GI Joe is a timeless favorite for audiences both young and old. The classic series DVDs are still selling, and youngsters are eating up the new series and subsequent toy line. According to reviews, the newest GI Joe movie isn’t up to snuff, so I wasn’t expecting much from the movie-based game.
When I popped in GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra into my Xbox 360, I was expecting a typical movie tie-in action adventure title. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it was actually a current generation Contra clone.
As soon as I shot a few enemies, it was evident I was playing an Arcade-like title. That and the giant green stars appearing over the Joe’s heads with over-the-top point values is a dead give away. Just so you get a better idea of how much of a Contra clone Rise of the Cobra is, there are at least three encounters with near exact replicas of the giant wall boss from Contra 1′s first level.
Rise of the Cobra is a partner based game, and as such, it’s played with two people at all times: if you don’t have a local buddy to play with, the computer will take over. If you’re going solo, you can switch between the two Joes at any time with the press of a button. Despite the fact that it’s a run and gun shooter with a top down view, Rise of the Cobra uses a modified Gears of War cover and regenerative health system, which doesn’t really fit well with a game of this caliber. First off, the dodge/roll and cover buttons are one and the same, which makes it really hard to decide where you want to go, and you’ll often find yourself rolling out of cover into enemy fire.
Additionally, a large number of the robotic enemies found throughout the game are rather cheap, dishing out tons of damage with little effort. Naturally, you’re going to be spending a lot of time hiding and rolling around, which really isn’t that much fun.
Since your guns don’t overheat or require ammo, you’re free to hold the fire button down the entire game. An auto-lock on system will shoot everything in sight with little effort, but you may choose to take advantage of the game’s right analog stick “switch target” mechanic, which isn’t very accurate. If you flick the stick in a certain direction, you can lock on to a certain target, but often times you’ll find yourself fighting with it to lock on to the target of your choosing. You can also melee, but its effectiveness ranges from character to character.
The Joes themselves are pretty diverse when it comes to the initial five or so members. After you start unlocking additional party members, they start to become blended clones of each other and lose their luster. There are three classes, and all of them operate close to their counterparts. Commandos are quick on their feet with superior melee skills, but their fire power is weak. Special Operatives are well rounded, and Heavy units are slow, but they possess superior firepower. GI Joe fans will be thrilled at the fact that Snake Eyes, the commando ninja, is unlocked rather early, because he’s incredibly fun to play with and one of the more popular Joes in the series.
The three class unit system works very well, and it’s fun trying to find some sort of perfect mix. For the majority of the game, I used Duke, a Spec Op, and Snake Eyes. I found myself using Duke to take out long range targets, and when they came close, I switched to Snake Eyes and took them out with my katana. While it’s not incredibly complex, it is fun at a visceral level.
Despite the fact that Rise of the Cobra’s general level sections are somewhat enjoyable, boss fights are the absolute worst part of the game. Every single boss involves a brief encounter that lets you chip away a bit of health before he teleports away or becomes invincible for over a minute. As a result, all of the bosses feel the same, and you’ll find yourself groaning when you realize they’re coming. Every boss takes close to ten minutes to complete, no matter how skilled you are, which is incredibly frustrating and also poorly designed.
One of the other glaring errors in GI Joe is the poor AI displayed by your partner. The absolute worst part is the fact that your AI accomplice refuses to shoot required building based targets, like power generators; it gets particularly frustrating when you realize that every level has a myriad of them, and they all have a ton of health. For instance, one boss fight involves shooting an infrastructure within a short window of opportunity. The fun factor is severely drained when you’re doing all the shooting, and your partner is just sitting there.
It would have been nice if the two player couch coop experience was more fun, but due to the awful camera, it’s a gigantic chore. Often times, you’ll find your buddy is stuck behind an invisible wall, or hidden behind a barrier, unable to defend themselves. This could have been easily fixed by giving each player a separate screen to play around with online, but sadly, there is no online component to be found in the game.
Just like the gameplay, GI Joe isn’t going to win any awards for voice acting, and I guarantee you’ll get sick of the constant sounds of your beam guns. The only time I found myself enjoying the game’s audio is when I deployed the power suits; a classic sounding GI Joe theme is triumphantly played throughout the 20 seconds or so, which is really satisfying. However, after those precious seconds are up, you’re back to a generic score, and similar looking units constantly yelling, “Tresssspasssers! Put them down!”
So if the game is a bit of a chore to complete, you’d expect the rewards to be worth it, correct? Sadly, the extras are incredibly light, which essentially means you won’t be replaying the game’s levels over and over to get them. Despite the fact that there are extra characters to unlock, most are clones of the initial five. You can also unlock some relatively boring concept art and a few movies; most notably several classic “knowing is half the battle” public service announcements.
For $50, I expected a whole lot more than a few of these: it wouldn’t have been hard to include all of them considering they’re about 30 seconds apiece, and a lot of old school GI Joe fans would have really appreciated it. No online coop, and the fact that the game is about six hours long are also detractors from the game’s replay value, which cements it’s status as a rental.
All in all, Rise of the Cobra is a typical shooter that barely resembles any iteration of GI Joe I’ve ever seen. Most of the enemies and environments are lifeless, and the actual gameplay is mindless. If you’re a hardcore shooter fan, I’d recommend renting this game, and trying it with a friend; just make sure you’re aware of how much the mediocre camera detracts from the experience.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
GI Joe looks and feels like a last generation game. In fact, with the advent of nearly 1GB Xbox Live Arcade titles like Shadow Complex, it feels like Rise of the Cobra could have been a downloadable title.
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While mindless, Rise of the Cobra's gameplay is decent, and will garner your interest for the short amount of time the game lasts.
You'll quickly forget the musical arrangements and get tired of hearing "Coooobraaaa!" over and over.
After you complete the game in about six hours, you won't be inspired to go back and unlock additional character clones or short video clips.
Rise of the Cobra doesn't do any favors for movie based tie-in games, but if you're a hardcore shooter fan, it's worth a rental.