Rocketmen: Axis of Evil Review
When it comes to dual-stick shooters you have a lot to choose from on Xbox Live Arcade, including the game that started the genre, Robotron. The latest entry in this field is Rocketmen: The Axis of Evil. However, Rocketmen shakes things up a little with RPG-style character progression, an arsenal of weapons, and campy comic book cutscenes. It's a fresh take on the genre and the game has a certain amount of appeal, it's just too bad that the gameplay itself has its share of issues.
Rocketmen takes place in a future that's decidedly Flash Gordon in nature. Heroic laser-wielding spacemen fly from one battle to the next in small shiny rocketships. You can choose to play as a Mercurian, Venusian, or human rebel. Each faction has its own agenda and the Martians are just trying to invade everybody else, but that's about all I can tell you about the backstory because it's never really revealed exactly what's going on in this particular view of the future. The comic book cutscenes serve the immediacy of the each level's story well enough, but you'll be left with the feeling that you jumped into a long running series thirty or forty stories into its run. At least the cutscenes certainly look cool with their minimally animated comic frames filled with bright colors and an interesting art style.
Once you begin a mission the game's shortcomings will become evident pretty quickly. Dual stick shooters (the left stick controls movement direction and the right direction of fire) need to play lightning quick to be fun and Rocketmen feels just a bit too lethargic. Part of this is due to the fact that the game is trying to force you to spend some of your experience points for your speed attribute, but overall the controls feel a bit sluggish. The enemies tend to be somewhat boring and unimaginative in their attacks, relying on their numbers to attempt to overwhelm you by plodding directly at you. The biggest issue, though, lies in the way the camera is implemented. The levels are very linear, although you are often given an option of taking a different path or two, and there's no backtracking. As soon as you move forward the camera follows, but it only moves in one direction. Once something scrolls off screen it is gone for good. It's annoying to pass something up and then find that you can't go back for a closer look, be it an alternate path, a secondary objective, or some dropped loot, especially when you're in a room cut down the middle by the camera imposed artificial restraint. This can be a real issue in multiplayer where it is possible for the trailing player to get caught behind a wall with no option other than to drop out of the game.
Killing enemies nets you experience and you can also collect the currency-like elements they drop behind to spend on new gear. Rocketmen has an impressive array of armor and weapon upgrades available and the gradual increase in your character's attributes such as health and speed give you a satisfying feeling of character progression not unlike you'd get from playing a Dark Alliance style action-RPG. I just wish that the battles were more varied and challenging so that it really felt like I actually needed all of the upgrades to survive.
Rocketmen is one of those games that could have been pretty interesting, but just doesn't live up to its potential. Smarter, more challenging enemies, better controls, and a camera that doesn't constantly push you from behind would make the game far more enjoyable.
In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 55%. Rocketmen's shiny metal rocket fails to get off the ground.