Publisher: Reef Developer: Teyon Format: PC (version tested), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 Release: Out Now
Even if Reef Entertainment hadn’t struck a deal with production company StudioCanal to publish a video game based on the Rambo film series, Sylvester Stallone could lay no claim to having his image rights infringed. Here John Rambo resembles an exhibit from Louis Tussaud’s House of Wax, a glistening sheen applied to an obdurately unmoving face. At least that’s the case outside dialogue sequences, where Stallone’s monosyllabic utterances emerge from clumsily flapping lips.
Still, even as the Vietnam vet negotiates foliage that’s more Deadly Premonition than Crysis, you may come to admire developer Teyon’s thriftiness. Its visuals betray a budget that was likely dwarfed by the fee it paid for the rights, yet this is a perfectly serviceable rail shooter. In the main, it’s a resolutely old-fashioned turkey shoot – on higher difficulties, enemies are more resilient but no more intelligent – though its levels move at a solid clip, while stages are kept sensibly short to encourage replays. Meanwhile, the framerate, on PC at least, remains at a rock-solid 60, except for some judicious use of slow motion.
The developer introduces regular wrinkles to the formula, some of which are more successful than others. An early jailbreak is little more than an extended QTE sequence, though it’s competently handled and not unenjoyable, while a later stealth-led jungle section requires skilfully timed button presses to stun, rather than kill, your pursuers. Bonuses are awarded for non-lethal takedowns (though the difference between a disarming shot and a fatal one can be hard to gauge), though more frequently you’re encouraged to let loose, with score boosts for successive headshots and a Wrath meter that produces a thermal image of your surroundings, with each kill replenishing your health.
As often as not, you’ll be able to duck behind cover, Time Crisis style, with large arrows letting you know exactly where you can hide. Some enemies will still be visible from your current position, so you’ll have to time your retreats to reload carefully.
At times, it shows flashes of genuine design intelligence. A Gears of War-style active reload is a smart and challenging addition, which doubles the size of your clip if executed perfectly – or jams your weapon if it isn’t. And while Teyon can’t provide the explosive spectacle it’s aiming for, in places it’s genuinely thrilling: when Rambo reaches for his bow, what follows certainly doesn’t disappoint, while the gunfeel is both fitting for an arcade shooter and pleasingly noisy.
It’s not, by any traditional criteria, a good game, and yet it’s a frequently entertaining one. Its limitations may ultimately be its undoing, and yet they’re also responsible for moments of hilarity. Failing a QTE is almost a guarantee of unintentional comedy: enemies spraying bullets haphazardly will suddenly turn into crackshots, while a bizarre moment where a cop repeatedly punches Rambo in the face is one step away from a Zucker and Abrahams parody. It’s a B-movie game in every sense, but approach it with sufficiently lowered expectations, and you may just be pleasantly surprised.