If you haven’t played The Expendables 2 yet, don’t. Whatever your feelings are about the movie it’s based on, and however you feel about top-down shooters as a genre, the experience of playing The Expendables 2 is such an agonising one that I truly wouldn’t wish it upon anybody. If you must, download the free trial. I can guarantee that even a morsel will make you feel queasy.
Everyone knows that, as a rule, movie licences have always been remarkably shoddy. There are exceptions, and alongside the most obvious one (Rare’s effervescent Goldeneye) I’d personally let Eurocom’s deeply underrated The World Is Not Enough off the hook as well. If you reach back to the 16-bit era – when games were so much cheaper to produce – you’ll find quite a few other licences that are well worth recommending, but they’re almost always platformers, and almost never have anything to do with the actual property at hand. As development costs have risen quality has continued to plummet, but for my money very few videogames of recent years – licensed or not – have been as actively, aggressively terrible as The Expendables 2.
Visually, it’s a heinous washout; there are more lavish games lurking in the Xbox Live indie game space. The gameplay is unbelievably unsatisfying; weapons have no weight, you can’t see where your bullets are going and the enemies barely react to being shot anyway. The XP scheme is an absolute joke, and fully upgrading one character is something which would probably take you between 8 and 10 painful hours, so you’d better get used to taking a few exasperating things on the chin: a slow reload speed, almost no weapon accuracy and extremely low health. I could spend an entire day listing fundamental problems with The Expendables 2, but instead I’ll focus on that ridiculous XP situation. Because that made me feel like I was being trolled.
Have you ever been trolled by a videogame? I’m not talking about playful jesting, like the phoney end credits sequence in Arkham City or the “Press Start” achievement/trophy in The Simpsons Videogame, but actual, vaguely vindictive trolling. Not only doesn’t The Expendables 2 work as a game, it also constantly appeared to be going out of its way to wind me up. The boneheaded XP system may be an example of stunningly poor design, but adding an achievement for fully upgrading all four playable characters, a process which I estimate would take you well over thirty hours? Someone’s having a laugh.
Similarly, there’s an insta-kill “signature” melee attack which can only be performed when the game randomly allows you to do so. Over the course of six hours, I executed this move around ten times in total, despite actively pursuing the opportunity at every available turn. There’s an achievement for performing this move two thousand times. Someone’s having a laugh.
Some gamers – myself not included – tend to view achievements and trophies as frequently detrimental to the overall experience anyway, but whatever you think about them, you’re always free to ignore them completely if you wish. In The Expendables 2, what you aren’t free to ignore is the game’s ridiculously excessive length, and the multitude of insulting ways that it attempts to prolong itself.
There are countless examples of this, but the most maddening one occurred mid-way through the game’s second chapter. Cornered in a small area of a nondescript village – every environment in the game could charitably be described as nondescript, incidentally – you and your three buddies are tasked with taking down an attack helicopter. In order to do this, you need to repeatedly pick up stray rocket launchers from the ground; rocket launchers that only replenish because the enemies that brandish them don’t stop re-spawning. Those enemies are deeply fond of melee attacks too, and if they set upon you whilst you’re busy trying to deal with the chopper, you’ll be dead after 2-3 hits.
Your AI teammates – or co-op companions, if your friends are as sick in the head as you are – can revive you, and it’s a process that takes the best part of ten seconds. Once you’re up, in most cases your rescuer is then instantly downed too, forcing you to endure another ten-or-so seconds of blissful tranquility. So there’s lots to contend with even without that blasted chopper flying around, and when you throw in the fact that it’s almost impossible to accurately chart the trajectory of your rockets, coupled with the fact that the chopper never stops ping-ponging around the screen in front of you, you’ve got a recipe for mad, fizzling frustration.
We finally managed to shoot down that helicopter after fifteen headache-inducing minutes; a bewildering mess of revives, cheap deaths and very salty language. Our victory was an accident, but at least it was over. So, we cleared out the few remaining infantry, re-grouped, and set off again down the shadowy pathway in front of us. Less than five seconds later, Dolph Lundgren’s booming voice keenly informed us that “the damn chopper’s back” and so it was; the loveable whirlybird instantly bobbed back onto the horizon right on cue, like a needy puppy gunning for a pat on the head. Two Xbox 360s were switched off right there and then, and our duo of match-made companions were unceremoniously booted back to the main menu. Bad games, I can handle. But don’t take the mick.
About the Author: Chet Roivas has been writing about games professionally for several years, and now contributes primarily to the zavvi.com blog.