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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (PlayStation 3) artwork

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (PlayStation 3) review

"Instead of copying something like Halo or even a third-person shooter along the lines of Gears of War, two options that surely must have been appealing and may have led to something interesting, the developers went a different route. The result is a shooter viewed primarily from far overhead. Its not-quite-isometric viewpoint allows for expansive environments, large battles and lots of run 'n gun action, a bit like classic Contra if it were turned 90 degrees."

As the G.I. Joe mobile pit moves through the frozen north, Heavy Duty tries to liven up guard duty a bit by taunting the prisoner.

The Baroness sits in her cell, calmly staring at the laser-like beams of light that keep her confined without really seeming to even see them. Heavy Duty offers her some reading material to pass the time--an insincere and insulting gesture--and she smiles primly.

"Everything I need," she informs him, "I have."

As if summoned by that phrase, armored soldiers materialize from thin air. Several immediately flank Heavy Duty. As alarms sound and lights flash, they grab his arms to prevent a struggle. They weren't counting on his strength, though. He tosses them aside like sacks of potatoes, then reaches for his weapon.

Elsewhere in the pit, Duke and Scarlet dash for the prison in response to the blaring alarm. They arrive in time to see Heavy Duty fighting for his life. A few shots tend to most of the unwelcome guests, but not before more enemy troops grab Heavy Duty again and whisk him away into nothingness.

Duke and Scarlet race toward the cell where the Baroness sits waiting. She smiles again, decrees "Hail Cobra" in a monotone voice, then blinks out of sight along with more soldiers. The war against Cobra has begun anew and the score is clear: Cobra – 1, G.I. Joe – 0.

The G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra video game picks up where the Paramount Pictures film left off, sort of, with a tale of the early days of conflict between G.I. Joe--sleeker and hipper than ever before--and Cobra, a force that has never seemed so deadly as it does now that it can transport troops throughout the world in the blink of an eye. The situation has the potential to get much worse if the terrorist organization's efforts are not stopped. Unabated, their efforts to utilize nanotechnology could very soon permit them to teleport entire regiments and perhaps even tanks. Clearly, someone must stop them.

You are that someone. First as Duke or Scarlet, then as anyone else you can recruit (but never as more than a team of two at once), you'll explore four regions. Along the way, you'll destroy your enemy's weapons facilities and try to piece together your enemy's overall scheme before it can properly be put into motion. Your campaign requires determination, ingenuity and a whole lot of bullets.

You probably saw that last bit coming, but there's still a bit of a surprise in store. Instead of copying something like Halo or even a third-person shooter along the lines of Gears of War, two options that surely must have been appealing and may have led to something interesting, the developers went a different route. The result is a shooter viewed primarily from far overhead. Its not-quite-isometric viewpoint allows for expansive environments, large battles and lots of run 'n gun action, a bit like classic Contra if it were turned 90 degrees.

Though potentially exciting for an old school gamer, the design choice opened the door to some possible issues that aren't entirely avoided. For example, there was the chance that the developers would be content to produce only a limited number of individual enemies and environments. They've done precisely that. There was also the possibility that the action would grow repetitive without a more varied approach to gameplay mechanics. Again, that's just what has happened. If you're looking for a deep experience that can compete with the latest blockbuster video games, then, you'll likely be quite disappointed by G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. It's important to know that right up front, but the game does have something to offer the right audience.

If you appreciate the sort of intensity that mostly belongs in arcades, you're part of that fortunate audience. The game spans 20 missions that share one common feature: unrelenting action. Even when objectives call for you to disable ethereal barriers or to shut down generators, there's seldom a delay of more than a few seconds. Unless you get lost backtracking to areas you've completely cleared, you'll find that almost every step you take is met with resistance from ninjas, gun-toting commandos, armored H.I.S.S. tanks, robots, automated turrets and more. They might not mix up their tactics a whole lot, particularly within a single region, but they don't need to: Cobra's army is more than capable of providing lethal resistance.

Of course, you have skills of your own. Each of your team members is capable of both gunplay and hand-to-hand combat. Special attacks are also available and can really up the damage, plus it's possible to strap on a power suit for awhile and blaze across the battlefield as a virtual storm of bullets. Such heroics can be pleasant when you find yourself nearly overwhelmed by throngs of adversaries, but the most satisfying moments are the most common: strafing around a tank and blowing it up with just a few shots from your machine gun, or knocking a soldier into the air and firing enough rounds to keep him elevated as he convulses like a rag doll on spin cycle... There are many such moments. Even just running down a hallway and leaving a chain of explosions in your wake as your score climbs into the stratosphere can prove exhilarating.

In G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, as in the arcade games of old, score is important. In this instance, that's true because more points equal more rewards. You'll find all sorts of friends--and even enemies--that will join your cause, but to add them to your roster you need sufficient battle points. These are gathered by clearing stages with hundreds upon thousands of points, a feat that is only possible if you leave your enemies as corpses while staying alive yourself.

Sometimes that's more easily said than done. While the game generally does a good job of arming you with the weaponry that you need to succeed, it sometimes doesn't let you see everything as well as it should. The camera is caught on a track, always anxious to move forward toward the next firefight. If you need to backtrack because you missed an important object or wandered past a doorway, that can mean running against the camera and possibly toward any meager resistance that you didn't properly destroy when first advancing through the area. Eventually the perspective should shift, but it can be touch-and-go for awhile.

Another occasional issue is the cover system. When you need to, it's often possible to duck behind destructible walls for a breather. Once you do, you'll stick to them like glue until you stop firing and press the proper button to roll away. That's usually fine, but there can be times when you'll accidentally put yourself in that position... perhaps on the wrong side of the wall. As your soldier stands in the middle of a barrage of bullets and won't move, you might wonder what the hell he's doing. By the time you figure out what has happened, he could very well be dead.

Depending on the difficulty level that you've chosen, such instances can be a mild annoyance--since they dramatically reduce the score you can attain--or they can be enough to make you pull your hair out by its roots. On the "Casual" difficulty setting that is the default, you can and will respawn as often as it takes to reach the end of the stage. Going up from there, though, you can only regain lost soldiers at checkpoints (on "Advanced") or not at all (on "Hardcore"). Losing a team member because you accidentally pressed up against a wall or because an enemy rushed you from outside of your viewing perspective can really push you over the edge, especially if it means that you fail a mission and lose 15 or 20 minutes of progress.

The amount of fun that you'll have with the game overall mostly comes down to your level of interest in old school gameplay, your tolerance for repetition and your ability to ignore the occasional technical issue. If you're up for all of that, and especially if you have a friend along for the ride, you're almost certain to have a good time. People looking for something with more substance, however, won't find it. To put it another way, action junkies will likely find that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra provides them with everything they need. Other gamers will probably be better served by finding themselves some reading material.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (August 15, 2009)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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