Also On: XBLA
I’m not the only one that sees the awesomeness in Sylvester Stallone reinvented himself by not reinventing himself at all… Big budget action movies in the 80s and early-90s were dominated by guys like Sly, Arnie, Van Damme, etc. And all they seemed to do in their movies was set off massive explosions and slaughter tons of nameless grunts with guns that never required reloading. Good clean fun. Then they went away for a decade, although this could be because Arnie was spending time running California (into the ground). However, in the latter half of the 2000s a few re-emerged, but this time as caricatures of the ‘Over the Top’ (pun intended) roles they used to play. At the forefront was Sylvester Stallone, revisiting the franchises that made him famous in the first place — Rambo and Rocky.
The box offices numbers for Rambo (5) and Rocky Balboa (was it Rocky 6 or 7?) seemed to indicate that quite a few people liked those rehashes. Enough so that the first Expendables movie was greenlit, which also did well on the silver screen, leading to both Expendables 2 and it’s video game counterpart which we’re reviewing today. Radical.
While you can play with bots filling the other members of the team, Expendables 2 is ideally a 4p co-op title that controls like other dual-analog shooters; one analog for movement, the other for firing direction. Unlike other dual-analog shooters, however, the camera isn’t just a straight top-down view, but isometric (think Diablo) and you actually have to pull the trigger to fire. The other cool thing is that the camera isn’t locked in position but is instead fairly dynamic, zooming in and out and rotating as needed to offer a more playable vantage point.
The irony of the game is that it plays very much like a re-vamped version of a classic Arnold Schwarzenegger video game; the NES/Commodore 64 version of Commando (which had amazing music by the way). It has similar controls, albeit mapped to two analog sticks instead of a single d-pad for combining movement and aim, uses a similar-but-less-dynamic ¾ downward view, and runs at the same 320×240 resolution… …I’m kidding about the last one… kind of.
Sometimes it looks pretty good, especially the likeness of the main characters, but most of the time it looks like it’s running at 1024×600. With that in mind you’re going to want to sit as far back from the TV as you can. Honestly, this kind of low-res crap shouldn’t be happening with a game that’s this simple visually, particularly when we’re this close to the end of this console generation’s lifecycle. If my eyes are deceiving me, and it’s actually, natively 720p then for some reason it’s a really low-res looking 720p.
Graphics aside (they’re only superficial anyway) each of the four characters has their own set of skills, weapons, power-ups and area of expertise. Gunnar (Dolph) is a strong sniper and dishes out more damage when shooting other snipers, while Barney (Sly) is a good all-rounder who can toss grenades when he isn’t using his signature dually pistols or colt. Can’t remember what special powers Yin Yang (Jet Li) had, but he uses knives pretty extensively (which I thought was Statham’s character’s thing). Lastly, Hale Ceasar (Terry Crews) is the demolitions expert who’s rocking a jackhammer, which is a full-auto shotgun with no range, when he isn’t setting off explosives. Combine all that with signature CQ kills and the ability to use unique hand-to-hand moves, and there’s plenty of ways to dish out expendability.
Speaking of the characters, one of the best parts about the game is that the original cast did the voice acting. In terms of progressing the “story” (rescue a kidnapped something or other… not sure anybody cares with this kind of throwback arcade game) the cinematics work well because it’s actually Sly and the gang delivering the often campy dialogue. Even the in-mission banter between the guys has its charm – it goes from being funny (not witty though), to being annoying (please shut up), and then back to funny again (I can’t stay mad at you). I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m fairly sure the game is supplemental rather than a recap of the movie, which is also a good thing.
Expendables 2 also relies on XP points which are used to purchase upgrades for your character and their signature weapons. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all helpful and you may as well spend your XP on something, but realistically you’re not gonna play this game to collect all the upgrades. End of the day, it comes down to mowing down as many bad guys as you can and trying to get your multiplier up, which, hypocritically, only serves to get you more XP which you’d use to buy the upgrades I just said you wouldn’t really care about.
There are quite a few easily avoidable issues that, for some reason, weren’t avoided and end up hurting the experience rather than make it worthwhile. Most frustrating and the biggest offender is a cover system that just shouldn’t have been implemented. When you come up to cover that you’re actually allowed to wall-hug, it works well at keeping you safe… However, this kind of cover is rare and to make matters worse there’s nothing to indicate which walls are “huggable” and which are not. You run up to a road barrier or bunker and instead of ducking behind it, you’re just a sitting duck getting shot in the face.
Also the controls lack life and aiming isn’t all that precise, much like the original NES Rambo. There will be times when you empty entire clips of ammo and don’t actually hit anything and it’s not because your aim is off. Guns lack punch or “weight” or whatever makes them satisfying to shoot… It’s like they’re the RC-P90 or Distovel from GoldenEye 64; they play like salt-shooters that just don’t do any damage. It’s sad really, for a game that relies heavily on shooting and exploding stuff to get that wrong.
You know what would have would have made this game so much better, other than more development time? If they’d waited until the Blu-ray/DVD/digital version was released and then gave you a digital copy of the movie when you bought the game. Think about it: most people wouldn’t be against playing Expendables 2 the game, they just aren’t going to go out and buy it either. Conversely, there are plenty of people that will buy the movie who would probably be willing to pay an additional $5 if it had the game with it (or vice versa)… I mean that’s why most people bought Stranglehold CE (unfortunately you need to run the game to watch Hardboiled, which is it’s own type of “wrong”.)