Version tested: Xbox 360
Sometimes, in the often cliché-ridden and underwhelming world of movie tie-ins, a rare gem crops up which defies the odds and makes a silk purse from a sow's ear - a golden leaf which floats against the current of cultural effluent and heads upstream toward the spring of quality, high in the originality mountains.
These against-the-odds surprises, games like Riddick and Ghostbusters, provide welcome relief from the crushing mediocrity of the of churned-out, straight-to-bargain-bin excreta which form the majority of the genre. It's nice to see, however rare.
G.I. Joe is not one of these games. It is, in fact, almost the diametric opposite: a lazy and predictable slog through 20-year-old game design, stultifying 'action' and glaring, ridiculous omissions. There's no defending it on the grounds of being a kids' game, since most astute children will likely find this turgid, unengaging blast every bit as tedious and repetitive as their adult counterparts. Rendered as an entirely forgettable third-person run-and-gun through environments familiar to anyone who's picked up a pad in the last decade, G.I. Joe is the epitome of shovelware.
I was never a fan of G.I. Joe back in the mists of pre-pubescent time. I had two Action Men and an A-Team playset, but never so much as caressed the plastic biceps of these all-American super-soldiers. I don't, in truth, know all that much about them. What I do know is that they were terribly successful - selling millions worldwide and enriching the lives of children everywhere with daydreams of violence and just retribution. The reboot which accompanies the film and game, then, was always going to be a big ask - and typically it took the form of an increased edginess, higher levels of technology and violence, and the surgical removal of whatever charisma an imaginary vinyl killer could possess.
The characters, stripped of their individual charm by the black-suited monoculture of the film's tough new style, are forgettable yet numerous - with the anodyne lead Duke heading the charge toward stereotype. Whilst the dozen or so playable characters offer a little variation in playstyle, usually via the medium of armament, none has the necessary chutzpah to carry a story. Their inane, gung-ho military chatter is delivered with the enthusiasm and verve usually associated with Chris Martin after an afternoon in Valium valley. Ranging from the dull to the outright annoying, they are little but fleshed-out trigger fingers. It's a sad depreciation of the individuality which made the line such a success.
Gameplay is similarly grating. Hampered by an incredibly shoddy and unhelpful camera, which is entirely out of the player's control, it's a linear progression through such inspired environs as the icy forest, the sandy desert and the mid-Wednesday-afternoon Sainsbury's. The lack of perspective offered by the camera really shouldn't be underestimated - off-screen enemies happily blast away at you, corners are navigable only by luck and blind faith, and backtracking means trotting directly into the viewpoint - with no way of knowing what awaits unless you're some kind of digital Magellan.
The awkwardness is compounded by occasional forays in dreadfully controlled vehicles, where fore and aft on the left stick do acceleration and reverse, with turning handled by the same analogue. This means sluggish and often confusing directional control as the camera shifts and swoops - so the extra firepower offered by the various vehicles is swiftly compromised by their almost total lack of ability to point in the right direction.
Not that it causes a problem too often, difficulty-wise. Automatic targeting means that, essentially, all that's required of your average Joe is to hold down fire and wander listlessly amongst the resulting carnage. A simple cover mechanic is available: pressing A will stick your character to the back of one of the many convenient, destructible pieces of concrete which litter the playfield, where the three-part health gauge above their head will recharge a little more quickly. Hit fire again and they'll pop out and unerringly nail the nearest opponent - ducking back down when the trigger is released. Flicking the right stick changes targets, but there's really very little skill, or indeed enjoyment, involved at all.
Once in a while a boss-type chap will appear, sometimes in a large, armoured vehicle, requiring you to dodge and roll a little as the projectiles stream in. Dodging is performed with A again, making for some frustrating games of hide-and-seek when all you really want is a little duck-and-dive. Even during these moments of mild peril, simply holding the right trigger means a constant stream of fire pouring toward your foe, untroubled by whatever gymnastic tomfoolery you might manage to coax from your cookie-cut avatar. It's unsatisfying, boring and when luck does occasionally abandon you to a bullet-riddled grave, feels like you've been let down by a poorly implemented mechanic rather than conquered by the forces of terror.
Oh, and if you do die, the AI-controlled partner often sits rigidly in the field of enemy fire, swiftly gunned down without offering any resistance. When you both die the whole level must be started again, despite the two or three checkpoints which you'll encounter on each mission, seemingly there only to alleviate the tedium a little by offering an update on the score. It's genuinely baffling. And massively dumb. Switching to the easiest difficulty level means that you'll avoid this by respawning almost immediately, but it'd be both more challenging and pleasurable to see how many Wotsits you can fit under your eyelids before you suffer total cheese blindness.
A spot of light entertainment is proffered by the 'Acceleration Suit', whose power charges gradually with kills, releasing a burst of speed and increased firepower for a few seconds. You don't really need it, though. In fact, you don't really need anything on offer here at all. If your progeny are really screaming for a slice of the playground kudos, then get them a copy of Viva Pinata and Sellotape a generic action figure to the front of it. They'll thank you for it later.
3 / 10