- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (from Electronic Arts for Xbox 360, rated T for teen, $49.99).

Based on Paramount Pictures’ live-action film and Hasbro’s famed Real American Hero action-figure franchise from the 1980s, this third-person arcade shooter gives one or two players access to more than a dozen heavily armed characters to stop international dangers. Be it fighting enemies in arctic, jungle, desert or molten terrains, G.I. Joe is always ready to answer the call.

What’s the story? From the manual: G.I. Joe is the world’s front-line special ops team, the best of the best. Operating out of the PIT Mobile Headquarters, the team is our first line of defense against any threat to peace and freedom.

The group turns its attention to mopping up a splinter group led by weapons supplier MARS Industries, but Cobra Commander, the head of the ruthless organization that is out to rule the world and is a sworn archenemy of G.I. Joe, puts a retaliatory strike in motion against the team.

Play the role: A player selects two members from an ever-growing list of unlocked, elite soldiers to use within 20 levels of action taking place around the world. That list includes Conrad Duke Hauser with M2X1 fire-assault rifle and grenade launcher as well as familiar friends including Beachhead, Snake Eyes and Scarlett, and even enemies including Destro and the Baroness.

Heroes vary by classes, and the right mix of a combat soldier with a heavy or commando trooper can lead to mission success.

Each character comes with a primary weapon with unlimited ammo and a secondary weapon or skill that must be powered up by collecting icons or taking down foes.

Especially impressive is the combination of Hershel “Heavy Duty” Dalton with his M230-A2 automatic cannon chain gun and Wallace “Ripcord” Weems using an 820 Tri-burst assault rifle and machine-gun combat drones.

Amid laser shots and explosions, the players rescue kidnapped teammates or find dog tags and earn battle points to unlock new warriors.

A secondary cast of characters including Hawk Abernathy, Tunnel Rat, Stalker, Breaker and Data Frame pop up constantly to offer objectives and tips.

Get to the action: Hold down the firing trigger and run around like a madman, picking off anything that gets in your way.

Characters respawn after death, so feel free to hide behind the numerous barriers and then engage leaders such as Storm Shadow or assorted minions ranging from Red Ninja and robots from MARS Industries to Black Cobra Vipers and automated Flight Pods.

Occasionally controlling a vehicle such as the Runner, Cougar or Armored Panther varies the action, as does the occasional use of the movie’s ludicrous Accelerator suit. That massive power-up has two unstoppable, overcaffeinated Joes in armor bouncing to the 1980s G.I. Joe cartoon theme song and destroying everything in sight.

Memorable moments (in no particular order): taking down a Cobra ship; using those Looney Tunes-style Accelerator suits for the first time; watching Gung Ho attack an area with his rapid-fire cluster grenade launcher; and controlling an over-the-top satellite laser strike on Cobra forces.

Violent encounters:Electronic Arts obviously is in a no-win situation here. The targeted demographic for the action-figure line is probably 10 years old, but developers have to depict a mythology based on gun battles versus human characters and players shooting human enemies. Thus the “teen” rating filters out the young fans for a game that will bore the average 13-year-old.

Even though fallen enemies dissolve into a green mist because of their exposure to some Nanomite steroids, having a tween going on a rampage with big guns probably won’t thrill the average parent.

Read all about it: IDW Publishing appears to have cornered the market on turning Hasbro properties into sequential art. It not only produces Transformers comics, but also offers a three-issue sequential-art adaptation of the G.I. Joe movie as well as a four-issue prequel miniseries. Issues are $3.99 each, while the trade-paperback equivalents sell for $17.99. Better yet, the company is reprinting many of the old Marvel G.I. Joe comics in six-issue “best of” trade paperbacks ($19.99 each).

Pixel-popping scale: 6.5 out of 10. The character models lack the detail and flair of their 1980s 3 3/4-inch action-figure counterparts but end up about the same size on-screen. Some of the terrain is impressive, especially the snowy areas, but there’s nothing that takes advantage of a next-generation console.

Extras and unlockables:More than 75 file cards that look as if they were ripped from the back of a G.I. Joe toy package can be unlocked. They include short dossiers on Joe and Cobra stalwarts as well as play sets, vehicles and intel.

Additionally, plenty of concept art and some videos, including G.I. Joe cartoon public-service announcements, add to a treasure hunt in missions, but there are no full-length cartoons like in the Transformers game.

The bad: A static, mind-of-its-own camera makes it difficult to see what to shoot at, and the targeting is just miserable. Also, poor design twice got my character stuck in the scenery, and I had to restart.

Also concerning restarts: The supposed checkpoints within a mission do not allow a downed player to begin anew at any of the points. If he dies, he must start at the beginning of the mission.

Three difficulty levels range from “too easy” (dead heroes simply respawn) to “too difficult” (no respawning until the remaining living character reaches a checkpoint; good luck surviving that) to “why did I decide to play on this level” (no respawning, start a mission, one guy dies, get through with the soldier left standing or start the mission over).

Multiplayer:A pair of friends in the same room can cooperatively drop in and out to fight the good fight and equally suffer through the varying degrees of difficulty.

What’s it worth:Electronic ArtsG.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra matches the frenetic and mindless pace of the movie but lacks the depth a veteran gamer would appreciate. For those looking to control heroes, I would wait for Activision’s Marvel Alliance 2, which looks to be a much more impressive team effort.

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