Rocketmen: Axis of Evil, developed by A.C.R.O.N.Y.M Games and based upon a constructible strategy game made by Wiz Kids, is a top down shooter recently released on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network. Now, as with most videogames based on an existing license, it’s common to anticipate there will be something amiss, and with Rocketmen that worry is once again proven valid. As already mentioned, Rocketmen goes with the classical top down shooter gameplay and does throw in a few additions, but unfortunately there are far too many problems to make this one worth the download.
The game’s sci-fi story, which isn’t going to win any Nebula awards, begins with a possible treaty being forged between the Legion of Terra and Mars and the Alliance of Free Planets, comprised of Venus, Mercury and Earth. The former organization being the Axis of Evil, of course, turns the deal sour and kidnaps the leader of the alliance. What follows is a romp across various planets and space stations in order to settle the conflict and restore order. As with any shooter, the plot is not the main draw, so let’s get to the gameplay!
You begin by customizing your own character, and then it’s onto the action which features fairly simple controls. The left stick moves the character and holding the right stick in any direction fires weapons ranging from lasers to shotguns. The left trigger can also be used for other weapons, such as rockets or deploying turrets. Rocketmen does attempt to add some additional depth to the shooter mechanic by allowing the player to gain experience points. This enables shopping sprees after each level in to increase the effectiveness of certain weapons, buy armor and tweak other attributes such as speed and toughness. While it’s nice to see these RPG elements, keep in mind that this is an arcade game, so it’s not quite long enough to garner a lot of character development, and for the most part, we didn’t see the gameplay affected by these attributes all that much.
So nothing wrong so far right? Well despite having a decent core mechanic, Rocketmen is rife with annoying gameplay problems. For starters, the camera pretty much has a will of its own. When it wants to move on to the next area, so must you. To make things even worse, it’s impossible to backtrack to other areas to collect any items you may need. It really feels like the game is holding your hand at times. With blinking arrows telling you which path you can take next, this all makes for an agonizingly linear experience.
The actual shooting mechanics of the game aren’t all that bad, and things can get pretty hectic when throngs of enemies are tossed at you. While there are a variety of guns to wield, each only lasts for a paltry 15 seconds, making those upgrades that can be purchased seem even more pointless. Also, in a game that is centered on shooting at stuff, the spawning weapon feels pretty weak, so make sure to increase your character’s damage skill first. Another annoying mechanic are the “puzzles” encountered, such as opening doors or disarming mines that merely consist of mashing the A button. The fact that I even have to press A multiple times instead of a more complex exercise just feels like lazy design and a waste of effort on the player’s thumbs.
Oddly enough, the game seems to make fun of itself for these instances of mashing the A button, as the main character is bewildered that all he must do to disarm the mines is simply mash the action button. Even if these mines did happen to take you out, which they won’t, fear not, as death is not the kind of penalty one would expect it to be in Rocketmen. Instead of having to go back to a previous checkpoint, the player simply respawns after a few seconds with some experience points taken away. As I said earlier, the experience system does not factor in much, so there is no real fear of death to be found in the game, which really robs it of any intensity.
Luckily Rocketmen does allow for cooperative multiplayer for up to four players, either online or local, so gamers can progress through the campaign together. Taking on Martian minions is more fun with a few other friends, and the frame rate stays smooth no matter how much chaos is happening on screen.
Overall, the graphics in Rocketmen are a bit of a mixed bag. The cut scenes consist of comic book like stills of 3D models, with very little movement that look like some sort of flash animation project a student made and did poorly on. Gameplay on the other hand is a bit better, with decent cell shaded graphics, a smooth frame rate, and nice bright explosions. The sound effects that occur during the game are all pretty regular and will sound familiar to shooter fans, but the voice acting falls completely flat. The actors have a tone in their voice that sounds like they’re just looking at the clock in the recording studio anxiously waiting to go home, and the attempts at humor are very poor, except when the game burns itself.
With ten single player levels and cooperative play, Rocketmen presents a decent package, but one that was very poorly assembled. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with its use of the shooter formula, but there are too many frustrating problems with its gameplay that keep it from being enjoyable. Being tugged around by the camera like a dog on a leash is no fun, and the experience system just feels poorly applied. Its slight saving grace is the presence of four player cooperative gameplay, but unless you’re planning on splitting the price with three other friends, kindly pass on Rocketmen.