G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Review

By Matt Keil - Posted Aug 06, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the new gold standard for lazy and uninspired cash-in licensed games. It could perhaps be argued that the developers didn't have much to work with given the source material, but that doesn't help the unfortunate consumer who ends up stuck with this Junkyard Dog of a game in his collection.

The Pros
  • When you activate the accelerator suits, the Real American Hero theme plays for about 15 seconds
The Cons
  • Stone-dead boring gameplay
  • Ugly as all hell
  • Minimal differences between characters
  • Awful targeting system
  • Wildly unbalanced difficulty settings

It’s not like anyone goes into a game based on a movie based on a toy brand with high expectations. Nobody sits down to play Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Masters of the Universe: The Game, or My Little Pony: Battle for the Rainbow’s End with the hope that they will leap to the top of their Best Game Ever list.  These games are generally mediocre at best, as the long and storied tradition of the movie game dictates. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra refuses to be constrained by this tradition, and breaks its usual movie game bonds to drill out of its prison of mediocrity. Unfortunately, it tunnels the wrong way, smashes through the floor and lands in the subterranean caverns usually reserved for the prisoners’ excrement.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (360)

Who wants a body massage?

If the tortured metaphor didn’t give it away already, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a really bad game. The best thing that can be said about it is that it functions and does not crash or fail to load on a regular basis. It’s based on the upcoming film of the same name, which would almost certainly be the clear winner of the Worst Summer Movie Award in any sane year, but with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen also being released back in June, it’s likely to end up a quantum photo finish. The film and game tell the origin story of G.I. Joe, the code name for a daring, highly-trained special mission force. Over the course of the game they discover that their purpose is to defeat Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

From the main menus at the mobile Joe headquarters called the Pitt, you choose your mission and two Joes to head into battle. More Joes and even a few Cobra agents can be found and purchased for play using tokens earned from high scores, but aside from having three classes that open different secret doors in the stages, all the characters play pretty much the same. This is largely due to the fact that the base gameplay is essentially Contra post-debilitating brain injury. For the most part, stages can be cleared by simply holding down the right trigger and waiting for everything to die. A cover system is present but is neither useful nor particularly necessary. You run your Joes through the linear and ugly levels, shooting up any enemies in your way and occasionally driving a difficult-to-steer vehicle. Often there will be impenetrable force fields in your way, which must be deactivated by destroying their power supplies, conveniently located nearby in a lightly defended area that is inexplicably outside the force field.

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Wherever there’s trouble

Each Joe can fire his or her primary weapon and use a melee attack at close range. They also have a unique special attack that hits a bit harder and must be earned by scoring kills. You can switch between the two Joes at any time, although your AI partner will usually use up all the special attacks you’ve earned, often mercilessly attacking single enemies already near death. You can choose to inflict the game on a friend using co-op, provided they’re on the couch with you, as there is no online option. All ranged combat is done through auto-targeting that prefers to target bonus point objects rather than the Viper shooting you or the ninja hacking at you with a sword. The right analog stick cycles through your targets in a vaguely intuitive manner, but it’s surprisingly tough to get the game to acknowledge that you want to attack the enemy currently trying to kill you.

Whether or not you actually care that a Cobra trooper is trying to kill you depends on your choice of difficulty level. On Advanced, the “normal” setting, if one of your Joes dies, they remain dead until you get to a checkpoint in the mission. There are usually three or four of these per mission. If the second Joe dies before you get to a checkpoint, you start the mission over. No, you don’t go back to the last checkpoint you passed, you start the level from the beginning. If you switch the difficulty over to Casual, the “easy” setting, a slain Joe goes down for a few seconds, then stands back up and continues to fight. That’s right, on Casual it is actually impossible to die. Your only penalty for running out of life is that you have to spend a few seconds not playing G.I. Joe. Oh, the torment.

I’ve thought about it hard, and I honestly can’t think of a reason anyone would want to play this. On Casual, there is literally zero challenge. On Advanced, one mistake while fumbling with the clumsy targeting system can easily lead to redoing an entire sleep-inducing mission. And for what? A few boss fights that don’t really feel any different from battling normal enemies? To see the same gunship miniboss fight for the third time? To earn the top score ranking on a mission? Does anyone really care? The levels are practically indistinguishable from one another aside from the obvious “arctic has snow, jungle has trees” difference. You can only unlock so much concept art before you realize you’d be having a lot more fun watching those G.I. Joe PSA redubs.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (360)

Nice catch, blanco niño

At this point you may be thinking that no game could really be that devoid of goodness. Well, okay, you’re right. The one little glimmer of joy for a G.I. Joe fan comes when the Accelerator Suit meter fills up, allowing you to activate the mindbendingly stupid power armor featured in the film. With the suits active, both characters become invincible and run around at high speed like characters in a silent Chaplin film, blasting away with lasers and rockets. The good part is that while this is going on, an orchestral version of the classic Real American Hero theme song plays for about fifteen seconds.

That’s all I got.

Too bad your ass got saaaaaacked

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the new gold standard for lazy and uninspired cash-in licensed games. It could perhaps be argued that the developers didn’t have much to work with given the source material, but that doesn’t help the unfortunate consumer who ends up stuck with this Junkyard Dog of a game in his collection. In truth, a shooter based on G.I. Joe has the potential to be a pretty good game, but that is not what happened here. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. The other half is not spending one iota of time or money on this game.