The inevitable game tie-in to the movie G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra stars a series of super-soldiers with names so utterly forgettable—Ripcord, Heavy Duty, Tunnel Rat, Dial Tone, etc.—that Morpheus would have pulled the Nebuchadnezzar to the side of the road and told them to get the hell out. The opening cinematic shows a nondescript object being crushed by the treads of a rumbling tank. The camera lingers on the object, telling us that there’s significance here. Being able to determine that significance is a kind of litmus test for gauging how much you’ll comprehend and appreciate the game that’s about to ensue. If you get it, you’re good to go; if you don’t, it’s probably best to bow out now.
The game borrows heavily from the classic Contra playbook, which is never a bad thing. A pair of Joes (if you’re playing solo, the A.I. controls the other Joe) run and shoot through 20-plus strictly linear levels, battling all manner of science-fiction military hardware. Early levels feature weak soldiers with underpowered guns; later levels have you squaring off against large tanks, then even larger tanks. As Joes are rescued during the game, they become playable in ensuing levels. Each Joe has different abilities: Heavy Duty, for example, wields a bigger gun that has a much slower firing rate, but does more damage.
The game employs a semi 3-D perspective, so the camera always hovers around 30 yards behind the Joes, keeping its distance in the name of accommodating both players. The farther afield the Joes wander, the farther back the camera has to recede. The result: No matter what’s exploding, the action always feels muted, as if you’re playing the game through a slab of plexiglass.
But the bigger issue is how small the whole enterprise feels. This might be the biggest little action game ever made. Even as the credits roll, it’s tough to shake the nagging feeling that this experience should have been a $10 downloadable game, or should be the game you unlock as a bonus after finishing the real game.