We never expect movie licensed video games to actually deliver, but I’ll admit that I wanted The Expendables 2 to leave me pleasantly surprised. I’m sure that the deadline to finish the game before the motion picture did not help the development cycle, resulting in a flawed and lazy attempt to capture the magic that The Expendables name holds. I understand that it is a long shot to think that the game would live up to the impact of the original movie, but this was the chance to take the excitement from the films and turn it into a great little action game. Sadly, The Expendables 2 video game is a complete waste of time, resources, and an insult to The Expendables name.
The Expendables in a nutshell is a collection of classic action stars that come together to create a symphony of destruction, and one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. They go in to foreign countries where terrorism runs rampant, blow everything away in their path, and toss out a flurry of one liners along the way. The game could easily mimic Gauntlet or Contra, skinned to fit the leathery visage of the aging actors, throw in a mess of amazing writing and a plethora of crazy personalities. Sounds like a recipe for awesome, right? Instead, you are left with nothing more than a shell of a game that doesn’t capitalize on any of The Expendables qualities.
Luckily I didn’t have to play through the whole thing solo, as the game is designed for pure co-op. The Expendables 2 is a four player co-op shooter that features only four of the characters from the films. Each of the heroes comes with their own weapons and a unique trait that defines their playstyle. Barney Ross (Stallone) gets a bonus to his pistols, Gunner Jensen (Lundgren) is the designated sniper, Yin Yang (Li) is the martial artist, and Hale Caesar (Crews) rounds out the group as the crazy explosives expert. Only Crews and Lundgren voice their own characters, and it is blatantly obvious that Jet Li and Stallone didn't make it into the sound booth. It would have been nice to utilize the expansive cast of the films, but alas another opportunity squandered by time and budget.
Controls hamper the shooting experience and leave the player feeling weak.
If you ignore all of my previous complaints, the real issue I have with the game is the mechanics. For an action shooter that has tons of enemies on screen and exploding barrels at every turn, the shooting simply isn’t fun. Everything soaks up a ton of bullets, causing you to feel powerless and the weapons don’t have that punch to them. Enemy animations are laughable and there is barely hit detection on the bullets, so you are never quite sure when you actually killed somebody other than their disappearing body on the screen.
The controls don’t help either. The basic concept of aiming and pulling the trigger is muddled by some sort of identity crisis where you aim like a twin stick shooter, but shoot using a trigger button. The lack of locking on or accurate aiming causes you to fire at random enemies in hopes that you will eventually kill them all. With the aforementioned weak feeling you are left with an unsatisfying experience that doesn’t ‘feel’ right. When you launch a rocket into a group of enemies, shouldn’t they explode across the screen instead of drop to their knees and keel over?
Actions such as these should result in a meat spray.
Because all four characters are on screen at all times, The Expendables 2 lends itself to co-op however I failed to successfully connect to an online game. The odd chance that I did, the net code was so busted that I could barely control my character on screen until I was ultimately kicked from the game. I had to rely on a couple local friends who I forced to join me. I found the co-op experience to be infinitely more enjoyable than single player, mostly because the AI couldn’t figure out which way to hold a gun and they were of little use to me. In their defense, they were quick to heal downed characters but playing combat medic doesn’t help in this game because dying is of no consequence unless you are looking to get a high score (I wasn’t). Having a couple friends on the couch helps to ease the pain as I was able to hide behind cover and draw fire, while my teammates picked off the unsuspecting baddies. The game also becomes far easier with co-op since you have more people shooting, and does help to make the game flow.
At the end of each mission you are given a score, which translates to experience points that you can use to upgrade each character. You can upgrade the weapons to deal more damage, have longer range, and larger clips or you can beef up your character’s health and speed. If you are lazy and have coins falling out of your pockets, you can always pay for all your stats to be fully upgraded. Your points are scored globally, but you have to buff each of the four heroes individually so I found myself sinking a ton of abilities into one character that I would use on a consistent basis. In co-op, if someone chooses your heavily invested character you're going to be stuck with someone who is weak, as you cannot have multiples of the same character in game.
Don't worry, there are plenty of turret sequences to go around.
I haven’t watched The Expendables 2, but I’m willing to bet that the game isn't going to have an effect on the movie. The plot is forgettable and I'm sure doesn't count as canon, even though they deem the game as a prequel to the second film. For the entirety of my time with the game I was on the hunt for a diplomat that had been captured by my enemies, and upon his return the team would collect a fat paycheck. Scattered between every couple levels are turret sections that feature the semi-iconic Expendables airplane. They would be a welcome change to the monotony of the isometric shooting if they were not so boring and useless. One of the most jarring characteristics of The Expendables 2 was that I never knew what my goal was for each level or when it would end. At times it would simply fade to black after I had killed everything on screen and others relied on finishing a ‘boss fight’ that consisted of blowing up a large tank/boat/helicopter.
It is really a shame that The Expendables name is tarnished by this tasteless excuse for a game. I mean, it could have been something interesting or at least just some stupid fun but it fails on all accounts. Fifteen bucks is a tough asking price for a game that aims to make you feel powerless, when all you want to do is drink a can of nostalgia and embody your favorite action star of the past in order to shoot thousands of bad guys. I’m not surprised that this licensed title failed to deliver, but I am disappointed with their lack of trying. You can see the framework for a great game, but unfortunately typical constraints for a rushed game choked the life out of something that could have been beautiful.