Remember when you used to stay up late at night with your old CRT TV on the lowest possible volume with the door closed while you watched a film? An R rated experience which your parents enjoyed but refused to let you in your prepubescent state watch. It always showed several hours after your bed time but your desire to watch this forbidden film was too great. The series in question? Rambo. After several releases in the Master System era and then a 2008 light gun title, Teyon have finally given us a modern title based upon the original trio of Sly Stallone’s action film magnum opus.
Sadly unlike the recent movie, Rambo, which saw both critical and commercial success, the video game is unlikely to achieve either.
For those of us who’ve seen the first three Rambo films the story is already done and dusted as Rambo: The Video Game follows the films so closely you could swear your watching them at times. However for those of us yet to watch the films you follow Rambo from the Vietnam War during his time as a green beret right through to combat in Afghanistan at the end of the 1980s.
While for some fans this would be a blessing as more often than not film to game adaptations drastically miss the mark in capturing the story of a successful film, for others the ability to take control of Rambo in the various situations portrayed in the franchise would have been much more preferable. It sticks so closely to the film in fact that playing Rambo: The Video Game often feels more like playing an interactive version of the movies than playing a game all thanks to one choice which splits the gaming world in twain. It’s an on-the-rails shooter.
Normally this wouldn’t sound the death bell for a game, hell House of the Dead still does pretty well and there’s probably another Time Crisis in development somewhere. Many gamers would freely admit that some of their most joyful experiences were spent pumping coins into Point Blank or getting shooter’s ankle from the pedal on playing Crisis Zone.
Home adaptations of these games always had problems associated with them though. Stood up in your bedroom with several cables hanging precariously around your feet, falling down when dinner was ready held in the minds of gamers as a constant fear. Then there was the cost, the price of a light gun was often close to the price of the game itself and aiming at a CRT screen less than 15 inches in diameter (yes kids, times were harsh before flat screens) was never ideal.
The take Rambo: The Video Game has on this system for PC is to simply turn your mouse into the cross hair. A fair system in itself you might think, but when aiming is so inaccurate you may as well just flick the mouse across your screen wildly in the hope of hitting anything rather than actually taking the time to line up shots.
The implementation of a cover system though is not one to be sniffed at. Instead of just ducking behind one rock or the same wall each time you’re often given the option to hide in several different locations on a screen which may let you avoid fire from most of the enemies on-screen while maybe leaving you exposed to one crafty little so and so in the bottom corner. You can still shoot from this position though and taking note of where your enemies are will serve you well during gameplay, especially because you’re going to need to reload.
Seriously how is it possible to make the simple task of an active reload so annoying game.
Credit where credit is due, using an active reload system in an on-the-rails FPS is pretty inspiring and the development team should be applauded for taking such a gamble. Of course then they should be beaten into the ground with posts for allowing it to be as haphazard has stroking a hungry lion.
Sometimes it’s a lovely experience, most of the time you’re going to leave with a nasty wound on your arm and a tetanus shot. The reason behind this cascade of irritation? Well that lies in how unresponsive the controls can be. As anyone who’s played Gears of War, Vanquish or even Mercenary Kings will tell you, active reloading may start out as a focused activity but after a few dozen attempts it becomes second nature – like breathing or passing wind.
During Rambo: The Video Game active reloading instead becomes a putrid nuisance, a leg which should be cut off. The requirements for hitting an active reload are not unfairly tight though or extremely restrictive. What they are is a constant distraction. This is a rail shooter. You’re attention should be on the legion of people on-screen trying to blow your face out through your neck, not on nailing a reload. So having to look to the top corner and focus on when the minute indicator hits the sweet-spot with intent instead of it being a quick glance breaks the already tenuous suspension of disbelief in gameplay.
Visually Rambo: The Video Game looks good enough to serve its purpose and every-so-often can make your jaw drop, but most of the time you’re left with what looks more like a canvas painted by a lazy artist. The loving passion poured into most games is replaced with consistent feeling of the “that’ll do”s.
In terms of the soundtrack we see the same banality taking hold, although praise should be given to Teyon for obtaining the original vocal tapes which makes the game feel more authentic. It also reinforced the lack of imagination that lead to what feels more like an interactive DVD than a new Rambo experience. Continuing this interactivity overdose with quick time events for melee combat and stealth kills which give the game a certain cinematic edge while simultaneously reminding the gamer of the poor control response times.
For good measure a levelling system was tacked onto the edge of Rambo: The Video Game. While there’s nothing bad to say about this, there isn’t anything good either.
Rambo’s final feature kind of sums up the whole experience. Leaderboards. We’re used to seeing leaderboards in score based shooters, they drive gamers to keep playing and improve their skills. However if you look at the leaderboards objectively instead of seeing the names of those who are best at the game, you see the names of people who were sucked in by a big name and bear too much embarrassment to shrug the game off pushing themselves to get their money’s worth out of this study in mediocrity.
If Rambo: The Video Game had a £10 viewing price (yes it’s a viewing price, you don’t play this game rather than press the right buttons to see the next scene praying for a feeling of accomplishment which is replaced by the sickening feeling of relief) it would be worth it. Paying £10 for a mindless killfest is just what we do when buying those hyper violent films in the bargain bin. If it were £15 it would still be an experience to be enjoyed by fans of the franchise. But no, Rambo: The Video Game machineguns your wallet with a price on Steam of £29.99.
That’s the same price as the trilogy upon which the game is based on Blu-Ray. Shuffle down to DVD and you could buy the whole quadrilogy and enough snacks to keep you alive throughout – not to mention a whole lot more entertainment time for your money. How such a price can be charged when games like Typing of the Dead: Overkill are better suited for PC and provide more gameplay are sold for less than half that is beyond me.
In closing, if you really want to enjoy an interactive Rambo experience spread across the first three films take a walk down to your local DVD store and buy them for a third of the price then fiddle around with the menus. It’s about the same experience.
This review was of the PC version of Rambo: The Video Game. Other versions may offer a different experience… hopefully.