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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra EA, Microsoft Xbox 360, August 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Toy-based games based on successful toy lines that were not aimed at young girls seem far and few between. Sure, there are tons of games based on media juggernauts, but Transformers and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra seem to be saved for movie tie-ins these days.

Much like the original toy line, it's packed with things that you like and in some cases, work. And like the original cartoon, parts of it suck. The overall experience can best be likened to a group of programmers taking lessons from the many licensed LEGO titles, meaning you can play through without dying, unlock a lot of stuff, and enjoy 2-player co-op gameplay.


This third-person action game lets you pick two characters with different abilities, and you can switch between them as unique skills are needed, or as your life bar shrinks. Attacks include firing weapons and short-range melee attacks, so someone like Heavy Duty can clobber someone with his firearm while Snake Eyes can whip out his sword and slice down bad guys. Oh, and if you don't already have a vague idea who those people are? This game isn't for you.

In addition to walk-around-and-kill action, you can also pick up the odd vehicle and drive into your enemies, crushing them. It's a lot of fun, particularly if you had a toy Snow Cat as a kid and couldn't figure out why this thing would be any fun to anyone. It turns out that the amount of fun you can have with the vehicle is directly proportional to the amount of guys you run over shrieking "you can't win!" followed by brief, blood-curdling screams. In short, if you could control the LEGO Star Wars games, this plays similarly-- but with more power-ups and wacky special attacks.

The most notable addition is the "Accelerator Suits", which look somewhat foolish in the film's trailers but seem to be a good weapon in the game. After you cause enough damage, you can power up this suit, which you can activate and then some snippets of classic Joe cartoon music play while you're more powerful than you should reasonably hope to be as a non-superhuman soldier.

Search, Destroy, Rescue

The game's story seems to be vaguely inspired by the movie's look and feel, without having much to do with the plot. In short, if they reskinned this and took out all the references to the toy line, you could sell this as a generic military brawler. Of course, you could probably say that about several games, but here it seems that the story may have been a bit of an afterthought. In the introduction's cut scenes, you're told how you're after M.A.R.S., an ex-weapons supplier to the G.I. Joe team which has gone rogue. OK, fair enough. About 14 seconds later, you meet a defector from the organization who has been held captive for years, forced to work on weapons for the organization.

So in short, the heroes had this guy basically in their employ as forced labor and now that the forced labor benefits another group, he decided he didn't like being forced to work anymore. Does that make sense? I don't think I get it.

You're sent to rescue your comrades and blow up enemy targets, and in the first chunk of the game it's not precisely clear why. You get to meet the Baroness early on, but Destro, Cobra Commander, and other significant villains are nowhere to be seen. Also, the naming of the villainous troops seems to be inconsistent with the toys shipping now, as some of the M.A.R.S. troopers look more like Cobra Vipers. Again, if you aren't a junkie for the toys, this will mean nothing to you.

Graphics & Sound

Clearly, this is not a bleeding-edge title. The music and sound effects are nothing special, certainly not awful, but the music does cut out from time to time while people are talking. The game also incorporates FMV sequences at times, which runs contrary to the recent trending of in-game cut scenes which were pioneered back in 1998 by the likes of Metal Gear Solid, a game from which G.I. Joe seems to take at least some visual cues.

The quality of the models in the game feels very last-generation, and some of the unlockable bonus videos look a few rungs above what you'd see on a low-fi YouTube upload. It does not impress.

Achievements & Frustrations

Not surprisingly, the game is pretty generous with the achievements. In the first 3 or so hours you should be able to easily score 150-200 points on the easy/casual settings.

One major frustration is that the achievements can be earned by player one only-- or so says the actual achievement. With that in mind, there's little incentive for a buddy to play with you if you're the one who's going to benefit while they get screwed into having to replay the game to get the points.

Since you can't really die on the default setting (as you respawn on the spot), the game is essentially an exercise in engaging your attention span rather than your skills. There's no reason you couldn't rent this one and beat it on the easy setting, which may make a purchase seem unnecessary.

Is it worth buying?

If you don't love G.I. Joe (the 1982 reincarnation, that is) odds are you'll find this a tough pill to swallow. Sure, you fight cool-looking helmeted dudes and can unlock a ninja to lay down some punishment, but the gameplay itself is little more than a refined LEGO Star Wars-- which, in some respects, is welcome. Truth be told, do most adult gamers really want to spend hours and hours wailing away on an impossible boss if the game isn't exactly the best? Probably not. While the dumbing-down of games so that elements like autopilot or virtual invulnerability come into play isn't necessarily the best thing you could do with a great game, on an average game, it's actually starting to look like a good idea.

At $50, this is for hardcore fans exclusively. As a rental, or something you score for a reduced price, it's certainly worth giving it a try. There's probably a few weekends worth of fun here for you and a buddy to slog through, as there's quite a few levels and unlockables for those who seek such challenges. If you want my quasi-expert opinion, I suggest you go buy some action figures instead if you really want a good G.I. Joe experience.

--Adam Pawlus
August 4, 2009

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