With 45 years of service in the line of toys, comics, cartoons and various other spin-offs, GI Joe is a grizzled veteran these days. But the franchise isn’t about to retire to a log cabin in the woods to drink bourbon, drive around in a pickup with roof-mounted lights and shoot deer. No sir, far from it. 2009 has been a big year for GI Joe as it hit the big screen, and also next generation consoles courtesy of EA.
Traditionally, film licences recreate the story of the movie, but GI Joe deviates from the formula with a plot that follows on from the motion picture. We say “plot”, but as you would expect, calling it tissue paper thin would be an insult to Andrex. The game’s all about running around with machine-guns on full automatic turning enemy “Cobra” soldiers into Cobra pate. And that’s pretty much it.
It’s a third-person shooter designed to be a cooperative affair, with two Joes battling against the bad guys. The second soldier can be computer controlled, or preferably directed by another player (the AI isn’t up to much).
EA hasn’t plumped for a split-screen two-player set up here; both characters use the same view, and thus can’t move too far away from each other. While we approve of this scheme in principle, avoiding poky and restricted split-screen viewpoints as it does, the game’s fixed camera angles can be quite awkwardly placed. You end up firing at enemies you can’t actually see a fair amount of the time.
But it is possible to hit those unsighted enemies, because an auto-aim system aids you. Pull the right trigger and you’ll blast the nearest target with unerring accuracy, wherever they are, with the right analogue stick being used to switch your aim if needed. And it’s definitely needed, because sometimes the closest target is a simple box or barrel, which you end up plugging pointlessly away at while a deadly gun turret decimates your health.
With Cobra turrets, missile launchers, tanks and aircraft bristling with mini-guns throwing their weight around, it’s fair to say that you face seriously heavy firepower at some stages. But between the auto-aim system and the fact that you can take cover behind boxes or barriers to swiftly replenish your health, the game never taxes the player too much.
And GI Joe gets dull pretty quickly, as you realise it boils down to repetitive bouts of blasting the same enemies, through the same terrain, in linear maps which seem even more on rails due to that auto-aim feature. Much of the time it feels as though you’re only half playing the game, particularly in single player mode where any sort of meaningful cooperative tactics are lacking.
EA has tried to inject some extra substance here and there, with mini-games where you direct air support, and tanks you get to drive around in periodically. But any potential fun here is seriously hampered by the annoyingly fiddly vehicle controls. Watching us try to steer into a power-up and then reverse over a Cobra agent produced a scene akin to a blindfolded Mr Bean attempting a three-point turn on his driving test. It wasn’t pretty.
If you’re in love with the GI Joe universe and enjoy total no-brain type shooters, there may be some pull to the low-tech carnage that’s on offer here. Us, however… we just weren’t feeling it.