G.I. JOE must have been a popular cartoon, given that it's been turned into a big budget Hollywood summer blockbuster movie and that people tend to know what it is, but for some reason I completely missed it as a child. Still, the youth market is exactly what EA is targeting with its video game to tie in with movie G.I. JOE: The Rise of the Cobra. I took a near complete version of the game for a spin to see if the kids are going to appreciate the approach EA has taken.
Story info will have to wait until we've played a bit more, but presumably it follows the plot of the movie. The game opens with the Joes being attacked and M.A.R.S. operatives kidnapping Heavy Duty (just one of the many aptly named characters in the game). From then on it's third-person shooting action, but not quite in the same way as you'll find games like Gears of War. This is made for kids and casual gamers, so the controls have been simplified somewhat.
In the Xbox 360 version I played your character movement is handled with the left analogue stick, target switching is mapped to the right stick, shooting is on right trigger, melee attack is X, A rolls and snaps your character to cover, B fires off a special attack and Y activates your accelerator suit - along with a cheesy sound bite of your character shouting "Yo Joe!".
It's simple stuff. There's no camera to worry about, no manual aiming and not exactly much depth. There's the odd vehicle to drive around and terminals to activate, but for the most part you'll be running and gunning or shooting from behind cover - from which your health will replenish much more quickly. Depending on the difficulty setting you choose to play at you might not even have to suffer death.
On the lowest setting your downed Joe is automatically revived, so no matter how new you are to gaming you should eventually be able to make it through to the end. You miss out on completion bonuses, but it's good to see EA actually letting novices experience all the game if they want to - it's playable with a friend in co-op, too, so you don't need to do all the blasting yourself.
The game becomes as tricky as it gets when you occasionally have to use a certain character type to get through special doors, but thankfully teleportation devices are scattered about that let you change characters. 16 Joes will be available once they're all unlocked, bought using battle points that are earned through scoring lots of points in each level. The biggest barrier to having fun could well be the camera, which often tries to hide the action from you. Without any way to move it about manually you're essentially at its mercy.
The simple gameplay won't be for hardcore gamers, but it's clear that G.I. JOE has been designed for a completely different audience. Sadly the visuals can't get off so lightly. Saying it looks like a high resolution PS2 game isn't far from the truth. The character animations are a little robotic and the frame rate in the work in progress build isn't great. It'll most likely be good enough for kids desperate for more G.I. JOE action after seeing the film, but more definitely could have been done.
It's not often that publishers really try to tailor their games to the target audience to the extent that EA is trying to do with G.I. JOE. Rather than slap the license onto another bog-standard third-person shooter it's tried to create a game that anyone can play. It seems likely that anyone who's blasted their way through a high-profile shooter will find G.I. JOE to be altogether too simple, but if you just want some simple fun without controls being a barrier to entry, this might just be what you're looking for.
G.I. JOE: Rise of the Cobra is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP and DS on July 31.