Rambo is basically the archetypal video game character. He’s slightly unhinged, a survival expert, a killing machine, a quiet and single-minded man on a mission. To get a video game this badly wrong based on the character is almost impressive.
An on-rails shooter (think Time Crisis or House of the Dead, but in 2014!), you don’t really do that much in RTVG. Through most of it you use the mouse or the joystick to move a cursor around on the screen and then you click on the bads until they fall over. Or disintegrate into bloody chunks. Sometimes you stand behind corners and then use a quick-time event to see if you get to watch a brutal and often-repeated cut-scene of John stabbing a man in the throat (complete with spurts of thick claret) or if you get to watch the hilarious cut-scene where John gets shot between the eyes by what appears to be an arrow, even if the bad was pointing an AK-47 at you. It makes him go cross-eyed. You could see this as a clever commentary on the mindless corridor-shooting of the amazingly successful Call of Duty series, but it’s definitely not that, more likely is that at some point the developers decided what the world needs is a light gun game that you control with the mouse or joystick. They were very wrong.
The game takes you through the first three Rambo films (curiously there’s no mention of the fourth that came out in 2008) and if you didn’t know the films the plot would be completely incomprehensible. Early on you finish a mission running into a cave while being pursued by an enemy army, then at the beginning of the next you’re miles away doing something completely different with no mention of what happened in between. Entertainingly every mission ends with Rambo saying ‘Mission Accomplished’ like he’s sitting in an ice bath. There are a few fun parts heavily linked to the movies like the attack on the sheriff’s station but somehow sections like driving a tank through a helicopter come across as even more ridiculous in video-game form.
There have been attempts to create a deeper experience than your standard light-gun game – there’s levelling where you can spend skill points in different branches, extended your special meter (not a euphemism, you use it to slow down time and get health back, like in every cheap action game ever) or increasing the power of your weapons or reducing how much damage you take. The special meter is the only one worth bothering with, the others make no real difference to anything it seems. There are also perks like getting a bit of health back for every headshot or never failing a QTE event for when you’re absolutely decided you want to watch comedically terrible cut-scenes instead of pretending to have any agency with it.
Moral choices are something you’d expect to feature strongly in a Rambo game if you’ve seen the films, but in terms of choice there appears to be precisely two in the entire game. While escaping the sheriff’s department in the woods you can choose to try and disarm them instead of killing them. I’m not quite sure how shooting a man in the crotch with an M16 is simply ‘disarming’ but there you go. The other choice is when you’re storming a military base and have the choice to go stealthily or all guns blazing. That’s not a playstyle choice, it’s literally a binary ‘do you want to try it this way or that way’. After about five minutes it makes you start shooting for no reason anyway so why bother?
There are a few undeniably fun moments in the game. The bow and arrow sections start off featuring a ‘Sniper Elite V2’ style killcam where you get to watch your arrow fly and let the ragdoll physics take over. This game taught me that arrows have the inertia of a small train as guards tend to immediately do backflips off into the distance. Annoying in a later bow-and-arrow mission you no longer get this killcam, like the devs decided you don’t deserve any more fun with that weapon. The helicopter sections are also fun in a mindless kind of way, destroying everything in sight and enjoying the janky but occasionally impressive physics engine.
Graphically the game is a mixed bag and there are times when it looks like a real next-gen game. Buildings disintegrate into wooden splinters somewhat spectacularly and the jungle looks kind of like a jungle. Unfortunately the character models are unbelievably funny, which I don’t think is the look they were going for. Rambo himself looks fine but then his hair has had so much attention lavished on it you can’t help but stare. At various points it flows in the wind while nothing else does – later in the game it’s some kind of giant afro with infinite depth. It’s captivating, truly. Pretty much every enemy is one of four or five types and there’s not even variation in the faces or uniforms, they’re all identical like you’re mowing down legions of the same family. I understand Rambo is meant to be a little unbalanced but seeing one anonymous guy’s face on every person you kill isn’t an issue they delve into with the plot.
We were provided with a review copy of Rambo at 5PM Thursday, it took around three hours to download and then slightly less than three hours to beat. Apparently it’s going to be £19.99 so this is one of the few games that falls well short of our £5/hour entertainment value rule. It’s worth mentioning that there is local co-op (not explained in the story at all) so you could have some fun with this in a ‘so bad it’s good’ way, and in one way it’s almost worth the price just to witness the majesty of pretend-Stallone’s hair, but in another much more real way, it’s definitely not.