The Rambo series of films are an interesting timepiece. The first film, aptly titled First Blood, features Sylvester Stallone as Vietnam war veteran John Rambo being chased from some irate cops in a small Washington town, and is more of an action-driven thriller. However, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III are definitely action movies in the simplest sense, something that could really only be made in the Reagan-dominated 1980s.
They’re cheesy as all hell, and a little bit unsettling these days – especially the more recent entries, John Rambo and Rambo: Last Blood – but I can appreciate their relevance in pop culture all the same.
Over the years there’s been a handful of Rambo video games, mostly of average quality. One of the more well-known ones was Pack-in-Video’s Rambo game on the NES that was a knockoff of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and many of Sega’s games throughout the ’80s. After Rambo III, there weren’t any games featuring that M60-wielding muscle man, unlike similar action films like Robocop that got games years after the films were relevant. Cut to 2014, several years after the fourth film, and at a time when the franchise couldn’t be any less relevant, and somehow we got… this.
Rambo: The Video Game is the most recent attempt to make the action movie series into a video game. With so many years between the last major Rambo game, you’d think we get a really solid adaptation of the film series, right? Wrong. Developer Teyon and publisher Reef Entertainment brought this out to critically negative reviews, from gamers and fans of the films alike.
So, what’s the genre they opted to go for? First-person shooter, right? Perhaps a third-person cover shooter? The answer to that is neither: It’s a light gun game. Considering Teyon’s pedigree – they made a majority of the Heavy Fire series of light gun games – it seems fitting, but also very limiting.
So how does the game piece the story together? Well, our game begins with a cutscene of a military colonel talking about John Rambo at his funeral, retelling his stories of war, while satisfied the man’s dead.
This is amazingly inaccurate it hurts. Not only does Rambo live after the events of these films, it just comes off as incredibly comical and not at all powerful or emotional. I honestly thought this was a reference to a small scene in one of the films, but nope, this was made specifically for the game. I don’t know why they opted to tell the story this way, but it’s really really dumb.
After that, we’re thrown into a cutscene that takes place before the events of First Blood, featuring Rambo (with digital Stallone sporting a mustache just as ugly as he did in that movie) escaping from a camp. Then the game begins, in all its light gun glory.
The game’s mechanics are fairly straightforward. Rambo automatically moves from place to place until he’s killed enough bad guys. You have three weapons, split between light type (pistols, AK47s, stuff like that), heavy type (machine guns and grenade launchers), and special weapons like the iconic torque bow. Left mouse button fires, right mouse button (or R) reloads. It has the active reload system from Gears of War, meaning a perfect reload gives you double the ammunition in the mag. Middle mouse button throws grenades, and using the WASD controls are used to take cover when given the opportunity, something incredibly helpful when enemy machine gun emplacements start firing at you. Get enough kills to activate a Wrath ability where enemies are highlighted and every kill gets back health.
In First Blood, Rambo wasn’t really a stone-cold killer. There was only a handful of kills under his watch, one of them by accident. So for these levels the game encourages the player to opt for disarming the cops by shooting them in the arms or legs, as killing them normally causes you to lose points. By the time you move to the levels depicting First Blood Part II, this rule no long applies, so Rambo can kill to his heart’s content since they’re not red-blooded Americans.
In addition to the bog-standard light gun fare, there’s a handful of quick time events. Hit them at the right time to get maximum points and have Rambo do something cool, but missing them can lead to mission failure. Other times you have to protect a vehicle or a village from enemy gunfire, which basically means shooting everything in front of you until there’s nothing left. A handful of levels even have stealth sections, where Rambo must attack enemies with a bow before he gets spotted.
If Rambo bites the dust (or fail certain QTEs), you’re given a chance to retry from the last checkpoint. However, you’re only given a limited number of tries depending on the difficulty. The default, Sergeant, gives you five tries, whereas John Rambo difficulty gives you only one extra chance to complete it. These difficulties also factor in your score at the end of the level, since this is a light gun game.
After completing a level, you’re scored based on how well you did. Headshots, accuracy, time, number of retries, that sort of thing. One star is guaranteed for beating the level, getting the other two stars on them is incredibly difficult unless you play on higher difficulties and are deadly accurate. The game encourages replaying stages to improve, but in many cases it’s not worth it.
Oh, and there’s also experience and leveling. Leveling up gives you a point to upgrade your health, your wrath, your damage to light and heavy weapon types, and the option to hold more grenades. You can also take a perk (one to start, 3 by level 15) that can help Rambo along such as gaining wrath as you take damage, every reload being a perfect reload, no fail QTEs, and XP/damage boosters. It’s a decent strategy even if I ended up sticking with the same 2-3 perks by the game’s end.
As for the levels themselves, they’re mostly recreations of scenes from each movie. The problem is that there’s not many cutscenes in-between levels to give context to some of the scenes from the movie, so the game hinges on you having seen the films to understand what’s going on, otherwise Rambo’s motives seem slap-dash and make no sense.
In one of the game’s levels recreating Rambo III, Rambo infiltrates a military base undetected to find his buddy Trautman, bow and explosives in hand. It’s a frustrating level to go through because of the timing and reactions of enemies, plus the frustrating of the forced stealth mechanics. Of course, since the game gives an option, you could basically throw this whole “stealth” nonsense out the window and get straight to the shooting of bad guys now instead of later. A better option, honestly.
Speaking of Trautman, the late Richard Crenna is featured as Trautman in cutscenes and dialog from the film. He’s the only actor to “reprise” his role from the films besides Stallone as Rambo. Everybody else is replaced by generic models that don’t even resemble the actors that portrayed them in the movie, so no digital Brian Dennehy as Sheriff Teasle here.
Most of the replacement characters sound like generic cops or soldiers, and in some cases sound worse than the original actors. For example, the actress they got to voice Co from First Blood Part II does such a badly stereotypical Asian accent that it makes Kim Mai Guest’s portrayal of Mei Ling from the first Metal Gear Solid sound dignified in comparison.
It doesn’t help the game as a whole sounds incredibly grating. Most of the audio made for the game sounds like it was made with low-quality WAV files. Sounds taken from the film sound like they’re from a third-generation VHS copy. And the music is generic military tracks mixed in with the same three pieces of Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderful score on loop. Combined with the fairly ugly visuals and you got an absolutely hot mess.
The later levels that depict Rambo III were frustrating as all get out. In addition to the aforementioned stealth or action choice, the bright middle-eastern environments made using wrath dangerous because enemies were practically invisible. The later levels were so long and overwrought that I ended up kicking down the difficulty to easy just to beat it, and even then I still failed a lot when the game threw a commander, a grenadier, a guy with a minigun, another guy with a flamethrower, and a few turret gunners to fight all at once. I know Rambo III‘s final act was a cacophony of Soviet-Afghan war, but there comes a point where it’s all too much.
After beating the ending of Rambo III, the game cuts to the credits. We don’t get levels based on John Rambo, which means we missed on on him killing Burmese pirates, but they probably couldn’t get the rights. Yet, Teyon wasn’t done with the game.
Two years after release, the game inexplicably got DLC. Called Baker Team, this prologue DLC shows Rambo fighting with a bunch of rag-tag soldiers in Vietnam, all characters referenced in First Blood. Rambo goes from being incredibly chatty to a student of the Gordon Freeman School of Character Development, so the rest of the game’s story is buoyed upon this famous “Baker Team.”
Story-wise it doesn’t bring much to the table, just new jungle locations as Rambo fights off Vietcong soldiers. The only upside is some of the voice acting, where one of your soldier buddies is voiced by Michael McConnohie, the narrator for the Agency Director in the Crackdown series of games. Levels, skills and perks carry over from the base game, which makes parts of this game a little easier. But the rest is just shooting more bad guys with occasional QTEs, nothing really new here.
I’d say avoid buying this, but you can’t get this game anymore. Not long after the Baker Team DLC, the game got delisted from digital storefronts likely due to an expired license. I ended up buying a retail PC copy for $5 which came with a Steam installer and a redeemable CD key so I could play this. It also came out on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but playing light gun games with a controller is literal torture. At least the PS3 version supports the PlayStation Move, which is a step up from trying to play light gun games with a controller.
I can see what Teyon was trying for here. The Heavy Fire games are mindless light gun games with generic military environments, and having a movie license could have given them some interesting locations and ideas. But they squandered that opportunity, mostly recreating the films with only a little bit of deviation from the source material, and devoid of context without the source material. As a result, Rambo: The Video Game is just Heavy Fire but with less “Tango down, Oo-rah, stay frosty” and more Stallone yelling.
It’s just not really fun or exciting to play. It starts out okay, and I even found the rough look of the graphics and sound charming for a bit, but after a while it was a chore and an act of frustration. I’d say you’d find more enjoyment hunting down the Sega light gun Rambo game over this. At least that has more flash and flair compared to Teyon’s effort here, which feels so bland in comparison. Probably cheaper to play, too!
At least Teyon and Reef Entertainment didn’t get the chance to make another game based on a flailing movie franchise, so we can all breathe easil-
Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.