If you’re buying a game, there are two reasonable expectations that you’re probably going in with: it will work and it will be fun to play. For me, the downloadable Ubisoft-published movie tie-in The Expandables 2, from Zootfly, is the rare game that somehow manages to accomplish the second feat while completely ignoring the first. What you’re left with is a game that won’t taste right to everyone, but those who can embrace their inner gutter palate will enjoy the deliciousness. This is video game fast food, people. It won’t fill you up and it might leave you feeling a little ill, but the act of consumption is not without its charm.
At base, The Expendables 2 sells itself as a simple twin-stick shooter. You choose from one of four familiar characters from the movie to start out with — Barney Ross (Sylvestor Stallone), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and Yin Yang (Jet Li) — though once the game proper begins, you can switch to any AI-controlled character using the D-pad. There’s a bit of depth as you proceed through the four-chapter story, with earned XP being put toward upgradeable skills and weapons. And… that’s pretty much it. You and your three squadmates push forward through a series of bad guy-filled environments, racking up a massive body count as you follow a relatively linear path from A to B, occasionally deviating for an on-rails turret sequence. Ikari Warriors for a new generation.
There’s nothing inherently broken about the game, but it doesn’t work particularly hard to please you either. The most underwhelming feature is the feel of each weapon. Characters are distinguished from one another by their different loadouts, just as they are in the movie, but even something as formidable in real life as Hale Caesar’s AA-12 automatic shotgun is rendered fairly impotent in the game. It’s loud and it sprays visual effects outward in a wide spread, but it doesn’t chew through virtual human flesh like the meat grinder it actually is. Hale’s grenade launcher feels similarly pea shooter-y, albeit with much more impressive explodey effects.
Each character’s two core weapons come with unlimited ammo, so your ability to keep firing is dictated by how long your reload time is. You’ve also got secondary explosive weapons — again, different for each character — and a signature melee kill, both of which are tied to a meter that fills up as you score kills and grab star-shaped pickups off the ground. The signature kill is perhaps the closest The Expendables 2 comes to capturing the essence of the movie, with the camera zooming in tight on your character as he dispenses whichever unlucky baddie you’ve chosen as your victim with a bit of extra flair.
Co-op is recommended for anyone who checks this out, even if it means consigning yourself to a public match with random strangers when none of your other friends indulge. You’ve got both local and online play options, though be warned: even with one player, and at the best of times, it’s easy to lose track of the character you’re controlling on the busy screen. Add one or more additional human players to the mix and you’ll all be struggling to keep up with who is standing where and shooting at what. If you’re going to play public matches, just make sure you go for it soon; I can’t imagine a terribly robust online community rising up around this one.
The Expendables 2 has a story, but it doesn’t really try too hard to call attention to that fact. This is, frankly, for the best. It’s not like your McDonald’s cashier completes your order with a lengthy explanation on what the chef’s intentions were with this particular dish. You’re simply handed a paper box filled with formless chunks of fried-ish chicken-like meat and sent on your way. You’ve got a similar strategy at work in The Expendables 2 cutscenes; there’s a hostage you need to save, now go kill or explode everything that stands between you and your target.
All of the actors lend their likenesses to the game, but only Lundgren and Crews recorded dialogue. The Stallone role is filled out by an impersonator, with a hilarious performance that oddly seems to have been inspired by a mixture of the real-life star’s Rocky and Rambo characters. I hesitate to call the Yin Yang voice actor a Jet Li impersonator though. Real-life Li sounds nothing like what you hear from his character in the game. Then again, this is an actor who is mostly known for his ability to kick people in the face. I’m guessing that the majority won’t even notice the voice actor-to-real life actor disparity until you read about it.
Video game fast food, that’s what The Expendables 2 is. Not the classy stuff either. No Nathan’s or Popeye’s here. Hell, it’s not even McDonald’s. This is KFC’s Double Down. This is anything off the White Castle menu. It tasty in its own heavily processed way, but it’s also not terribly filling and generally leaves you unsatisfied. It’s fun for a certain segment of the gaming world, but it’s also the sort of release that some simply swear off on principle. Ponder that carefully before you snatch this one up for yourself.
The Expendables 2 is out now on the PlayStation Network as part of Sony’s annual PSN Play promotion. It’s also coming to Xbox Live Arcade on Friday, August 17, the same day the movie hits theaters.
Score: 5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 on a copy provided by Ubisoft)