They'll fight for freedom, wherever there's trouble, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is there, riding the wave of live-action movie hype to a console near you.
G.I. Joe is the code name for America's daring, highly trained special mission force. Its purpose, to defend human freedom against Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the video game tie-in to the live-action movie version of the cartoon of the popular toy line. Its purpose? To give players the feeling of being a part of the highly trained special mission force as they witness the birth of their greatest enemy. It's a simple run-and-gun shooter featuring the movie's cast fighting alongside characters from the cartoon, with a 2-player local co-op feature that encourages you to team-up with your friends to fight the good fight.
Too bad the good fight isn't all that good.
Yo, Joe!: In case the subtle title threw you, this is a G.I. Joe video game, and even if it is based off of the movie, which takes an astounding amount of liberty with established series canon, it still has plenty to offer the G.I. Joe fan. Secret characters, profile cards, and a handful of unlockable public service announcements give the game an air of authenticity the movie lacks. I can even swallow the silly accelerator suit power-up, as it is accompanied by a stirring rendition of the original cartoon theme.
Teamwork: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was designed as a 2-player co-operative arcade-style shooter, and I found the game to be at its most enjoyable when played with a partner. The unpredictability of another human being makes one of the game's greatest failings - bland, repetitive gameplay - much more tolerable. Just make sure your partner is interesting, or you may find yourself falling asleep.
Mixing Things Up: Characters in G.I. Joe are split into three categories: Commando, Combat Soldiers, and Heavy Weapons. Developer Double Helix went great lengths to ensure that characters within each sub-group feels unique, with different main weapons and special powers that make the decision of who to bring into battle at your side an important decision. For example, Duke and Marlon Wayans are both Combat Soldiers. Duke's special power is a long range grenade toss, perfect for taking out large targets from afar, while the Wayans deploys drone tanks that act as additional guns at a much shorter range, which works really well when you are swarmed by enemy foot soldiers. The diversity doesn't save the game, but it at least demonstrates that the developers had some good ideas going into it.
Major Blah, Reporting For Duty: G.I. Joe is a top-secret combat force, specially trained to run around in circles holding down the fire button. This is what you'll be doing for several hours, with the monotony only dulled by the occasional vehicle segment or satellite-firing mini-game. At first I was charmed by the nostalgia of it all - it felt like I was playing the original 2D Contra successfully ported to 3D, but mission after mission slowly wore me down, until I started actually dozing off in the middle of combat, waking up with a start to see my guy standing there, having defeated his enemies by continuously dying and respawning, my finger locked on the fire button.
Seeing Is Half the Battle: You can't fight what you can't see, and in The Rise of Cobra, you often find yourself not seeing much. There is absolutely no camera control, and the fixed-camera positions included in the game leave much to be desired from a tactical standpoint. Enemies often fire at you from off-screen, and the camera doesn't bother switching if you need to backtrack, leaving you running towards yourself, desperately firing your weapon to stave off attacks from enemies you aren't even sure are there.
Same Base, Different Environment: The repetitive gameplay might have been salvaged by providing the player a wider variety of environments to romp around in. Sadly the Rise of Cobra only has three, and once you go inside a Cobra base, everything looks and feels exactly the same, making it much easier to fall asleep.
Voice "Acting": I'll give you an example of how bad the voice acting in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra can get. At one point the team is heading for the North Magnetic Pole, and Dennis Quaid's General Hawk has this to say: "Not the North Pole where Santa works." Simple, cheesy dialog, that makes perfect sense, unless you put the emphasis on the word 'works' instead of 'Santa'.' Now it sounds like the concept of Santa goes over really well at the true North Pole but just doesn't fly with the Magnetic Pole community. Santa works! The game's voice acting does not.
I wasn't really expecting all that much from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, and it seems I was completely justified in doing so. If EA and Double Helix had shortened the game and tossed it up on the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live Arcade, perhaps adding online co-op in the process, this would have made for an entertaining download. As a full game, even one released at $10 below normal retail, it simply isn't worth it.
G.I. Joe regularly saves the world from terrorist threats that would see it reduced to rubble, but they couldn't save G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra from being as exciting as an un-altered public service announcement.