It's tempting to go after G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra's story and fiction because of all the dopey liberties it takes with the G.I. Joe source material. But those are the same liberties taken with the film upon which this game is based. So it's not the game's fault that Destro talks with a Scottish accent or that the redesigned Cobra Commander looks awful. Unfortunately, the game part of this licensed release is even worse. It's an awful shooter that requires no skill to play and manages to be almost completely impossible to enjoy, largely thanks to its atrocious camera. It looks and behaves like a bad downloadable game, yet still comes on a disc and sits on shelves with an asking price of $49.99. And though I haven't seen the film yet, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that even people who come away from the movie loving it still won't find any bright spots in this bad, bad shooter.
The game puts you in the boots of several different members of G.I. Joe as they fight against a still-rising Cobra. You work through four different areas, each with several missions. Along the way you'll find dog-tags that give you the option to unlock more characters, each with a different weapon. You eventually get the ability to unlock a few different members of Cobra, as well. This doesn't make much sense from a story perspective, and the throwaway line of dialogue at the beginning of such a mission, where Storm Shadow makes some crammed-in comment about tainting his soul or something by working with the Joes doesn't really do much to explain it. But you get the impression that no one was really interested in making it all make sense, instead focusing on getting as many different classic characters from the franchise in there as possible. That's noble, but the occasional bit of fan service doesn't make the gameplay any better.
The Rise of Cobra is a third-person shooter that feels like a misguided mix of classic arcade games like Commando and modern shooters like Gears of War. The camera is pulled back and moves automatically, but it also has (offline only) co-op play and a cover mechanic. Weirdly enough, you heal much faster when behind cover, but most of the cover is destructible, so when you need it most, it's not going to be there long enough to make a difference. Instead, you're better off making use of the game's roll button, which lets you flip out of the way and dodge incoming fire. The game does all of the aiming for you, so a lot of the action is of the "hold up on the analog stick while holding the fire button" variety. This gets incredibly annoying when you're trying to shoot at a specific target, as the right stick that's supposed to let you select different targets doesn't work very well at all. If you have two enemies ahead of you and want to shoot one instead of the other, it can be frustratingly difficult to get the auto-aim to obey. Half the time, the auto-aim seems to lock onto some off-screen object--usually a helpless box that gives you points when shot--and shoot at it until it's dead while you flail around trying to get it to aim at something that's actually shooting back at you.
On the game's default difficulty setting, there's very little difference between pass and fail. If you run out of health, your character goes down on one knee for a few seconds, then stands back up with full health. The only penalty is that you'll lose some of the points you've accumulated, resulting in a lower end-of-level ranking, which nets you fewer points to spend on unlocking additional characters. The higher difficulty settings add the possibility of failure and also have higher scoring multipliers, but adding some semblance of challenge to the proceedings doesn't really fix anything that's wrong with the game. It just means it'll take you more time to play a game you probably shouldn't be playing in the first place.
In addition to the on-foot shooting, the game offers up a few vehicles and a satellite minigame where you blast ground troops with an orbital laser. While a break from the standard action is a good idea, the vehicle control is a mess. The laser minigame is decent, but that's also where I ran into an issue where the game wouldn't advance at the end of the minigame, leaving me stuck and forcing me to abort the mission and start over.
But the occasional bug isn't what makes G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra a bad game. There's no one thing that you can point at here. Every little thing about it, from the bland presentation to the dead-simple gameplay, conspires to make the final product incredibly lame. It has the depth of a bad downloadable game with the price tag of a full-on retail release. It's the worst of both worlds. And now you know.