The best way to describe The Expendables movie is as an unabashed homage to 80’s and 90’s action films and heroes. Pretty much every big name you remember, from Schwarzenegger to Stallone to Willis, is included. With the sequel hitting theaters in the coming weeks, we got our hands on the PlayStation Network tie-in game. At the end of the day, it is not the worst movie tie-in game I have played (I was around when ET was on the Atari 2600) but it doesn’t even come close to competing with other twin stick shooters that are out there for your enjoyment.
The Expendables 2 game leads in to the start of the upcoming movie (hits theatres on August 17th). The game follows four of the movie’s characters played by Sly Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li and Terry Crews. The game is a twin-stick shooter presented from a top down viewpoint. Similar to other shooters of the same variety, all four characters share the screen at all times. You can play with up to three friends both locally and online. If you opt to play the game solo, the other characters are simply controlled by the AI and you can swap between them at any time.
Each character has two weapons that you can swap between. Both weapons and skills for each character can be upgraded as you progress through the games 20 levels. Weapon upgrades include such things like being able to aim a sniper rifle while moving, faster reloads and bigger clips. Skill upgrades focus on increasing health, speed and melee abilities. It is pretty standard fare. There are four upgrade levels for each and XP is doled out for getting kills. Each character has a signature kill move that can be triggered by collecting glowing emblems scattered around each level. These signature moves are novel the first time you see them but after the initial novelty they have literally zero value.
As cool as it is to see the actual likenesses of the actors in the game, not all are created equally. I’m a Dolph Lundgren fan ever since his gripping 37 word performance in Rocky 4. Yes, I counted his word count in the movie when I was a kid. Between he and Iceman from Top Gun, I did my hair in a flat-top for years. Naturally I gravitated towards using him when I started playing. Boy was I disappointed. I thought a shotgun and a sniper rifle was a sure fire recipe for success. Unfortunately, Lundgren’s shotgun starts out with such crappy range that you have to be nearly within melee range to do any damage. For a weapon with such a low rate of fire, the sniper rifle disappointed in what little damage it doles out. Sure, I get the idea of having to upgrade your weaponry but I found myself seeking out the machine gun weapon pickups when using either Stallone or Lundgren because I didn’t like what the sniper and shotgun had to offer.
This preference for the more rapid-fire ranged weapons probably stems from the amount of enemies thrown at you at any one time. There’s a lot as they come at you from all directions and it takes a surprising amount of damage to take them down. This all means you will die a lot. When you do go down you have the option of switching to one of the characters controlled by the AI or you can just wait until you are revived by a teammate. Aiming in 360 degrees with the thumbstick doesn’t feel nearly as smooth as a game like Dead Nation. The game appears to make up for this inaccuracy with some automatic target locking. I found this to be problematic in big fights when I wanted to focus my fire elsewhere. Also, several of the weapons do not feature a laser sight like the sniper rifle does. I found this to add unnecessary difficulty when aiming.
From time to time the on-foot levels are replaced with on-rails, vehicular segments. The goal remains the same (shoot and kill everything by aiming a cursor) but these do offer a bit of variety throughout the campaign. Upgrading each and every skill and weapon for every character will definitely take some time but you can also opt to max everything out from the get go for a small fee. The ability to play cooperatively with three friends is always a big positive and there are some Challenge missions that offer a slight change of pace from the campaign mode. In that sense I guess the game has some legs.
Visually, I didn’t find The Expendables 2 all that bad. The actual actors are well represented. Maybe even a bit too much considering guys like Stallone and Lundgren are not the prettiest guys around. There’s plenty of action on screen with plenty of enemies, hails of bullet trails and decent explosions when vehicles and the not-so-subtly placed red barrels go boom. With all four players on screen at all times the actual characters are quite small and a lot of the visual detail that differentiates them is lost. You will rely more on their highlights for identification than anything else. My biggest gripe about the visuals is that given the game is rated M17+, I expected more blood and guts. In terms of the sound, I was disappointed the game did not feature all of the actual actors’ voices. I would hazard a guess that money is the answer but only Dolph Lundgren and Terry Crews lend their actual voices to the game. For the other two, Stallone especially since he’s the main/lead character, we get laughable attempts at voice acting and one-liners that get repetitive quickly. Beyond that the rest of the sound is palatable enough not to offend with a decent musical score and passable explosions.
The Expendables 2 VideoGame has all the ingredients to be good but it fails to bring it all together and ends up being a mediocre experience at the very best. The novelty of the movie tie-in isn’t enough to either warrant the $15 price tag or even compete against other twin stick shooters on the PSN like “All Zombies Must Die!” and “Dead Nation”. Overall, The Expendables 2 VideoGame remains very… expendable.