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.
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