Rocketmen: Axis of Evil
- Good sense of humor
- Lots of enemies to blow up with diverse weapons
- No backtracking so powerups can become unreachable
- Some stuttering during cutscenes
Take Smash TV, mix in some Flash Gordon and add RPG elements and you’ve got Rocketmen: Axis of Evil. The game is based on the Rocketmen Constructible Strategy Game by WizKids (WizKids - Rocketmen). The Earth has been taken over by the diabolical Legion of Terra and together with the Martians they form the Axis of Evil. To combat this threat is an alliance of Venusian pacifists, warlike Mercurians and human rebels led by “shoot first ask, questions later...if at all” Nick Sion. In preparation for this review I found myself spending a lot of time on the WizKids web site watching the downloadable cartoon episodes that provide entertaining background for both the tabletop and the video game.
Upon starting the game you are asked to create a new character from one of the three allied races and assign them one of three classes. There are six basic attributes (health, damage, speed, demolitions, evasion, and engineering) with your race/class choice impacting which two you get a bonus in. You can change your gender and basic appearance here and later on you earn bonus items that boost your performance.
You begin the game a stowaway on a Venusian ship on its way to a peace conference with the Legion of Terra. You were stashed there by Nick as an insurance policy in case of a Martian or Terran attack. As you can probably guess, Nick’s intuition was correct and the ship comes under attack. Nick and his partner Zack guide you through the first level as a tutorial for the game as you try to rescue your ally, Alec.
The controls are pretty simple. The left stick is used for movement and the right stick controls the direction of fire. “A” is the action button and you either press it or mash it repeatedly depending on the situation. The triggers fire off your secondary weapons/powerups and the shoulder buttons cycle through them. You can vacuum up nearby loot using the “B” button. The game can become really fast-paced and the controls generally do not get in the way.
You'll be spending a lot of time avoiding lasers while chipping away at the horde with your pistolSpeaking of fast-paced, you will often be swarmed by dozens of enemies from all directions at once. You’ll be spending a lot of time avoiding lasers while chipping away at the horde with your pistol. To help you out there are a handful of additional weapons you can pick up and use for a limited amount of time. These weapons include a shotgun, laser gun, Vulcan canon (think Gatling gun) and a gun that shoots out razor blades, which should be familiar to anyone who has played Unreal Tournament. Each pickup only lasts for a short time but they have much more killing power than the standard pistol and can be upgraded between missions.
Destroying enemies and opening containers yields currency items that can be used to upgrade various characteristics about your character and his/her weapons. Carbon allows you to purchase new armor, Titanium will let you upgrade the characteristics of your weapons, while Newtonium will let you purchase secondary equipment like missiles, land mines, health packs and grenades. Experience points earned during missions can be spent to upgrade your character’s basic attributes.
It's a little frustrating when that health or weapon pickup you desperately need is sitting there beyond your reach because the screen moved just a tad too farMy one complaint about the gameplay itself is that it is impossible to retrace your steps. For example, if you see a container and you walk too far away from it so that it is off the screen, it is lost to you. It’s a little frustrating when that health or weapon pickup you desperately need is sitting there beyond your reach because the screen moved just a tad too far. Several times I couldn’t complete a bonus objective because the prisoner I needed to rescue was now just off the screen with no way to go back. On the other hand, there are times that you will have to make the choice between several paths and, because you can’t backtrack, it invites you to replay the level to figure out the best way to go.
The graphics are very engaging and the style is a good representation of the future as seen by someone in the 1930’s. The story is told via humorous comic book styled cut scenes. The sound and music are both very appropriate and add a lot to the atmosphere. The only glitch I’ve found so far was a stuttering during a couple of the cut scenes as the level was loading. I have not noticed any slowdown in frame rate even with dozens of enemies on the screen at once.
But wait, there’s more! The game also comes with a 4-player co-op mode either locally or online. Can I just tell you how much I love local multiplayer? Nothing spoils a game night more than finding out each of your friends is required to have their own XBOX to play. Rocketmen can be played both cooperatively and competitively at the same time. You work together with your friends to finish the levels but you compete for pickups and accomplishing goals. The game chooses a winner at the end of every level.
So, the three of us proceeded to play for about three hours without even realizing itI had a buddy come over last night to try out the multiplayer. While we were setting up (gathering snacks and such) my wife wandered in and asked what we were going to play. She usually destroys me at fighting games because she’s a button masher but shies away from games that require complex effort. I thought Rocketmen might be right up her ally. So, the three of us proceeded to play for about three hours without even realizing it. My wife is a tough cookie when it comes to games and the fact that she was enjoying herself should be taken as a ringing endorsement.
Even though I have already completed the game with the character I created there is still a lot more for me to do. While playing last night I continued to receive experience, weapon upgrades and end of mission rewards and still my character is nowhere near maxed out. The humor, incredibly fun gameplay and replay value are all things that make Rocketmen a game by which other XBLA titles should be measured. Aside from one minor issue with the game mechanics mentioned above and slight stuttering during saving and loading this is a wonderful game and absolutely worth checking out.
*UPDATE 4/4/2008* Although this has not been confirmed by Capcom, IGN is reporting the possibility that a sequel to Rocketmen is in the work based on ESRB ratings filings. If it follows the progression of the tabletop game, it will involve the outer half of the solar system. If true, this is a very good thing. *Editor’s note: There was an expansion in the works and it came out a month or two later. It was called “It Came From Uranus” and added a couple of new missions, new enemies and new weapons.*
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