a later generation Playstation 2 game, and decidedly not "next gen". I'm not sure if it's because of the large environments, the abundant numbers of enemy troopers, or maybe even the musical score (which is flat out awesome), but for whatever reason, sacrifices appear to have been made in the graphics department, and the game just doesn't look nearly as polished as it should for a 2009 release.

Granted, the various vehicles and characters that appear are fairly recognizable in their homages to G.I. Joe, but beyond that the effects and graphics are largely unremarkable.

The Gameplay

For me, while I love graphics, it's the way a game plays that sells it for me, and from what I've seen so far, there is some fun to be had with G.I. Joe beyond the dated graphics...but the gameplay is far from perfect as well. The biggest offender with the gameplay is definitely the camera...or total lack thereof. There is no way to maneuver the camera around, which might not be a big deal except for the fact that the camera physics are pretty much horrible. Often times you find that you're looking at your side as you shoot off-screen at something, which is also shooting back at you, but you can't dodge because you don't even know what you're looking at. At this point in video game development, a bad camera system is pretty unforgivable...it's pretty much basic functionality these days.

Beyond the camera, the control system is complete simplicity. The left analog stick moves you, A dodges, right trigger fires, B launches a special attack, and Y is an "interact" button, or also activates your Accelerator Suit. The play is pretty fast and furious with scores of enemy soldiers launching bullets, missiles, and other untoward ammunition in your general direction. It has been described by Double Helix and Electronic Arts as "arcade like" and I would say that is fairly accurate. They've also mentioned that they wanted it to be very simple to pick up and play for any audience. Unfortunately, too often these days the word "simple" is an excuse for "boring", but I don't think that's quite the case here. The control system is very non-complex, yet there is still plenty to do (though you will end up doing the same thing over and over and over again).

Along with other complaints to me, is the lack of any X-Box Live playability. For a game that would appear to be so awesome to play multiplayer, it seems very strange that no consideration whatsoever was made for some sort of Live-based co-op. Most of my G.I. Joe-loving buddies are internet friends these days, that it makes perfect sense to have a way for us to play this together online rather than coordinating game time in the same room...I mean, who actually socializes in person these days? That's so 20th century...

I can see this as a pretty fun multiplayer party game, though, just wish there was more Live stuff to do...or any Live stuff to do, for that matter.


The G.I. Joe Fan's Take

Okay, I've spent a large chunk of this review complaining about almost every aspect of this game. Yet, in spite of that, I've played it every night for a week, and I can't get enough of it. Each level is an exercise in repitition. Run, shoot, explode, rescue fellow Joe, wash, rinse, repeat. But in spite of the repitition, in spite of the crappy camera system, and in spite of the ultra-simplistic gameplay, I keep coming back for more, because dammit, it's a G.I. Joe game, and like it or not, I'm having a whole lot of fun with it.

Part of it is the cameos and the nods to the long time fans. We've got a MARS research scientist named Adam Burkhardt (keep in mind the Joe team worked several times with scientist Adele Burkhardt in the Marvel comic series). We've got MARS-controlled mini vehicles based on the MMS, the FLAK, and the SNAKE armor. Ripcord tosses out a Pac RAT as part of his special ability. Everywhere throughout the level you'll see various throwbacks to the old days, from JUMP platforms to Bridgelayer bridges, to Snowcats and Armadillos that you can actually drive around and shoot with. The COBRA troopers are straight out of the movie with a nice amount of comic-influenced Red Ninjas, Iron Grenadiers, and Night Creepers thrown in.

The story centers around the slow conversion from MARS to COBRA, the MASS Device, and lots of other neat twists and turns along the way. There are many, many cameos from Non-Playable Characters like Dataframe, Stalker, Dial-Tone, Snow Job, Dusty, Wild Bill, and several others.

But to me, the best part is the fact that at this point I'm pretty fully invested in this whole new Rise of COBRA mythology, and anything that sort of extends that universe is welcome with open arms. Seeing this version of COBRA Commander again, after glimpsing him so briefly in the film is a welcome endeavor. Hearing Destro's now-infamous Scottish brogue and going toe-to-toe with genetically altered Neo-Vipers is all a real blast, especially so soon after I saw the film.

The movie itself has been getting good reviews online from the main movie-going populace, for the most part, pretty much based on the fact that it's fast-paced, effect-based, superficial fun without much deep content or meaning, and I think I like the game for the same reasons. There is no complex story and no secret double-meanings, just bullets flying, explosions smashing the landscape, and familiar G.I. Joe characters facing off against evil COBRA forces that are pulled straight from the silver screen and the comic page both.

And so, even though in essence this game should be substandard...each facet of it doesn't match up with other games of the same generation, yet I can't stop playing it. I'm actually replaying levels to try and earn more points to try and unlock other characters. My brain is telling me this shouldn't be a fun game, but my hands just want to keep on playing it.

Another aspect that this game excels in is in character design. Agent Helix and Flash were both designed by Double Helix and both are two of my favorite figures in the current Rise of COBRA movie line. Not only that, but the jungle themed Elite-Viper, the more cartoon-colored Destro, and the unique Reactive Armor/Camouflage uniform style of many of the Joe characters is fantastic. I especially love how Ripcord and Scarlett look. Quite reminiscent of their movie style, but with a nice hint of military as well. To me, the most important part of any G.I. Joe mythos are the toys, the the video game seems to be having a great influence on the toy design and is giving us some really unique looking figures. One of the Toys "R" Us Senior Ranking Officer sets seems to be filled with video game related designs as well.

I do think that folks investing $60.00 in the Rise of Cobra may come away disappointed. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot for Joe fans to love, and a lot of subtle nods as well. There's a ton of unlockables, some very cool dialog, and a wealth of very arcade-like action. If this were a budget title, it would be a no-brainer (especially for fans of G.I. Joe), but at full price, you'll want to think long and hard about it. Regardless, if you're like myself and you're a Joe fan more than a video game fan, I do think you can enjoy yourself with this game. Just don't expect Call of Duty or Gears of War.