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The Expendables 2 Review

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The Expendables 2 somehow manages to turn the act of blowing anything and everything up into a dreadful bore.

A video game based on a movie license is not very good, and no one is surprised. It's the expected result nowadays when we hear that a publisher is working on some game based on a major motion picture. Finding an enjoyable movie-licensed game has become the game industry equivalent of discovering a once-thought extinct species. Given this fact, one wouldn't be incorrect to assume that The Expendables 2, a downloadable action game based on the upcoming movie sequel, would be a bad game. This is most definitely a lazy, slapped together, overly expensive waste of time that nobody need bother play. And yet, for some bizarre reason, all I could think about while playing The Expendables 2 was that it didn't have to be this way.

(Most of) the titular Expendables are on hand to explode pretty much all the things.

That's because for all its missteps and idiotic design decisions, there is a good idea for a game in The Expendables 2. Much as The Expendables film franchise is all about cobbling together aging action stars for a bit of nostalgic exploding of things, The Expendables 2 hearkens back to a bygone era of action gaming, when games like Contra and Ikari Warriors let players blast through absurd waves of pixelated bad guys, and Sylvester Stallone still had his original face.

Unfortunately, a good idea is all The Expendables 2 has going for it. And that idea isn't worth much when it's executed so miserably.

This is a four-player co-op shooter featuring four of the film series' muscle-bound protagonists. You can play as Stallone's pistol-toting Barney Ross, Jet Li's knife-throwing Yin Yang, Dolph Lundgren's barely-intelligible sniper Gunner Jensen, or Terry Crews' gigantic shotgun-toting jokester, Hale Caesar. Jason Statham and Randy Couture are sadly nowhere to be found, but that's really the least of The Expendables 2's problems.

The real problem here is mechanics. For a game based on the act of shooting things and sometimes making them explode, The Expendables 2 is remarkably dull when executing these seemingly basic tenets. A variety of factors contribute to this, but most notably, the controls are garbage. The developers at ZootFly have attempted to meld the kind of perspective-oriented shooting of one of the more recent Contra titles with the aiming mechanics of a twin-stick shooter, like Geometry Wars or Smash TV. This does not work.

It's hard to explain exactly why it doesn't work without digging into that nebulous concept of "feel." Shooting things in The Expendables 2 feels weak. The guns have no real impact, the constant need to upgrade them throughout the game means that at least half the game will be spent with long reload times and very little ammo, and there's just not a damn smidgen of excitement anywhere to be found in the combat.

The gameplay is somewhere between Contra and bullet hell, but it never quite finds a sweet spot between the two.

There are mechanical issues as well. The control scheme of aiming with the right analog stick and shooting with the R1 button works fine in most modern shooters, but here it's just awkward as hell. There's no aim lock mechanic, so basically you're just spraying bullets in directions in the hope of hitting stuff. Again, in a dual-stick shooter, that usually works. But because your guns are so weak-feeling through much of the game, it rarely feels like you're making much impact. When I'm playing as Hale Caesar and I've got that massive, otherworldly-looking automatic shotgun of his, I should be sending bad guys flying in multi-directional shards of human meat. That does not happen here.

Instead, you blast blast blast until everything on screen is dead. If you're playing in co-op, you'll manage to do this pretty quickly, even on the hardcore difficulty. If you're playing with AI-controlled bots, then it'll take a bit longer, because they're idiots. They'll shoot, but their accuracy and rate of fire tends to be a lot lower than yours, and they will attempt to use the ill-conceived cover mechanic more than you will. Yes, using cover will usually block you from being shot, but unless you're playing for extra XP points, it doesn't matter if you die. Most times one of your teammates will be able to run back and heal you, and if not, the checkpoint system doesn't force you to retrace much distance. In fact, in a weird twist, being down on the ground arguably makes you more useful to your team than otherwise. You can shoot with a pistol while grounded, and if you have even a halfway decent aim, you'll basically just pick guys off left and right, while taking no damage. It's like you're a human turret.

The Expendables 2 does little to capitalize on the wonderfully stupid action movie nostalgia inherent to the films. Not that the characters were particularly fleshed out in the movies, but here they're barely given anything to talk about that isn't a badly delivered, even more poorly edited one-liner. Only Crews and Lundgren voice their own characters, and it's pretty obvious that they were only in the recording booth long enough to say their lines once and collect their checks. The guy who does Jet Li's voice borders on offensive, and the actor pretending to be Barney does an even worse Stallone impression than I do.

Yes, there are turret sequences. Of course there are turret sequences.

What little plot there is barely acknowledges itself. At some point it's explained that you're on the hook to rescue a Chinese diplomat, or something. In order to do that, and collect your $1 million reward (that money wouldn't even cover the damage costs of the first level), you have to kill thousands of people. That's not an exaggeration. That certainly is in keeping with the spirit of the first movie, in which the stuntman credits greatly outnumbered the actual cast. And because of the sheer volume of bad guys you're fighting on screen, most battles become these bizarre, completely incomprehensible blasts of fire and bullets. You never know what you're hitting. As long as things are exploding and guys are falling backward in overly dramatic fashion, you're doing fine.

Except you're not doing fine, because you've paid $15 for this bland, hopelessly rushed bore. Again, I've no doubt few of you are surprised by this result. Downloadable movie-licensed games have had a particularly rough run in recent years, so there's no reason why anyone should have expected anything from this game. And yet a twinge of dismay continuously stuck with me as I played through crappy level after crappy level of The Expendables 2. There's a fine idea for a game here, but either the talent or the budget (or both) wasn't there to make it work. Chalk this one up to a sadly missed opportunity.

Alex Navarro on Google+
72 Comments
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Posted by Loganchase

Damn, was so looking forward to it :P

Posted by Eldredpe

Know if there are any plans for a Quick Look of this trainwreck?

Posted by Weatherking

Why are you tormenting poor Alex with this stuff? He gets paid for this atleast right? Right?

Posted by Davin

I didn't even know this was a thing that existed.

Posted by zombie2011

The screenshots remind me of that shitty GI:Joe Rise of Cobra game.

Posted by NinjaBerd

Wow! It got two stars, that's way higher than i would have predicted.

Edited by iAmJohn

I was afraid of this. To be fair, though, I'd say it matches the general quality of The Expendables.

Posted by Fragonard

Jesus, just those screenshots alone make me hate this game.

Posted by Aegon

What the fuck? This is what you guys have Alex doing? Why?

Posted by Phatmac

Why are you review such rubbish, Alex?

Posted by Humanity

@Aegon said:

What the fuck? This is what you guys have Alex doing? Why?

It's what he's been doing for ages: reviewing shitty games.

Posted by Xeirus

I don't understand why the staff even wastes their time reviewing games like this.

I remember at one point (I think in a jar time episode) said they try to only cover things they think the visitors will enjoy or they are interested in. But all I see is Alex spinning his wheels and wasting his time with garbage. I feel like he could be putting his time towards something more productive...

Posted by Toxeia

I saw two stars and a picture of Stallone. How did I know it would be an Alex review?

Posted by iAmJohn

@Xeirus said:

I don't understand why the staff even wastes their time reviewing games like this.

I remember at one point (I think in a jar time episode) said they try to only cover things they think the visitors will enjoy or they are interested in. But all I see is Alex spinning his wheels and wasting his time with garbage. I feel like he could be putting his time towards something more productive...

It's the lead game of this year's PSN Play. It may have never looked good in the first place, but it's not like this is just some easily forgotten thing.

Edited by Catarrhal
@Alex: I remember your Stallone impression from a past Quick Look, and I literally thought to myself when playing this game that, yes, Alex Navarro does a better Stallone impression than this guy. If anything, they should have hired the guy from Rambo: The Musical (seriously, check this out if you haven't seen it--a fantastic piece of work).
Online
Posted by Alex

@Xeirus: Like? We're still a week or two away from actual games coming out on the regular again. This is kinda all that's out right now.

Staff
Posted by GnomeonFire

This is a thing?

Posted by mrangryface

At some point action/excitement is just noise

Posted by Xeirus

@iAmJohn said:

@Xeirus said:

I don't understand why the staff even wastes their time reviewing games like this.

I remember at one point (I think in a jar time episode) said they try to only cover things they think the visitors will enjoy or they are interested in. But all I see is Alex spinning his wheels and wasting his time with garbage. I feel like he could be putting his time towards something more productive...

It's the lead game of this year's PSN Play. It may have never looked good in the first place, but it's not like this is just some easily forgotten thing.

What are you talking about, I've never even heard they were making this game until seeing this review...

@Alex said:

@Xeirus: Like? We're still a week or two away from actual games coming out on the regular again. This is kinda all that's out right now.

It's not just this one time, I understand it's dry, I just notice over time you seem to be reviewing the most obviously shitty games. Just feels like they're wasting your time.

I'm not really upset, just hate to see you wasting time on reviewing games no one was going to buy anyway.

Posted by wumbo3000

There is one good thing that has come out of this generation: the fact that it seems like more movie-licensed games are being relegated to downloadable titles rather than full-budget console releases. At least someone's not paying 60$ to get their Expendables fix.

Posted by Deusoma

It takes most of the impact out of the opening paragraph that The Amazing Spider-Man game turned out to be pretty damned cool, and that was just last month. :P
 
Still, it's disappointing that this game failed so hard.

Posted by Alex

@Xeirus: No one's wasting my time. When I see a game I'm curious about, I tend to volunteer to review it. I was curious about this one, since I liked the original movie. Five hours (with writing time) is hardly a serious time investment.

Staff
Posted by Alex

@Deusoma: The rare exception that proves the rule.

Staff
Posted by Goldanas

I'm glad you can see the cheap cash-in nature of the game. If only you could see that it inherited that from the film.

Posted by CommonReason

@Xeirus: Then you aren't paying close enough attention. I see your point though, and It'd make sense if you don't have a PS3. The PSN store has been plastered with full themes for this game since it came out. You could pre-order it a few weeks ago and it's tied to Sony's PSN Play promotion of just 4 games coming out this month. Essentially highlighting it as something worth people's time and money being hand picked for this promotion. People pre-ordered this to get discounts down the road on PSN as part of this. It is going to sell better than most games like it for this reason. That alone justified this review being written, even if it's undeserving of time.

Posted by chilibean_3

I find it funny that I knew the reviewer just by looking at the title and score. Bad movie tie in game? They probably gave it to Alex.

Posted by Moncole

Got a better score than I expected.

Posted by TournamentOfHate

I like how Alex left us a hint that this game wasn't good when he posted that trailer for the game. If that was to get by an embargo, well done.

Posted by Napalm

Posted by Xeirus

@Alex said:

@Xeirus: No one's wasting my time. When I see a game I'm curious about, I tend to volunteer to review it. I was curious about this one, since I liked the original movie. Five hours (with writing time) is hardly a serious time investment.

It's all good, I didn't realize you did this to yourself :/

Does that mean you chose to review blackwater? If so... damn man

Posted by Alex

@Napalm: If they'd mapped the shooting to the right stick? Yeah, probably.

Staff
Posted by Alex

@Xeirus: I am a man of many morbid curiosities.

Staff
Edited by Brackynews

Is Bruce Willis in this game?

@Xeirus: Unless I'm misremembering, at GameSpot Alex was the reviews editor who assigned games, often keeping the worst for himself. :)

I'm not really upset, just hate to see you wasting time on reviewing games no one was going to buy anyway.

I think you are missing the bigger picture as well, of what purpose review sites serve. Sure, Giant Bomb's community of ~150,000 user accounts probably won't buy many copies of this, except for achievement hunters and the masochism of experiencing bad games just because. (I bought Shaq-Fu recently for $5 and rented Jurassic at the same time.)

But google "expendables 2 review" and Giant Bomb is the #6 hit right now. That has value. Traffic for GB is far greater than just user accounts. As for the number of people who buy movie license games, that's easy: Jaws for PS2 sold over half a million copies at retail. Psychonauts for Xbox -its lead system- sold less than 150k, and those were full retail prices in 2005-6 when the economy was pretty good. Like so many people deeply invested in their hobby, we tend to forget that we're realistically in the minority for purchasing power. People who will spend $15 to see this movie in the theatre (or who saw the first one and liked it) are probably the same people who will spend $15 to play the game after Sony's advertising blitz.

Posted by SJSchmidt93

You're the best at reviewing shit games, Alex.

Posted by Evercaptor

@Alex: I did have a comment saying something like "why, man, why do you do this to yourself?" but I saw your comment about how you pick games that interest you to review. Good on you man. Since we don't see all that much screen-time with you (for obvious reasons) I'd be interested in seeing a feature about what you've been playing past the games that get your reviews.

Is there any chance of seeing a non-bombcast "What we've been playing" even if it ends up being the same game week-in-week-out?

Posted by Napalm

I just don't see how they could mess up blasting everything on screen at a million miles an hour until everything's dead. That sounds awesome.

Posted by B_Heart

@Evercaptor said:

@Alex: I did have a comment saying something like "why, man, why do you do this to yourself?" but I saw your comment about how you pick games that interest you to review. Good on you man. Since we don't see all that much screen-time with you (for obvious reasons) I'd be interested in seeing a feature about what you've been playing past the games that get your reviews.

Is there any chance of seeing a non-bombcast "What we've been playing" even if it ends up being the same game week-in-week-out?

I second this motion and think it would be a good article, similar to Patrick's "Worth Reading"

Posted by iAmJohn

@Evercaptor said:

@Alex: I did have a comment saying something like "why, man, why do you do this to yourself?" but I saw your comment about how you pick games that interest you to review. Good on you man. Since we don't see all that much screen-time with you (for obvious reasons) I'd be interested in seeing a feature about what you've been playing past the games that get your reviews.

Is there any chance of seeing a non-bombcast "What we've been playing" even if it ends up being the same game week-in-week-out?

Just throwing it out there: I wouldn't mind seeing an Alex version of Worth Reading talking about cool games and movies and albums and books and whatnot. It could be like the proposed off-topic section of Behind the Screened Door that would've been awesome if it happened. :(

Edited by xMEGADETHxSLY

just go watch first blood

Posted by Seedofpower

If this game is shit, there needs to be a quicklook.

Posted by Evercaptor

@iAmJohn: It would need a really Navarro-esque title though. Something verbose and funny. It'd want it to be a big round-up though, which means Dave, Drew, Daniel, Alexis... maybe even the Comic Vine guys, if they're into games/movies/stuff?

Posted by Godlyawesomeguy

@iAmJohn said:

@Evercaptor said:

@Alex: I did have a comment saying something like "why, man, why do you do this to yourself?" but I saw your comment about how you pick games that interest you to review. Good on you man. Since we don't see all that much screen-time with you (for obvious reasons) I'd be interested in seeing a feature about what you've been playing past the games that get your reviews.

Is there any chance of seeing a non-bombcast "What we've been playing" even if it ends up being the same game week-in-week-out?

Just throwing it out there: I wouldn't mind seeing an Alex version of Worth Reading talking about cool games and movies and albums and books and whatnot. It could be like the proposed off-topic section of Behind the Screened Door that would've been awesome if it happened. :(

I fully stand behind this. I desperately need Alex to talk about movies again (it would be an awesome bonus to have him also discussing music), even without the wonderful presence of Matthew Rorie.

Posted by mabber36

the only reviews I ever read anymore are alex's shitty game reviews

so keep up the good work

Posted by Homelessbird

How do you fuck up a game where you play as Terry Crews with a giant shotgun?

HOW?

Posted by PhantomGardener

Awwwww, no QL for this? I was really hoping for one :(

Posted by Quemador

Why alex get to review all the shit games? Not fare man

Posted by AbeBroHamLincon

@iAmJohn said:

I was afraid of this. To be fair, though, I'd say it matches the general quality of The Expendables.

well said good sir cant have a video game better then the movie it portrays :-)

Posted by CharlesAlanRatliff

I like the pictures of the characters at the bottom of the screen.

Posted by Alex

@PhantomGardener: I think the guys in SF are still planning to do one.

Staff
Posted by skelington_

@mabber36 said:

the only reviews I ever read anymore are alex's shitty game reviews

That could be read very differently, haha.

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