In an industry where fantastic, marketable games are cancelled all too often and publishers are desperate to make up for years of inflation, the most impressive thing about Rambo: The Video Game is that it exists at all. However, that probably has something to do with the fact that it cost about £30 to make. It’s not all bad news, though – it plays like it cost £40.
From the very first poorly rendered cut scene, it’s obvious that something is very wrong. Every character looks as though it’s being held at gunpoint, a permanent worried expression that shouldn’t exist on a digital mug. There’s never been a more pug-faced cast in a video game, only a few steps away from My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding: Vietnam. Things get no better over multiple levels and across three films, as dozens of ugly, possibly racist replicas with only a handful of animations rampage on your point.
Your goal is simple: move the reticule across the screen until you’re over an enemy. On-rails shooters aren’t ever really more than passable without a light gun, and there are too many imperfections here to fully enjoy anything. Firstly, there’s a wonky sort of auto-aim that can instantly throw your aim off by an entire screen, and secondly there’s a weird speed compensation that means that you never quite get used to using your analogue stick. You end up not being able to move quickly, and having your shot second-guessed by the computer when you get there anyway.
This quickly becomes a big problem. One of the opening levels has you shooting cops, but you’re not supposed to actually kill them, as this makes you lose points. Instead, you shoot the weapon or arms and disarm them. Problematically, there’s almost no control over where you can aim, and not very much in the way of differentiation between shooting in the legs and shooting in the head; you have to hit the scalp for it to count as a headshot. It’s a major issue, but one that the developers didn’t seem to mind too much, as it built two or three early levels around this mechanic.
There are at least regular QTEs. Rambo is a man of many talents, and shooting large groups of people is just one of them. The button prompt sequences add another layer of interest to the character, allowing him to sneak around the place. It’s still on-rails, and only requires a single button press, but it breaks up the monotony that makes up the main game.
Those aren’t the only stealth sections either. Sometimes you’ll get to pick up that infamous crossbow and take enemies down a little more methodically. A crossbow hit is an insta-kill, and if you miss, you’ll be caught and shot through the eye; the game’s very specific about this. Actually aiming the thing – if you want to increase points by getting a headshot for instance – is still a real problem. If you don’t shoot as you’re moving upwards, it’ll drop down again to chest level, or miss completely.
If nothing else convinces you not to buy this game, this should be the last straw: sometimes you’ll shoot something and it’ll go straight through the enemy. In the final mission, you’re given a grenade launcher, and a decent amount of the time there’ll be an explosion miles behind whatever you’re aiming at. This probably contributes towards the huge difficulty spike in the last few stages. We played on the medium setting, but with only five lives allowed and uneven checkpointing, we found it next to impossible to actually clear the last level.
Thankfully, it wouldn’t have stayed impossible, as there’s a levelling and perk system that allows you to upgrade and boost attributes. Extra health and damage makes things easier, and allows you to replay for as long as you need to. This is all good and well, but it seems to have affected the actual difficulty. The balance is off if you need to level in a very specific way.
This also makes Rambo’s star system completely useless. You’re marked for your performance in each stage, but it’s unlikely that you’ll get above a single star on your first playthrough. Of course, nobody in their right mind would endure the entire campaign a second time.
And actually there’s quite a bit to do once you’ve braved the game once. Extra challenges let you unlock new weapons, and the more that you play, the more that you level. It actually becomes less a slog the more time that you put into it, although the quality of the gameplay doesn’t really increase. When you need it to be simple and fun, it’s annoying, and when you want a challenge, it becomes easier.
Trophy hunters beware as well. The list may seem simple, but it’s anything but; if you don’t want to put more than a few hours in, it probably isn’t worth your time. Nothing makes that sentence more depressing than knowing that you could finish Rambo in only a few short hours – probably less than one of the films if you have a good run and know what you are doing. It’s a lot of the same boring levels between you and that Platinum.
There has to be a silver lining here, right? What about fans of the films? Surely they’d love to revisit their hero? Well, aside from the ugly character models and frequent framerate drops, it’s interesting to note that the game is voiced by all the stars from the film. Literally, from the film. The developers claim that they received the audio work directly from the studio, but it sounds like someone might have just recorded it from a VHS tape – the quality is awful.
We will say this in the title’s favour, though: Stallone’s acting has finally found a face to match.
We’d love to think that there was somebody out there that was desperate to play an on-rails version of the first three Rambo films, and that there’s a reason for this game to exist. Sadly, we suspect that that may just be wishful thinking. It’s more likely, then, that the developers thought that a popular name and a cheap budget would turn a profit – and with a boxed product and the promise of DLC on the way, we imagine that it’ll probably make a fortune.