Impression: Rocketmen: Axis of Evil (Xbox Live version)
Rocketmen: Axis of Evil
Developer: A.C.R.O.N.Y.M Games
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3
Category: Arcade Shooter
ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone Ages 10 and older (Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes)
Release Date: March 5, 2008
One of the highlights of last years E3 for me was my trip to visit and interview the folks at Capcom about their upcoming games. I was jazzed about the upcoming Harvey Birdman game, Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles looked like it was going to resurrect the arcade rail-shooter on the last platform I’d have expected and the Street Fighter II ultimate hand-drawn coolness edition was in the works. One of the titles that flew somewhat under the radar at the time was the Xbox Live! arcade game Rocketmen : Axis of Evil. I even wrote a quick preview of it during our E3 coverage.
Even the PR guy who politely showed me around did not have any clue what the game was based on so I guess he was surprised when I mentioned that the title was an interesting choice for a license built around a constructible card game where ship-to-ship combat was the main focus. Instead of the Star Control-like melee I would have expected instead I was watching someone grind through a swarm of burly Martians in a Smash TV-like top down shooter.
I mentioned my shock and soon found myself bellied up to the demo unit blasting through hordes of enemies with some guns. Almost a year later.. well its the same situation. I fired up the game after getting it on the Xbox Live! arcade service and tried to remember that experience in Santa Monica. Problem was that well.. the early version I played did not translate to the final version I found myself playing now. Normally you’d assume that was a good thing, games should evolve and get more polished with time – except this time apparently that was not the case.
Rocketmen: Axis of Evil is a cell-shaded cartoony game set in a comical universe. The player is a member of the Earth federation in a campy knock-off of the classic Buck Rogers universe. Humanity on Earth is fighting to break the backs of the oppressive, militaristic Martians with the help of its Sexy Purple Venusian allies. All the tropes of these pulp sci-fi settings are included but somehow the humor and delivery don’t quite gel.
The game and it’s various levels are introduced through stilted animation. The story is suitably insane and “fun” but when you actually get control and find yourself wandering the hallways of spaceships and battle stations things quickly go from bad to worse. The top-down shooter is a seemingly simple sort of game to get right. Players roam with a camera centered on them, enemies dies and drop power ups and bennies and you have multiple weapons and special items that allow you to wade through the bad guys up to the inevitable boss conflict that marks the end of a section or level. Simple formula right?
Well Rocketmen hits this formula hard but manages to choose a few changes things that push the mindless shooting and gear gathering into a tedius monotony and frustration. This effect happens primarily because the game’s camera is not flexible. Players walk through levels and the camera moves only in a “forward” direction. There is no backtracking to collect missed items. In fact during the entire game I continually got frustrated because I’d crossed that magical forward line of progress that forced the camera to move and block out the area behind me because I was dodging enemies. This effect is game-breaking in its nature and will drive all but the most dedicated misogynists to other pursuits.
The second odd choice concerns the special weapons of the game. The player can pick up a good variety of weapons that have the expected array of fire effects like cone fire or multiple spray or really big lasers that can slice through a swarm of foes easily.. the problem is that the developers, for some really odd reason, decided that rather than limiting the bullets or shots from a special weapon once picked up the guns effects would be based on a timer. Great. So I kill a swarm and run to pick up the big laser Gatling and immediately I have to fire it?
Even if there are no enemies and the next spawn point for them is seconds of walking away? This is a bad choice for the player and often I found the gun running out of juice just as I began to wade into the next onslaught of enemies.
Rocketmen: Axis of Evil is not what I expected – which was a light and fun top-down shooter – instead I found a game that bothered me more than my last Wisdom Tooth extraction. I mean at least with dental work they often give you pain killers to help dull your mind to the pain its experiencing. Maybe that’s the answer here as well. The game is available on both Xbox Live! and Sony’s Playstation Network for a negligible ammount, but frankly even that is too much to pay for this experience.