Please note that this article refers to an unfinished version of Rambo – content may substantially change before the game receives a general release!
It was only a couple of days ago that I last passed through London with the aim to try out a new Sega game, but this time it was a tip from a friend that had me on the way. A couple of days ago, a friend of mine who I shall only identify as “Overlord” kindly informed me that he’d spotted a Rambo machine in the Bowlplex at Basingstoke, and a little digging around uncovered that there was also a machine in the Cardiff Bowlplex. A short while later, and arrangements were made to meet up in Basingstoke for a thorough testing session on the game. Hit the break for the detailed rundown!
The test itself is an extremely low-key affair, with no publicity at the building and the machine sandwiched between the toilets and a Fast and the Furious Superbikes machine. In fact, there was almost nothing to signify that the machine was out on test. Other than that curious omission, the cabinet is reasonably striking, and bears a heavy resemblance to the cabinet used for Ghost Squad. The main difference is that the screen is now a rather lovely widescreen HD thing, and the cabinet is bathed in an orange glow rather than the green one of the previous game. The gun itself was exactly the same as the Ghost Squad one, which simultaneously fills me with glee and despair. You see, while that gun was well designed it was also quite fragile, and I’ve not seen one which is working properly in quite some time. In Rambo, the majority of situations are solved by pulling the trigger (what a shock!), with the action button triggering “Rambo Mode” and the mode change switch seemingly unused. Reloading is by shooting out of the screen as usual, but I did occasionally find myself pining for the quick reloads of House of the Dead 4‘s shaking system.
Rambo actually plays somewhat similarly to Ghost Squad. The game features a similar mix of standard enemy shooting and special events, but streamlines them into a single path instead of Ghost Squad‘s branching paths due to the narrative of the game and the lack of a card save system. However, the game also bears some similarities to House of the Dead 4, in the way that it utilises more enemies, a rapid-firing weapon and a desperation attack, though the grenades and Rambo Mode are somewhat different in character. When you have built up the Rage gauge (above your life gauge on the screen) you are able to trigger Rambo Mode, which gives you temporary invincibility and unlimited ammunition for as long as it takes for the bar to run back down. Contrary to what you might expect, the game actually rewards less liberal use of your ammunition, with accuracy being one of four categories graded from S to C on the end of level results screen, along with score, shot categories (Fast, Crack and Heroic) and event completion. The strangest addition to the game is the FMV sequences from the films, which are used to advance the story and provide a visual depiction of your accomplishments in the game.
Rambo currently sports two stages. Chapter 1: Prelude is the stage featured in the video above, and as you can see it contains lots of high-explosive action and chaotic battling to really get you into the Rambo spirit. This level is fairly light on events, with the main one being a Rambo Mode tutorial. The end of level boss is a helicopter, which alternates between attacking with guns, a soldier, grenades and finally a set of soldiers on ropes.
Chapter 2: Dire Straits is the more interesting of the two stages at present. It begins with a series of accuracy-based events which involve Rambo taking out guards before he is spotted. Success is rewarded with an appropriate piece of FMV, while failure breaks the sequence and sees you fighting through guards. Without wishing to spoil the stage, it details Rambo’s efforts to rescue Col. Trautman and features some genuinely inventive events (including many more stealthy sneak-o-trons), with my personal favourite being the one which forced you to suppress your fire so as not to alert the reinforcement guards. The end of level boss is a tank which again attacks in stages before you are able to retaliate.
Once you have finished stage 2, you are presented with a screen which grades your overall performance and gives you a Rambo rating (I got 64%), before displaying a Coming Soon screen – the only major indicator that the software is incomplete. The stages themselves are fairly long, with the initial stage lasting about seven and a half minutes, though this includes time spent watching the FMV sequences which can be skipped. They also contain a variety of pick-ups (including health and rage boosters) hidden in various locations – behind shields, in crates, and in one case a crate that was floating down the river!
Any gripes? I have a few. Firstly, the game does not seem to significantly alter its difficulty level between one and two player games, which can make the game even more of an uphill struggle for lone players. The only time I genuinely noticed a variation was during the boss battles. Secondly, the graphical performance. While everything has been nicely animated and choreographed, as the video shows, the game doesn’t seem to utilise anti-aliasing, which gives the edges of objects a nasty jagged look. Also, some of the models and textures are a little rough, and on the whole the game doesn’t look as nice as House of the Dead 4, which was released on the Lindbergh board two and a half years ago. Additionally, it occasionally slows down a little when the screen is packed with action, and Overlord noticed that the recoil matches this making it doubly noticeable. Finally, while usually small and nicely disguised, some of the loading delays become just a little bit noticeable when the game stops for a few seconds longer than you’re expecting. However, those issues (and the above one concerning the use of the Ghost Squad gun) may well be rectified before the game officially goes to market.
So far, the game is looking like it will be rather good, and the Rambo licence can’t hurt the game any. The machine didn’t see a lot of play while we were at the Bowlplex, but it was a Sunday afternoon with the building mainly filled by families (you can hear one on Fast and the Furious Superbikes in the video). The final game should probably contain at least one more stage, and ny number of changes could be made to the existing material. When the game is ready for launch, we’ll let you know how it turned out!
Many thanks go out to Overlord for taking many of the gameplay pictures and the gameplay video for this article.