Publisher: Reef Entertainment
Surprise! Rambo is not a good game.
We knew that already. Its disastrous hype campaign explicitly told us to lower our expectations, with every new trailer and screenshot more hilariously awful than the last. We came down on it like a ton of bricks over the last few months, hard and often, having a good laugh in the process.
But that's not why we're here, because Rambo: The Video Game doesn't necessarily have to be big, clever, deep, thoughtful or even particularly good in an objective sense. When you get right down to brass tacks, it only has to be fun.
Which puts me in the strange position of having to say "mission accomplished"... at least, with some enormous caveats.
Don't misunderstand me, we're not talking about a potential Game Of The Year contender. After re-introducing us to Sly Stallone's legendary 'machine of war' by way of a staggeringly awful opening cutscene -- just one of many grainy, poorly-animated, compression artefact-strewn videos of an early production build that blight the campaign (as opposed to using actual film footage!) -- Rambo wastes no time in taking us on a whistlestop tour of the first three movies. We'll bust out of that Vietnam POW camp, hunt down the sheriff with an LMG, shoot some arrows, do some stabbing, blow up half of Afghanistan and generally get our Rambo on in two very distinct ways.
The first of which naturally involves shooting all manner of massive guns at hordes of panicking goons. Rambo is a old-school rail shooter at heart, a retro lightgun affair that sees us simply controlling an on-screen reticle. Point it at a recycled henchman, pull the trigger and make with the claret. Movement and camerawork is automatic and scripted, but like Time Crisis, you can duck into cover to avoid incoming fire. Otherwise expect outrageous, bombastic, straightforward gunplay where every car can be destroyed with a clip to the fuel tank, everything red explodes, most scenery can be shredded into matchsticks and a billion identical soldiers line up like lambs to the slaughter. Then you slip into slow motion, because why the heck wouldn't you.
Production values are far lower down on Teyon's list on priorities than reckless destruction, ragdolls and buckets of blood. It's shallow and brainless to a fault, but as over-the-top and silly as you'd want from a Rambo game, and conceals a few neat twists. Factor in multiple weapons, sidearms, active reloads, a surprisingly robust scoring system, 'kill-to-heal' wrath mode, unlockable skills, perks and slow-motion explosions aplenty, and you've got a slab of silly unpretentious fun that's surprisingly replayable. If you're a fan of old-school rail shooters and the Rambo series, there's actually a lot to love here.
Unfortunately, by the same token, Rambo: The Video game is also borderline-unplayable on a regular console controller, which makes a pig's ear of precision aiming. You'll need a mouse or PlayStation Move peripheral to enjoy it, so the Xbox 360 version is completely out of contention. Frankly, it should NEVER have been commissioned for the platform in the first place. It's a lightgun shooter, after all.
Rambo is no looker, but the PC build managed to shatter our low expectations by being visually acceptable for a low-budget title at maximum settings. It's clear that optimisation was left to the very last minute, since gameplay is vastly superior to every trailer we've seen, especially in terms of texture quality. Gameplay is also infinitely more handsome than the cutscenes, which as mentioned, were clearly recorded from the shonkiest of early production builds at the lowest possible bitrate. I can't speak for the quality of the PS3 and Xbox 360 ports, and the enemy hordes ought to have more than two faces between them, yet I was pleasantly surprised by the PC version without being blown away.
Mind you, it's galling to see how badly Rambo has been treated in his own videogame. Stallone arguably looks barely human as it is, but here, he's effectively a creepy waxwork who wouldn't seem out of place in Silent Hill. Thankfully we spend the best parts of the game looking out of his war-weary eyes, not at his leering shiny mug.
So far, so good; a knowingly OTT, uncomplicated low-budget shooter that broadly stays true to the spirit of the license. Which probably would have been enough. Had Teyon stuck to their guns and released it as a downloadable title at £10-£15 on PC and PSN, this could have been a cult classic.
But no dice, because as we all know, film tie-ins have to cost at least £29.99. So what better way to bulk it out than enough QTEs to make David Cage blush?
We were worried about Rambo's 'QTE Fights' ever since Teyon first announced them, and with good reason. Numerous instant-fail quick time sections leap out of the woodwork to mire you in laughable linear "stealth" or poorly-animated brawls ("shave him dry!"), wherein even a single failed input results in death and checkpoint restart. Many of the scenes are slickly-directed, but most showcase the primitive animations and awful Stallone character model in embarrassing close-ups, and worse, feature completely unhelpful PC prompts that make it very difficult to complete without re-designating control schemes midgame. At best they're annoying, at worst they're appalling, and always they pull us away from that silly-yet-satisfying gunplay.
It's very telling that the first unlockable perk stops you failing at QTEs altogether. Teyon want you to blow through them as quickly as possible, but if you do, you'll be finished within about five hours. At least the budget price and replay value offered by skills, weapon challenges and leaderboards eases the sting somewhat.
So we find ourselves back where we started. Rambo is not a good game, but it certainly is fun in a shallow and bombastic kind of way, not unlike the films themselves. If you're looking to destroy a police station with LMG fire, wield the legendary bow and arrow and blow off some serious steam, Rambo might be the catharsis you've been looking for.
If you find a decent deal and don't try playing it with a controller, that is.
- Enjoyable, incredibly satisfying, OTT arcade shooting with a neat cover system
- Eminently destructible environments
- Surprisingly replayable; numerous unlockable perks and weapons
- Gunplay is atrocious using a traditional console controller, so don't bother
- Countless instant-fail QTEs, action is undeniably shallow
- Hopeless cutscenes, clunky animations, middling PC visuals and appalling Stallone character model
- Fairly short, questionable value even at budget RRP
The Short Version: Half gleefully entertaining rail shooter and half primitive QTE-fest, Rambo: The Video Game ends up average. It's a shame that the OTT action is so often eclipsed by shonky production values and tragic instant-fail sections, but if you manage to find a competitive deal for the PC version, you'll find yourself having much more fun than you bargained for.
Sadly, console owners will need to look elsewhere for their guilty pleasure, unless you're desperate for a reason to dust off your PlayStation Move.