G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a run and gun shooter, similar to classic co-op titles of the past. The most distinct vibe I got from the game was that of Ikari Warriors; G.I. Joe is almost exactly a three dimensional, modernized remake of that game. That's good in some respects, but the fact is, we've come a long way in the last twenty years, and there are some problems with G.I. Joe that put a damper on the experience. It's really just what you'd expect from a movie tie in: not great, but pretty good, and your enjoyment of the game will be most influenced not by the game design itself, but by your enjoyment of the property it is based on.
Like most boys who grew up in the 80s, I had plenty of G.I. Joes in my toy box. The action figures (not dolls, dolls are for girls... ahem) were pocket sized, articulate, and had tons of cool accessories. Even better were the vehicles, based on real world equipment but sized perfectly for the Joes to fit in. A clear, simple, good vs. evil storyline, plus a well done cartoon, made G.I. Joe one of the most successful toy franchises of all time. That's all well and good, but how does it translate into a modern video game?
The gameplay is fast paced and very chaotic. Two Joes are on screen at all times, and the perspective is third person, with the camera back a considerable distance from the characters. The camera is probably the greatest weakness in the game. There is no camera control on the right stick, which is the standard for third person shooters. This makes for some truly frustrating moments. Often, your character is stuck behind offscreen objects, and you have to make your best guess at how to get unstuck by looking for your weapon's fire. The camera is slow to reset itself, and it often takes several seconds for the perspective to zoom around.
So what's the right stick used for, if not to control the camera? It flips between targets on the screen. Pulling down the right trigger lets loose a constant stream of bullets, lasers, flame, or whatever else your Joe is packing, all aimed right at your current target. There are melee attacks as well, but I found them less useful, unless you are surrounded by several foes at once. It can be tough to find the target in the middle of a big fight, but the game will automatically target for you. Most of the time, this is very helpful, but occasionally it's a problem. Finding your character shooting frantically at a bonus point box off screen while a red ninja is breathing down his neck is frustrating. The targeting system bugged out on the same gunship mini-boss battle on us no less than three times, which is really unacceptable.
There are a few nods to Gears of War in G.I. Joe. First is the cover system. You can hide behind barrels, concrete blocks, and the like to avoid enemy fire. This is fairly useful, as you regenerate your health over time. The cover can be destroyed, and you can't fire while in cover. Your Joe can dive or roll to dodge attacks, using the A button. This is the same control used for taking cover, oddly, meaning you might end up rolling out into an attack when you thought you were hiding. Another nod to Gears is the "slow walk and hold the right ear" style of storytelling while your Joes are in-mission.
G.I. Joe team members are broken down into three basic types: heavy weapons, commandos, and combat soldiers. Heavy Weapons have great firepower, but are a bit slow. Commandos are fast, agile, and have enhanced melee capabilities. Combat soldiers are somewhere in the middle. Doors and switches occasionally require a member of a particular class. In addition, each character has unique ranged, melee, and special attacks. No Joe's attacks are like any others, even among the classes. One example is heavy weapons duo Heavy Duty and Backblast. Heavy Duty has a huge chaingun, a slow swiping melee, and his special is a blinding burst of bullets. Backblast shoots a slow burst of flame that explodes on contact, has a juggling melee move, and his special shoots fire in a huge roll, perfect for clearing out an entire corridor. Most of the appeal of G.I. Joe is in the characters, unlocking them and trying different combinations. It felt just like collecting them in toy form back when I was eleven years old. (I only wish my son would let me play as Snake Eyes, just once.)
The co-op elements of the game aren't particularly strong. Certain duos are more effective than others, and often you can cover your buddy's weaknesses and vice versa. Still, knowing that a co-op partner is at your back makes the game more enjoyable. One co-op aspect that could have really been great is the vehicle sections. The G.I. Joe series is full of awesome vehicles: tanks, snowmobiles, Humvees, etc. When you find them, one partner drives, and the other shoots. Unfortunately, the vehicle controls are a horrid mess. We found this quite disappointing, as the vehicles were a nice change of pace from the endless running and gunning.
The difficulty settings are unusual. We played mostly on casual, which meant we never died. When our characters fell, the action went into reddish slow motion, and the characters stood right back up. While it was nice not having to replay anything, it took out much of the sense of accomplishment. At higher difficulties, if both players die, you have to restart the entire level, even if you cleared a checkpoint. What's the point of the checkpoints, then? Not much, as far as I can tell. We went back to playing on casual. Losing a bit of the pride of playing on a harder level wasn't nearly as much of a problem for us as, say, replaying an entire level when the camera gets weird and you both die simultaneously.
Easily the most enjoyable part of G.I. Joe is the Enhancement Suits. Throughout the game, you and your partner fill up a gold meter at the top of the screen. When the meter fills, pressing Y activates the power-up. Your character dons the black suits seen in the film, and receives enhanced speed, rate of fire, and more powerful special attacks for a brief time. When the suits are donned, a rousing orchestral arrangement of the theme from the old cartoon blasts out your speakers. It's cheesy, it's over the top, and it's also really fun.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a typical movie game. It's passable, gameplay wise, but shows some evidence of being rushed in production. In the end, the appeal of the game is mostly from nostalgia. It plays like a classic game, and includes characters some of us remember from our days of sneaking an action figure in our backpack to play with at recess. To the average gamer, G.I. Joe is a fair game to play when you just need a quick and easy fix. If you are a fan of the G.I. Joe franchise, you'll get a bit more enjoyment out of it.