For as long as I can remember, there has always been a stigma attached to video game tie-ins. Often devoid of any real innovation and produced by small-time studios, this image still remains, albeit partly faded.
This is due to a recent change in how publishers approach big-name entertainment IP. Instead of dive bombing on popular licenses and leaving a series of tie-ins to decay on store shelves, the actual development of these games has become more of a priority.
There are plenty of examples out there with Rocksteady’s Arkham series being a particularly noteworthy example. Instead of dressing an action game up in lycra and a cowl, the studio worked on its foundation first.
Sadly, the same can’t really be said of Rambo: The Video Game. In truth, it’s not as disastrous as other critics have made it out to be. However, Rambo has a glut of fundamental issues, some of which are simply too egregious to overlook.
Based on the original 80s trilogy, developer Teyon has hand-picked a compilation of set-pieces, sandwiching them between the odd bit of narration. Starring as the series’ titular, gun-totting protagonist, players will ransack the streets of Hope Town before returning to Vietnam and eventually winding up in the harsh Afghanistan frontier.
When paying attention, you’ll notice a decent story beginning to unfold. Despite being branded as a rogue, brutish killer, John Rambo is actually a patriot. A real, albeit misunderstood, American hero who doesn’t seem to have the best of luck, no matter where he is in the world.
How this narrative is conveyed, however, leaves much to be desired. For a start in-engine cutscenes are downright ugly and look even worse than gameplay. Though important characters from the trilogy are clearly recognisable they look like poorly-moulded bootleg action figures. The voicework doesn’t fare well either with Teyon crowbarring muddy clips of original dialogue in at just about every opportunity.
As an on-rails shooter Rambo is exactly what you’d expect, minus any semblance of progression of ingenuity. Mimicking Teyon’s previous work on the Heavy Fire series, players will simply romp through each setting, clearing entire screens of enemies before moving on.
Small variations to the formula include a handy yet flawed cover system as well as “Wrath”. The latter is measured directly beneath the health bar, gaining a portion for each kill. Once full, players can activate Wrath Mode, effectively slowing time and highlighting all hostile targets. By slaughtering enemies in this time, you can also regain health, thereby killing two birds with one stone.
The enemies themselves are mostly cannon fodder and will happily expose themselves to Rambo. With that said the AI isn’t completely braindead with some hostiles diving into cover or trying to flank Rambo. As players move from chapter to chapter, a wider variety will also start to appear, including armoured, shotgun-wielding soldiers, buff-granting commandos, and grenadiers. They certainly help to change up the pace but occasionally feel more like unnecessarily obstacles more than anything else. The grenadiers, in particular, can be a right nuisance, lobbing insta-kills projectiles at your face like they’re going out of fashion.
As with other on-rails shooter, Rambo is best when using both the PlayStation Move and Nav controllers. There is, however, an option to play with the trusty old DualShock 3.
Without trying it yourself it may sound like a complete no-no but the Sony gamepad actually handles pretty well. The control scheme resembles that of your everyday first person shooter. The only big change is that you’re moving the aiming sight with a stick and not the motion of your wrist. It’s not ideal but still suitable for those without PlayStation Move.
Surprisingly, Quick Time Events (ala God of War, Heavy Rain, Ryse) also make a succinct appearance. Entire sections of some levels are devoted to cinematic takedowns, enabled at the press of a single-button. Again, much like the annoying enemy types, they bring variety to the table but are often counterintuitive.
Upon completing a mission, players will be slapped with a score as well as one-to-three stars based on performance. As an extra little incentive, points will convert into XP, unlocking stat bonuses and perks such as an extra 15% max ammunition or health regeneration for each headshot.
Rambo: The Video Game lacks execution. Underpolished, repetitive, and littered with difficulty spikes, it’s a hard-sell to most gamers and even those who adore the Stallone trilogy. Not only that, it highlights just how out-dated the on-rails genre is even today. Since Time Crisis, Point Blank, and House of the Dead, there have been no real change-ups. That probably explains why most have been relegated to seafront arcades and bowling alleys.
Version reviewed: PS3