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WHAT IS G.I. JOE?
Whilst I highly doubt that anyone will actually have never heard of G.I. Joe I suppose it is theoretically possible, so a bit of background seems like the best place to start. G.I. Joe started out life as a selection of military action figures which, as well as serving as excellent propaganda for the American armed forces, were also a lot of fun to play with, and hence they became incredibly popular. The tagline for this series, 'Real American Hero', is very widely known, and throughout the four decades or so that the toy line has been produced it has become iconic as a classic children's toy. Hasbro, the creators of G.I. Joe, gave a licence in the UK for the production of Action Man, which I imagine will be just as familiar (if not more so) to those reading this. Not many people realise that there is a link between the two, but essentially Action Man is the UK spinoff of G.I. Joe.
G.I. Joe, as with any highly successful franchise, has not been refined to action figures over the years and in fact has spawned numerous other forms of entertainment, including a tv series and a special edition Marvel comic book. Most recently, the big budget film "G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra" was released in cinemas in the summer, effectively pushing G.I. Joe into the present day/near future with high tech weaponry and oodles of special effects. Unfortunately the film has been slated by critics and fans alike as a below par production that is simply taking advantage of an iconic brand name in a bid to shamelessly make money.
That last line becomes something of a worry when you also consider that a computer game based on the movie has also been released, which is what I am reviewing now. As I stated in my previous review of G-Force, traditionally movie tie ins are games to avoid, and if that is not an ominous sign in itself for this game, the fact that the movie has already been labelled as a cash bow that betrays the fans certainly doesn't instil hope for the game. But could the game, against all odds, actually be decent? Read on to find out.
Unsurprisingly the game is based heavily on the film, which sees you playing alongside a friend as one of the Joes and shooting, blowing up, and otherwise decimating large swaths of Cobra soldiers in your efforts to make the world save for civilised people. So far, so clichéd. It's not the best story in the history of such things, but that's not necessarily a requirement. Unfortunately one thing that does make the whole story telling experience significantly worse is that the cut scenes and voice acting are just so dull. It's like the voice actors did each scene specifically when they were half asleep. Even by movie tie in standards it is outrageously lazy, and makes each cut scene and briefing a chore to sit through. Which is not what you want from something that you are paying to be entertained by.
But honestly, it's not about the story. G.I. Joe as a concept is based on little more than fighting the bad guys, which is the most one dimensional story ever devised. So the standard story and bad cut scenes can be forgiven, because you don't play this game to listen to s wistfully drawn out tale full of twists and turns. You play the game to beat the bad guys and save the world.
Unfortunately, beating the bad guys is nearly as good as it should be. The game itself is a third person shooter, meaning that you are watching your character from a distance as you control him or her. It is also based quite distinctly on similar game mechanics to the classic Xbox 360 game Gears of War. For those not familiar with that game, it essentially means that ducking behind cover, and using the cover to protect you as you shoot at enemies, is a major part of the game, and simply running into the open with all guns ablazing is not going to get you anywhere.
It's a shame then, that a game based on a classic example of the genre is so woeful in its execution. There are so many problems here that I really don't quite know where to start. For the sake of having to start somewhere, I'll talk about the aiming system. Obviously how you actually target the enemies you want to defeat is a pretty fundamental aspect of any action game. In G.I. Joe the targeting system is automatic, which means that the game chooses your target for you. Unfortunately it is therefore somewhat crippling that the targeting system doesn't seem to distinguish between inanimate objects (which do not shoot at you) and actual enemies (which shoot at you quite a lot). Countless time in this game you will be involved in a shoot out with a group of enemies, only to start shooting at the building next to your enemies rather than the enemies themselves. On the grand scale of computer games, that it pretty inexcusable, and is indicative of the sloppy design that plagues this game.
It should be noted that you do actually have the ability to switch the target if you want, but the automated system is stubborn and will switch to another target when you stop shooting for more than a couple of seconds, which makes manual targeting rather pointless. So all in all, you are stuck with an action game that brings it down to luck as to whether you will target your enemy or a brick wall. Not a good sign, really.
But perhaps even worse than the targeting system is the camera. Now normally I wouldn't really mention the camera in a game, because it is usually done right and isn't worth mentioning. But the camera in G.I. Joe is not done right, so it is worth mentioning. You see, as with the targeting system the camera is automatic and you have literally no control over it at all. But once again the problem is not that you cannot control it, but that it is so possessed with a mind of its own that it makes shopping trolleys look positively sane and manageable. You will often find yourself being shot at by enemies off the screen, so you are left firing blindly out of your field of view (probably at a brick wall), and really have no idea what is going on. The camera will also often swing around without warning, leaving you disorientated and, as the controls take a few seconds to catch up, running in entirely the opposite direction to where you want to go.
The targeting system and camera may seem like two very basic aspects of any action game that should be done right. And they are. But they are not done right here, and these to problems are pretty much crippling to the entire gaming experience. Simply put, it is hard enough to shoot at enemies when the game refuses to let you target them, but even more so when you cannot actually see the enemies that are trying to turn you into a human sieve. It just makes the entire experience a chore, and not very much fun at all.
Of course in a movie tie in that, as you may have figured out by now, is terrible, there are many, many further issues. One of the first complaints that I had with the game was that each of the Joes (there are potentially twelve to choose from) looks so bland. In the action figure line up each one was unique, but in the game (and, to an extent, the movie), each of the characters looks to similar all of the others, which significantly takes from the charm that a G.I. Joe action game should have. The graphics themselves are pretty average, but even that seems something of a moot point when the character design butchers the original concept anyway.
A further complaint is the vehicle sections. Normally in games vehicle sections are supposed to add some variety to proceedings. Mix things up a bit. Keep things fresh. Unfortunately in G.I. Joe the vehicle sections are shamelessly tacked with terrible controls and, which is a running theme, a clear and distinct lack of effort. This is even more a shame than everything else in the game because G.I. Joe fans will recognise a lot of the classic vehicles from the toy line up, so the fact that no effort was put into the sections involving them just leaves a really sour taste.
The final issue that is worth mentioning is the length of the game. Not that it is too short, but actually that it is too long. It takes about seven hours to finish. This isn't just because the game is so bad either. Even if it did what it does well seven hours but still be too long. You see, even with the major issues aside the game is incredibly monotonous in itself, with little more to do than destroying wave after wave of enemies and bosses, dodging and weaving (well, theoretically anyway) behind conveniently placed boxes, and generally getting through inhuman amounts of ammunition in pursuit of world peace. There is little variety, and seven hours is just too long to be doing the same thing. Four or so hours of a solid, well thought out shooter with replay value would be preferable to seven hours of monotonous rubbish.
Whilst it would be tempting to say that there aren't any, there are a couple of positives to the game. The first is accelerator suit. Every character has their own unique special power that they can unleash (which are not only inconsistent in their effectiveness, but also don't really add much), but the accelerator suit is something that every character can activate at certain points. And, as much as it pains me to say it, it does make the game more fun than at any other time. You become invincible, and essentially move around with incredibly speed and do silly amounts of damage. Maybe these sections just activated my primitive and childish desire to beat games easily, but I did have fun with this, and it was the highlight of the game for me. That's not saying much considering how incredibly terrible the game is, but it was the highlight nonetheless.
The second positive is that you can plug in a second controller and play the game co-operatively with a friend or relative that you wish to punish. That said, I do enjoy playing games co-operatively and have to admit that the game is a lot more fun with playing with a second player. This might have something to do with the fact that your AI partner is so useless when playing single player, or it could have something to do with the fact that it is easier to laugh at how bad the game is when experiencing it with a second player, but either way it is more enjoyable playing this with a friend. The bad aiming is still there, and the camera still struggles with two players, but at least you can share the pain with someone else and make light of the failings of the game.
I was originally going to entitle this last section 'Should you buy this game', although I would imagine that it is painfully obvious by now that the answer is a resounding 'No'. Because even for parents that are being bugged by their children to buy this game, it is not an advisable purchase. Yes, you run the risk of incurring your child's wrath in ignoring their demands, but I honestly can't see any child sticking with this game for longer than an hour. It is just not accessible or good enough, and will be too frustrating. At the very least if you do end up buying this game for a child I would recommend playing it with them so that you can help them through it and control the frustration. If you are forced into buying this, it is currently available on HMV for £17.99
But providing that you don't have a demanding child to appease, there is absolutely no reason why you should buy this game. Even if you happened to like the movie, it cannot be denied that this game butchers the memory of the franchise, and should be avoided like the plague. If you want a good franchise tie in, go and buy Batman Arkham Asylum. It is exceptional. If you want a good third person shooter that is similar in style to this but is actually competent, go and buy Gears of War. Just don't buy this. You will regret it, no matter how much you enjoyed playing with your G.I. Joe action figures back in the day.