The Expendables 2 Videogame PlayStation 3 Review
The Expendables film was something of a comeback and reunion vehicle for Stallone and his co-stars. Although the first movie was a fun guns blazing action romp the same cannot be said for this game, which I found deeply disappointing. Even though the Expendables team is quite large, the game only lets you play as four characters; Barney, [Sylvester Stallone]Gunner, [Dolgh Ludgren] Caesar, [Terry Crews] and Yang, who is played in the movies by Jet Li but in the game looks nothing like him. The fundamental problem with the game is that it can't decide if it's a third person shooter like Max Payne or SOCOM or an overhead arcade shooter like SMASH TV or Commandos. The game unsuccessfully mixes the two genres and seems to have the worst features of both. Hardcore fans of the movies might still enjoy the game, but the majority of players won't.
The story of the game is barely noticeable and is really only progressed by banter from the squad mates throughout the stages. The basic premise is that a nameless rich and powerful Chinese businessman has been kidnapped, and the Expendables have been hired to find and rescue him at any cost. They must have gotten some pretty bad intel though, because the mission spans four different countries. I don't really know why the game doesn't have multiple missions with different objectives, and it often seems like the story is stretched out and padded similar to Super Mario Bros. "Sorry but your hostage is in another castle." type of situation.
During the game you'll traverse the various jungle and desert environments shooting countless groups of enemies that rush at you from all directions. Unlike most overhead shooters simply pointing the right analog stick at a enemy does not fire your gun in that direction. Instead you must also press the R2 button in order to fire your weapon, and holding it down seems to make it fire faster. You do have infinite ammo, but have small clips for your guns and must reload after five to twenty shots depending on the weapon and what upgrades you have for it. A big problem I have with the game is that most weapons have no indication of where you're aiming or any sort of targeting reticule, so you're left to just face the general direction of the enemy you want to shoot and hope that you hit and kill them before you have to reload or get hit yourself. It's terrible in such an incredibly bad design decision that I can't believe it's in the final game. Seriously I just need be able to fire a continuous stream of bullets or have a red dot sight so that I can aim properly with a overhead camera perspective. Is that so much to ask for? In fairness Gunner's sniper rifle and the bazooka power up do have red lines to show where you're aiming, but all the other weapons don't.
I wish that the game would just pick a camera angle and stick to it, at least for the entirety of a stage. I would be fine with a third person, first person, second person or even directly overhead camera angle. However most of the time the camera has a super annoying isometric angle similar to that of a 2D RPG game that makes aiming even more difficult. It's a good thing that the game is super easy, or else the horrible camera angles coupled with the broken aiming would get you killed all the time.
There isn't really much variety of enemies in the game, in fact most of them look and behave the same, and the only difference is what weapon they use. Most have rifles or machine guns, but occasionally you'll also run into some with bazookas or flamethrowers who are much more likely to kill you with one shot. However the game has a very forgiving system for reviving downed characters that puts you at little risk of ever having to restart. The game has two difficulty settings, Rookie and Hardcore, which are the equivalent of Easy and Hard. Why isn't there a normal difficulty? Hard mode is fine if you're playing by yourself, but revives can get tedious in multiplayer, so I recommend playing on Rookie with other people.
What's strange about the game is that it's actually a lot easier in single player than it is in multiplayer due to how diligent the AI is at reviving characters. Other human players in multiplayer are far less likely to be as gung-ho and reckless as the AI and storm across the entire battlefield just to save you, and because of this it's far more likely to have the whole team wiped and have to restart. Unlike in most games whenever a player is killed, one of your AI teammates stops whatever it's doing to run to your aid and quickly revive you. What's great is that the person who is reviving the other character is invincible during the entire process. However once the teammate is revived the rescuer is no longer invulnerable, and all the focus fire from enemies will likely kill them instantly. Then the rescuer will have to be revived as well, usually by the person that they just saved. I should also point out that you're not invincible when running to your teammate, and only when you start to actually revive them and see the white progress bar will you stop taking damage. I noticed that it seems like only one AI teammate will try to revive you at a time, and if they die on the way to helping you, or two or more people are down at once, then the AI will randomly pick who to revive first, but usually chooses whoever is closest to them at the time. Also note that the AI will occasionally get stuck on the terrain, or refuse to climb stairs, which might also interfere with getting revived. Worst case scenario you could always switch to another character when you die, track down your dead body, revive yourself, and then switch back to your preferred character again.
One of my primary objections in the game is that the guns just don't feel powerful, and aren't satisfying to fire, particularly because there's no gore and enemies don't get knocked back when shot in the game at all. You can pick up new temporary weapons during stages such as machine guns or bazookas but enemies react the same as if you shot them with a pistol and just fall over dead. It's ridiculous. If I shoot a bazooka into the center of a group of 15 guys there should be a giant explosion, and then a shower of dismembered body parts and a red mist. What I don't get is that the game is rated M, not T so there's no reason for there not to be more violence and giant explosions like the films the game is based on. Melee attacks are surprisingly tame, and also don't have much impact and usually consists of simple punches or kicks, but you can also do more powerful grab moves. The game also has signature moves which are kind of brutal finishing moves that you can only use after killing a certain number of enemies consecutively without getting hit. Using a finishing move will only kill one enemy, but it will also refill your health, so it's a good way to stay alive you think you're about to die. Unfortunately each character only has one signature move, so it can get a little repetitive watching them over and over again. Also in multiplayer the camera always zooms in to the character using the move, but the game doesn't pause, so other players can still get hit off screen, and when the camera pans back find out that they died.
Another problem is that there aren't really any bosses in the game. Sure there are some helicopters, tanks, and APCs that you must destroy in order to advance in the game, but they pose little to no threat and will rarely ever actually hit you. The main thing you have to worry about is other enemies attacking you while you're trying to damage the vehicle, especially with the very slow reload time and limited ammo of the bazooka.
Periodically throughout the game there are three different first person rail shooter levels where the camera is automatically controlled as targets move past the screen. As you might expect during these segments you are armed with a gun turret that has infinite ammo, but of course it overheats if you fire it too much and have to wait ten seconds for it to cool down in order to use it again. Bizarrely there is actually no way to take damage or fail at these segments of the game, in fact you could not touch the controller for five minutes and beat the level anyway. I suppose the stages are more about trying to get the highest score possible, and not about staying alive, but the lack of tension involved makes the visually interesting sections far less fun than they should be.
The game has four levels that each have five stages, and most stages take between five to ten minutes to get through. The game is very short and it only takes about three hours to beat, which makes the game's $15 price tag even more questionable.
The After you beat a stage you'll gain experience points which you can then use to upgrade your character's weapons and abilities. Most of the time you'll gain between 2,000 to 6,000 points after every stage, and most upgrades cost between 3,000 to 12,000 to purchase. Weapon upgrades that increase accuracy or damage trend to cost the most, whereas health or movement speed upgrades are substantially cheaper. If you want to quickly level up your characters with the least amount of effort required, then simply play one of the shooting gallery levels over and over again until you have enough experience points to max them all out. I should also point out that during a local multiplayer game, upgrades a player purchases who isn't signed in with an account will not be saved, and will be lost as soon as they leave the session.
The game has a suspicious download content option on the main menu, which is a signal that at some point more levels will released for the game, and perhaps even new characters. That's all speculation my part though, and I've seen games that support download content but never release anything, so it's certainly not guaranteed. However given how short the game is and how many popular characters are missing I'd say it's only a matter of time before DLC is released.
Finally as a side note I want to mention that the game was developed by ZootFly who is most famous for developing the unreleased tech demo of a post-apocalyptic gritty Ghostbusters game that was canceled in favor of the one developed by Terminal Reality back in 2007. It's a shame that the game didn't come out, since it looked good and the next Ghostbusters game will be regulated to cell phones only, which shows just how far the property has fallen. It's also too bad that this Expendables game didn't turn out too well either, but I'm sure it's probably due to rushing the game to coincide with the release of the second film.
The graphics in the game are inconsistent and a bit of a mixed bag. Some things like the character models of the main team or the water effects look great, but enemy character models, the terrain and especially the lighting look terrible, and seem more in line with a 2002 original Xbox game. The likenesses for Sylvester Stallone, Terry Crews and Dolgh Ludgrem are pretty impressive, but sometimes skin seems a bit too reflective, or the heads look too blocky. It doesn't seem like they got the likeness rights for Jet Li though so his character has a goatee and a ball cap and looks nothing like the actor at all. Texture work in the game is particularly bad. Everything looks muddy and washed out. The lighting is also horrible, everything is either saturated in orange during the day or covered in blue at night. It's strange how much the graphics seem to improve during the rail shooting sections, to the point where I actually think that it may have been developed by a different team inside studio, since the lighting and especially water effects are much more impressive than in the rest of the game. On the plus side at least the game has a stable frame rate, even when there are thirty or more enemies on screen during multiplayer co-op.
Only the four main characters in the game speak really, and unfortunately two of them don't do a very good job. Despite having the likeness rights to Sylvester Stallone he doesn't voice his own character Barney and someone does a really horrible impression instead. Ideally it would be great if they could get Stallone, but if he refused to do it, or he wanted too much money, then they could have at least gotten someone to do a really good impression of him, and not a terrible in the game. I know for a fact that comedian and former In Living Color cast member Tommy Davidson does an amazing Sylvester Stallone impression, and considering how much voice acting work he does they probably could have gotten him if they had actually tried to hire someone who sounded even remotely like Stallone or cared. The Stallone voice in the game sounds like a bad impression of Judge Dredd or Assy Mcgee from the old adult swim series. It's to the point where I'd rather Barney not speak at all, or play with the sound off than have to listen to the insultingly bad impression. Jet Li's impersonator doesn't do a very good job either, but at least Yang only speaks about three sentences for the entire game, so you don't have to suffer through it that much. On the plus side Terry Crews does a really amazing job returning as Caesar. He really puts good emphasis into his lines that really make them pop and actually be funny or memorable. Dolgh Ludgren does a fine job reprising his role as Gunner too. However Gunner's sour demeanor and stoic emotions don't leave a lot of room for a breakout performance. Music in the game is adequate, but is rather generic and largely forgettable, so it doesn't really add much to the experience. Gun sound effects are pretty good, though not distinctive sounding so that you could tell what gun you're firing without looking at it. Explosions sound okay, but are a bit muffled and don't sound as devastating as they should.
The controls in the game are simple and work fairly well. The left analog stick moves your character. The right analog stick rotates the direction your character is facing and determines where you aim. The R2 button fires your weapon. Pressing the L1 button causes you to do a dodge roll move. Pressing and holding the L2 button causes you to enter cover if there is a acceptable wall or barricade nearby. The triangle button switches between your two weapons, and you could also pick up a new weapons by holding triangle down when you're standing on top of one. The circle button is used to perform melee attacks, and you can also perform a grapple move for greater damage by holding it down. Press and hold the square button to revive dead teammates, or use your character's signature move when available. The X button is jump and is pretty much only used to jump over fences or other small obstacles in the game. The directional pad is used to switch between characters, primarily in single player since you can't switch to a character that someone is already playing as. Barney is down on the D-Pad. Caesar is left on the D-Pad. Yang is up on the D-Pad. Gunner is right on the D-Pad.I think that my problems with the game mainly stem from its presentation, and lack of focus. Third person shooters need to require tactics, precision shooting and difficult enemies to be fun. Overhead arcade shooters need crazy diverse levels, tons of weapon power ups, and huge bosses to be fun. This game has none of that, and is boring and not particularly fun to play through because of it. My other qualms are of course the bad Stallone impression, not having any indication of where you're aiming with most of the guns, the often terrible camera angles, and the poor sense of power guns have in the game. My final score for the game would be lower if the game was harder, but as it stands the game is so easy that it's not frustrating or grueling to play through despite all its flaws. I don't feel compelled to play the game again, but I also don't dread the thought of playing it either. It's just feels rather dull and bland to me and not that fun. Other people I've talked to seem to like the game a lot more than I did, and maybe if you're really hyped for it you should try out the demo, or wait for a sale when it's half off. However I personally can't give the game anything higher than 5/10.