G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Review

By Darryl Kaye on August 13, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is one of the latest big budget Hollywood films and Double Helix Games were tasked with creating a game to coincide with the film's release. However, video games that are associated with film licences don't necessarily have a history of being stand-out titles and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the latest to have a crack at the whip, in terms of bucking this trend.

The story follows a fairly basic premise. There is a company called MARS that are acting unusually, and the GIs are sent in to investigate their activities. However, the narrative is exceedingly bland and the plot twists are very transparent. It almost seems patronising, especially when Stalker, the character in charge of briefing the player, asks other NPCs to repeat their statements in a more dumbed down form. Another interesting moment came when Stalker said that people shouldn't jump to conclusions about who is behind the strange occurrences, despite the fact the enemies had been shouting their allegiance the entire time.

Unfortunately, the story can get a bit confusing due to some poor game design. It's possible to completely skip chunks of the story by selecting missions in the wrong order - something the game eventually tries to correct. However, by this point, the player already knows most of the information, so having to go back and listen to the narrative talk about things they think might be happening is very uninteresting. If the game allows players to skip missions, it shouldn't then make them mandatory later on, they should just be mandatory to begin with.

The actual core gameplay isn't so bad. It's essentially built on a cooperative mechanic, so even when playing alone there is an AI character for assistance. Players can fire, dodge and use a special attack and that's effectively the extent of interaction the game offers. The majority of the characters all have different firearms though, so it has a fair amount of variety, and there are three different classes, which very slightly affects the style of gameplay. However, it can cause problems as not all enemies can be killed by every class. Some characters cannot attack flying enemies, and while there are opportunities to change characters mid-level, having to restart a level to choose a more suitable character is quite annoying.

There is also a cover system, which is both ineffective and extremely effective. It's effective because in certain situations it's very overpowered; players regenerate health quicker when in cover, and long-range enemies essentially can't do anything. However, it's ineffective because cover is not always initiated when wanted and once in cover, it's surprisingly hard to get out of it. Enemies can also melee players through cover, which can be frustrating. Sometimes it can be much easier to ignore cover completely, because of the problems associated with it.The camera is equally as problematic, as it's automatic. This was likely implemented due to the cooperative nature of the game, but it can often get stuck on objects, and doesn't always show the enemies that are attacking. It's also very apparent that the camera was never designed with the notion that players might want to back-track through a level as it tries very awkwardly to follow their movement.

The health system in general leaves a lot to be desired, because on the easiest difficulty mode, it's completely redundant. If a player dies, they just re-spawn a few seconds later with the only penalty being that they lose a few points from their score. However, on the harder difficulties health can be chewed up in a matter of seconds. It's very easy to walk off the screen, and since the health bar appears above a character's head, this leaves players not knowing how much health they actually have so deaths can happen without even being able to do much about it. Couple this with a checkpoint system that doesn't really even do anything and it's easy to see that the harder difficulties are more like torture. To explain a bit further, levels are split up in sections and when a section is completed a checkpoint is reached. On the medium difficulty, the checkpoint allows a character to re-spawn, but on the hardest difficulty, they don't even do that and if both players die they have to start all over again from the beginning, so what exactly does the checkpoint do? Nothing.

To coincide with bad game design, there are also a slew of bugs that happen far too frequently. Some bosses just disappear from view, meaning the level has to be restarted. It's also quite easy to die from enemy fire which goes through walls. The sound also breaks quite often, with enemies repeating the same lines sometimes 5 times directly after each other and weapon sounds just not working.

Graphically, the game doesn't win any awards either. The textures are very bland, and repeat far too often and it doesn't look like there is any anti-aliasing used at all. The animations are equally as bad, especially when rolling, and it's hard to imagine that this is actually on a next-gen system. The voice acting is ok for the most part, but it can get a bit tedious. It's hard to really get invested in the story, and the sound work during actual levels is pretty bad on the whole.

Where G.I. Joe performs admirably is with the replay-value. There are quite a few missions to play through, and they can be quite long. Despite the boring textures, they also have their own character and no two levels really feel the same. There are also plenty of bonus missions which offer a nice distraction from the main story. Alongside this, there are plenty of things to collect during levels, such as intel and new characters to play as. Each mission also has a score associated with it, so there is always something to try and beat.

Final Thoughts

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra actually had a lot of potential. The original idea for the game is quite solid, but far too many poor decisions have been made with regards to the design of the game. It's honestly hard to believe this game is appearing on a next-gen system and it's only saving grace is that it is built on co-operative play, as it makes it slightly more fun when playing with someone else.

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