This Summer, following in the footsteps of Transformers, Hasbro is bringing us another movie based off of a line of toys and popular 80s cartoons in the form of G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra. And what would a Summer Blockbuster be without a hopefully-good video game tie-in to go along with it, and possibly cash in on the hype?
Yesterday at EA's suite in the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco, I was given a guided tour of G.I. Joe (coming for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2, PSP, and DS), which is being developed by veteran studio Double Helix (Silent Hill: Homecoming), part of the Foundation 9 entertainment group. The version of the game they were showing was in a Pre-Alpha build with about 5 months to go until ship date, but already the gameplay seemed fairly polished.
According to the developers, G.I. Joe essentially picks up where the movie is going to leave off. The movie is an original story for G.I. Joe and Cobra, and the game picks up the plot-line once the two organizations are established. While they couldn't go into much detail on the story (since the movie isn't out), they did say that Cobra had managed to get a certain dangerous technology familiar to fans of the comic and 80s cartoon to an operational level well beyond what the Joe's had expected.
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G.I. Joe is an arcade action shooter that uses a detached 3rd-person perspective. Players are given the control of two Joe's at all times, and can easily switch back and forth between them with the push of a button. Also, a second player may join in locally at any time to take on the Cobra forces. When the two characters move away from each other, the camera automatically pulls back to reveal a larger battlefield. When they are close together, the camera tightens to show more detail.
Twelve G.I. Joes and four members of Cobra are available as playable characters in the game. However, not all of them are unlocked at the beginning. Unlocking new characters, levels, and other goodies is done through the game's Battle Points system. When fighting through the game, each kill racks up points and combos and multipliers are available, similar to what you might find in 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand or The Club. These points are then used for high score tracking, as well as the aforementioned unlocking.
Each playable character in the game has different strengths and weaknesses, and different combos will be more advantageous to use at different stages of the game. For example, Snake Eyes is very strong up close with his sword, but only has a pistol for ranged combat, whereas Heavy Duty moves slowly, but can lay down a heavy spray of fire. Each character also has unique special moves and it's advantageous to have a good mix in your squad. Two characters can also team up for high-scoring combo moves.
The developers intended G.I. Joe to be accessible to young fans of the movie, and you can spend most of the game just aiming and shooting. A certain amount of lock-on is also available, and the game doesn't offer the ability to just go for head shots, adding to the overall arcade-like feel. However, more hardcore players can still find depth by taking advantage of the game's cover system, utilizing the dodge button, and ramping up the difficulty level.
There is some variety in the gameplay in the form of vehicle sections, as well as a satellite strike mini-game that essentially gives the player a top down view while they defend an instillation against a Cobra assault with a space-based death-ray. However, the game did seem to progress in a fairly linear matter on the whole and I'm not sure how much branching out can be done.
G.I. Joe has a chance to be a solid movie tie-in. The arcade action and point scoring systems don't promise a particularly deep combat system, but it could turn out to be good mindless fun. And at least the variety of characters should make the game feel a bit different on multiple playthroughs. Plus, with a number of unlockables and references to the 80's cartoon, it should keep fans of the series plenty geeked.
Additionally, the local co-op should make for great fun, especially for younger generations who still tend to hang out and play together in the same room, unlike anti-social older folks like us. However, it was a little disappointing that online co-op wasn't included. The developers had good reason, stating that they'd rather tighten up the core gameplay mechanics and pack G.I. Joe full of good content rather than divert precious resources to making online co-op work well. I agree with that sentiment, because if the game isn't any fun, it doesn't matter if you can play it over Live or PSN with a friend. Regardless, it still would have been a welcome addition.
With five months remaining until launch, Double Helix has plenty of time to tighten up the gameplay, add levels of detail, and make G.I. Joe a great arcade shooter. It's just a matter of if it all comes together to make an experience worth playing more than once.
Note: There was also a DS version of the game which I didn't get to spend much time with. It's built from the ground up for the handheld and features a top-down view. The DS version follows the same storyline as the console and PSP version, but it also features multiplayer battles using the system's wireless functionality.