YO JOE!! They say that knowing is half the battle. That may be true, but making a good action game is the important second half to that saying. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is not a good action game. Instead of replicating the fun and excitement of classic action games, Electronic Arts seems content to mimic the ugly PlayStation-era Contra games from the late 1990s. With terrible gameplay, an unruly difficulty and some of the worst graphics I have ever seen on the Xbox 360, I find myself at a total loss when trying to come up with something nice to say about these real American heroes.
Given all of the army-themed first- and third-person shooters, one might wonder why we even need a game like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. While Call of Duty and Red Faction: Guerilla may not have Duke, Heavy Duty and Shipwreck, they do have plenty of over-the-top battles for you to take part in. There's not one thing about this game that is unique or specific to the G.I. Joe brand. Perhaps if the game was using the old cartoon's art style there might have been something to make this feel like a G.I. Joe game. But instead The Rise of Cobra feels like nothing more than a generic movie license action game ... which is exactly what it is.
Things are bad right from the start. The moment you push the button you are treated to a horribly acted cinema with questionable frame rate issues and absolutely no wit. The writing feels like it was generated from a computer programmed to sit out nothing but the most generic action cliches. The story they set up is neither interesting or fun, it feels like it's there only to give you reasons to fight through some of the lamest level I've seen all year.
But all of these problems fall by the wayside when you actually start playing this clunky shooter. At its core this is a third-person shooter, sort of a weird combination of Gears of War and Cabal (the 1988 arcade game). No matter if you're playing by yourself or with a friend, there is always a second player by your side. The camera is pulled way back so that both characters are teeny tiny, fighting on plain looking levels with no detail and repeating textures. At first I was ready to say that this looked like a PlayStation 2 game, but the more I thought about it I was reminded of some of the really good looking PS2 games. Everything about this game's look -- the character models, the repeating backgrounds, the cheesy explosions, even the moment you unlock a new fighter -- look like they're a decade old.
All of these complaints and yet we still haven't come to the real problem plaguing G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Had this been yet another lame action game mimicking what is popular today that would be one thing. But G.I. Joe doesn't feel like what is popular today ... it feels like what was popular ten years ago. And even then I would argue that this game would have received low scores for its incompetent gameplay.
The worst part of the game is clearly how the game controls. You shoot with the right trigger, but outside of that you have very little control over where you're firing. Playing the tutorial unlocks a way to switch targets (gee thanks), but even that is completely unruly. Switching guys is as easy as pushing the right analog stick left or right, you basically cycle through the next nearest bad guy. The problem comes when you have a lot of characters on screen. Suddenly switching from the guy you're firing at to the one next to you at point blank range can take several seconds, enough time for you to lose most of (if not all of) your life. This dilemma happens constantly, multiple times in each level.
And that's not the worst of it. Sometimes your character won't target a character for what feels like no reason. They can be right next to you, but no matter how many times you fiddle with the right analog stick you can't select him. What's more, the target will often get stuck on bonus boxes and exploding red barrels. While it's certainly cool that you can get extra points for shooting boxes, they take several seconds to destroy and end up frustrating the whole situation when you're in the middle of a major firefight. This one issue is enough to ruin would could have been a fun old school-style action game. Nobody enjoys fighting with the targeting system, especially now that we're in the 21st century.Speaking to annoying throwbacks to the 1990s, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra doesn't give you any control over the camera. That's right, you have no control whatsoever. That means that the game's camera awkwardly follows you, showing you what it thinks is most important. There's just one problem, what it this is most important and what IS most important are two different things. I spent much of the game literally firing off screen hoping I was shooting something. The bad guys seem to like to hide in areas that the camera doesn't want to show you, no matter where you stand. Also, there are times when you are running into the screen and the camera simply won't follow, making your tiny character even tinier. Even with a large HDTV I had to bring out the magnifying glass for a few sections of the game.
To make this game even more infuriating, The Rise of Cobra gives you mid-level checkpoints that aren't actually mid-level checkpoints. Each level is split up into multiple sections, usually with 2 - 4 sections. Once you hit that checkpoint the game revives any fallen characters and takes all of your points away. What it does not do, however, is save your progress. So, if both characters die you will go back to the start of the level, not the mid-level checkpoint. That's right; you go all the way back to the beginning of the level. Even if you're fighting one of the game's underwhelming bosses, you will still go to the beginning of the level. If that's the way it's going to be, why even bother having a mid-level checkpoint?
The game suffers from a lot of other problems, too. For example, the background levels you'll go to are as generic as they come. One is in the ice, another in a desert, there's a forest level, and so on so forth. You'll also notice that each level is set-up exactly the same. You go into a small enclosed area, kill several waves of bad guys (all with the same voice and lame expressions) and then repeat in another arena-style area. Occasionally you'll have to open doors and cut off force fields, but that involves nothing more than destroying certain transmitters or hacking into specific computer stations. It's all very basic stuff. So are the mini-games, which involves you raining missiles down on enemy tanks. Somehow even that is annoying in The Rise of Cobra.
And did I mention that there's a Gears of War-style cover system? Of course I didn't, because this, like everything else in the game, is completely broken. You'll also notice that I also didn't bring up the vehicle missions, which requires you to put up with the single worst tank controls I have ever had the misfortune of dealing with. The vehicle controls change as the camera changes, but seeing as you have no control over the camera you'll find that you have no control over the vehicle either. It's an absolute mess, but it's just one of the many things I got wrong.
The truth is this game fails in such a spectacular way that I have a hard time believing that this is the finished product. The problems with this game are normally associated with 1998 Nintendo 64 games, not an Xbox 360 release. There's simply no excuse for camera, control and gameplay problems of this magnitude. I'm absolutely appalled at this game; G.I. Joe is bad on a level I didn't think was possible in this day and age.
I promised myself going into this review that I would find something nice to say about G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. After putting up with an unruly camera and a targeting system that doesn't work, I realized that the only thing good about the game is the multiplayer option. In this game you can bring a second player in at any time, allowing somebody else to endure the suffering with you. Of course, you'll likely find that your friend will get bored with the experience half way through a level. And for good reason, these levels are the video game equivalent of watching grass grow.
Again I wonder if I would be having more fun if this game featured a cel-shaded art style that resembled the 1980s cartoon. Could it be that so much of the nostalgia involves the look? Seeing these real human models feels weird, especially since they don't look any different from the countless other third-person shooters on the market. The world they fight in feels like places we've been before and the story is completely forgettable. I can understand why the movie needed to be live-action, but what is the game's excuse?
There's no reason to buy G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. In fact, I would argue that there's no reason for you to even play it. Even if this is your first Xbox 360 experience, you will still be underwhelmed. You don't need to have played a recent shooter to know that most of the problems with this game have been ironed out in better action games. So go and buy one of those games, because you're just throwing your money away when you accept this kind of shoddy product.