Rambo: The Video Game is out today, and ’80s action movie fan Dave Cook reckons it’s one of the least-enjoyable games he’s had to play in a very long time. Find out why right here.
Rambo: The Video Game
Out today on PC, PSN and Xbox Live in Europe.
– It’s got the movie soundtrack
– The original VHS dialogue
– Dated visuals, naff animation
– Feels genuinely unfinished in parts
– Poorly designed combat
– Erratic difficulty spikes
I was cautiously optimistic about this one, I really was.
I approached it a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action landmark ‘Commando.’ We all know the movie is utter bollocks, but its sheer absurdity makes it a rollicking success.
Then consider John Travolta’s mugging turn as Broken Arrow villain Vic Deakins. The man’s face was pure teeth; gnawing at the scenery for 90 minutes until it crumpled. This breed of film was bullshit, all of it; but it was fun bullshit, hungover Sunday morning bullshit, the kind of bullshit you could absorb passively while watching grown men play soldiers.
That’s what I assumed about Teyon’s Rambo game. I thought it would be the good kind of bullshit, but well, you already know where I’m going with this don’t you?
The game opens with John Rambo’s funeral, where the decorated war veteran’s life is retold through a eulogy delivered by some kind of military official who appears to have been ripped from a PS2 game. His fellow officers look on through last-gen eyes while the muffled dialogue takes us back to key moments from the original film trilogy.
I’m certain the audio has been ripped straight from the Rambo VHS tapes, which would have been quite cool if it didn’t sound so distorted and out of whack with the rest of the game. It’s really strange, seeing as the game’s new dialogue has also been given a similar treatment. Stallone’s likeness is also wonky. Fail a QTE scene and he’ll take a bullet between the eyes. As they roll back into his polygonal skull, you’ll see his slacked-jaw hanging there; stubble and all, with a mouth that looks taught after too many sour sweeties. It’s fucking marvellous.
There’s the eulogist there; looking very 1999. Anyway, you start off as Rambo during the Vietnam conflict that changes our hero into the unfeeling war machine you know from the films, and pretty quickly things start to pull apart at the seams like a bloody exit wound. Movement is all on rails until you reach action points where – in something of a Time Crisis twist – you can pop in and out of cover to shoot soldiers as they meander politely, waiting to die.
This is essentially a four-hour version of the Die Hard 2 segment of Die Hard Trilogy on PSOne, but if – like me – you never had enough pocket money to shell out on Namco’s G-Con light-gun or some cheap third-party equivalent, you had to make do with using your pad like a chump. That’s what this feels like.
I played the PC build with both a mouse and Xbox 360 controller. The latter felt sluggish and inaccurate. Teyon’s answer to the problem when using a pad is one of the stickiest auto-aim mechanics I’ve ever had the displeasure of wrestling with. You’ll aim at enemies by accident when all you want to do is hit the explosive red barrel behind him to speed up your advancement through the torturous experience.
So ‘obvious’ is the auto-aim that there’s zero skill involved in taking down troops with your rifle, pistol or bow. In fact; you can even cheat the game with a pad using this mechanic if you can’t be arsed dying over and over due to the ceaseless hail of gunfire during each section.
I found that I could just hide behind solid cover indefinitely, lock on to an enemy from my safe spot, stand up and take them down with a quick burst of fire. You’ll still lose health of course, seeing as there’s no clear strategy to avoiding the never-ending wall of incoming bullets. You’re just minimising inevitable damage at all times while trying to hold on to your pride.
Full-on gunplay sections become memory tests later on, especially once you hit the Rambo 3 scenes. The opening chapter in Afghanistan is insanely tedious, thanks to grenadier troops who can insta-kill players with one cheap grenade toss if you dally.
You’ll need to remember where these guys appear, make sure you have enough Wrath – the game’s obligatory power-up ability – and ammo left to get them quick, all the while reducing health loss as best you can. You won’t have time to reload or focus on other enemies shooting at you first, which is hard given the high concentration of bodies and bullets raining down on you at any given time. It’s a shambles of design that overlooks ingrained industry hallmarks like pacing, balance and fairness.
There’s also one horrid scene that involves a pair of circling choppers raining hell down on a village. Rambo hops on an anti-air turret and starts returning fire while moving his around like he’s having a seizure. It makes defeating the choppers needlessly complicated as your reticule sways and bobs against your will. Why did this have to happen? Should it happen at all, given the girth and solidity of the man’s neck? Why can’t he just aim straight?
As with most tough moments in Rambo the key is Wrath, a skill that slows down time, increases your damage output and rewards health for each kill. You can use this power to slow the choppers and get in more shots before they slaughter the town, but you probably won’t have enough of it to win the fight. There’s every chance you’ll have to replay the stage to try again, or quit out and re-spec your skills to give yourself more Wrath. That’s not fun; it’s a beginner’s trap. I shouldn’t have to fiddle my buffs to pass the battle, I should be able to do it with my own skill.
You can use skill points earned through levelling to increase your damage output or other stats, and you’ll also unlock perks that can be enabled along with your load-out. You can even earn new weapons by completing Trautman challenges along the way, but it’s all largely superfluous mind you.
Then there’s the laborious QTE battles; the first of which takes place during the infamous police shower scene in ‘First Blood.’ It depicts an awkward, robotic scuffle between Rambo and a squad of cops, along with prompts. Miss one or hit the wrong button and you’ll get an instant ‘game over’ followed by a trip back to the last checkpoint. For a movie franchise about a muscular man reluctantly slaughtering men while battling his inner demons; there’s a worrying lack of punch in these scenes. It’s the same bargain basement, straight-to-DVD bullshit I mentioned earlier, but genuinely bad.
Visually; this is a dog. There’s no excuse for a digital download game to look this shoddy, not in an age where small indie teams are making nicer-looking titles on a much tighter budget. Blurry textures decorate bland environments while odd animations cripple any sense of engagement you might have had with the action. You’ll recoil at the terrible gunplay, grow enraged by the unfair difficulty spikes and laugh while secretly crying over just how wrong things have become.
The second and third Rambo films featured a ton of guns and action; a combination ripe for a simple game adaptation. Unfortunately; Teyon has missed its target by several miles, only to shoot the beak off some nesting bird, which would be quite remarkable if not entirely accidental. That is precisely what’s happened here. The studio has made something truly outstanding, much like an enjoyably stupid action film. The only difference here is that there’s nothing tongue-in-cheek about this hot mess.
There will still be gamers among you who enjoy Rambo: The Video Game, purely because we all have different ‘so bad it’s good’ barometers, but for this hip-shooter, I just found the whole experience as tedious as hell. It’s not Commando, Broken Arrow, The Expendables or Under Siege. It’s more like a Speed 2: Cruise Control and Battlefield Earth matinee with the doors locked.
Disclosure: To assist in writing this piece Reef Entertainment sent Dave a Steam key for Rambo: The Video Game.