On paper, Lionsgate’s summer action movie franchise The Expendables has all of the ingredients to potentially translate into a decent video game. With franchise traits like an ensemble hyper-masculine-hero cast, tongue-in-cheek one-liners and enough explosions to make even the most ardent pyromaniac take pause, one might think they were reading about the next Gears of War installment rather than another movie tie-in. Unfortunately, in practice, The Expendables 2: The Video Game squanders any hopes it had at breaking the movie-game curse. But at a low, downloadable game price-point, is it at least good enough to be a cheap, quick distraction? Read on to find out.
While gamers are generally skeptical about the quality of movie-games, and rightfully so, there is always the occasional Spider-Man 2 that keeps them coming back to this otherwise abusive relationship. Many developers of these tie-in products claim shortened development times are to blame for lackluster results. So when Ubisoft decided to take a more conservative approach, creating a smaller downloadable twin-stick shooter rather than a full-blown third-person retail release, it seemed like getting a quality shoot-em-up, starring some of the most legendary men to ever run in slow motion away from an explosion, wasn’t a total impossibility.
Alas, it was not meant to be. Indeed, the incredible display of stunningly incompetent game-making delivered by The Expendables 2: The Video Game is a harsh reminder and warning to all gamers who would dare get their hopes up for a movie tie-in to levels that even resembled anything close to cautious optimism. Everything about the game feels unfinished, unpolished and gives the label “budget title” the worst connotation possible. Masochistic players who manage to wade through the game’s four chapters, broken down into 20 missions, will be treated to a variety of glitches, control problems and design issues that all should have been addressed after the most basic rounds of play-testing.
The game allows players to choose between four members of the titular mercenary team and, as previously mentioned, create carnage by way of some twin-stick shooting. It’s a time-tested genre that’s seen a resurgence this generation with hits like Geometry Wars, Super Stardust HD and a host of zombie-themed shooters, so executing the mechanical basics and slapping an Expendables coat of paint over the top shouldn’t have presented too big of a challenge. This makes it even more astounding that the game fails so spectacularly.
Taking those mechanical basics into consideration, precise aiming is the foundation of all twin-stick shooters. It’s also almost completely absent from this game. Rather than give the player complete 360-degree control over aiming, the game delivers a jerky, imprecise shooting experience that is mildly annoying at best. The cause of this is a lock-on assist system that tends to get in the way more than it helps. For example, if the intended target is an enemy perched in a tower with a high-powered sniper rifle, but there are also a few grunt soldiers on the ground, players can expect to take round after round from the sniper until the ground peons are taken care of and the game decides to finally aim upwards. Even when enemies are all on the same elevation but are clustered together, which is almost always, hitting a desired target is never a sure thing. Unfortunately in this genre, that’s pretty much a game-breaker.
The rest of the game’s existing bugs read like a veritable “how not to make a game” list. Clipping runs rampant throughout as characters will walk straight through solid objects. Enemies don’t bother to run in from off-screen when they respawn since it’s a much bigger time saver to simply have them pop-in and materialize out of thin air on a regular basis. There’s just enough visual feedback to let a player know if their bullets are connecting with an enemy that squinting is only required about half of the time. The difficulty curve follows the “add more enemies and make them more invincible” formula, but even that doesn’t matter too much when enemies that must be killed in order to move on bottleneck themselves into an area the player can’t hit, resulting in the restarting of the mission. At least if the game doesn’t sell very well, Ubisoft won’t be in too much of a financial pinch since they seemed to have saved money on things like on-screen colors, limiting them to just four: brown, grey, brownish-gray, and grayish-brown. It’s sad when a burst of flame is the only occasional variation in a game’s color palette.
From a narrative and design standpoint, it doesn’t seem like much thought was given here either. The game acts as a prequel to the upcoming film but lacks any of the nostalgic charm or self-aware camp that made the first Expendables film appealing. What little story the game does offer takes itself way too seriously and just barely serves as a reason to move players from one bland location and repetitive mission to the next. The story isn’t even used to give the missions any sense of structure either. A general mission arc will ramp up the action at a good pace and end with some sort of meaningful encounter. This helps to keep the missions from getting boring quickly due to repetition or lack of purpose. However, repetition and lack of purpose are par for the course here. It’s amazing that in a game filled with guns blazing, bullets flying and explosions – well, exploding – that a player could get bored, but that’s exactly the outcome one should expect.
Also, this lack of structure causes missions to end out of nowhere. Often times, there will be a dozen or more enemies still on the screen when the camera zooms in and the comically bad Sylvester Stallone voice-impersonator delivers some line about a job well done. No boss was killed. There were still plenty of baddies to dispatch. Which job got done exactly?
Despite feeling completely unpolished and unfinished, the only saving grace The Expendables 2: The Video Game has to offer is online and local four-player co-op. Sucking the fun out of mowing down countless enemies with your friends, especially in a local co-op setting, is a difficult task to accomplish. And though this game tries its hardest to do just that, it might be just mediocre enough to not completely ruin an okay co-op experience. But even then, there’s probably at least a dozen other terrible games that will deliver a better time before getting to The Expendables 2: The Video Game.
However, anyone not gaming with their own band of Expendables and looking to take on this mission solo can go ahead and stay far far away because for most gamers, their time and money aren’t expendable enough to waste on this game.
The Expendables 2: The Video Game is currently available on PSN for $14.99 and will be released on XBLA and PC on August 17th. The PS3 version was played for this review.