We’re doing this. I’m talking about Rambo: The Video Game in 2020. You see, I had a wildly different column in mind for this game. Then I actually managed to play something far worse than Rambo: The Video Game, and it’s given me perspective. You see, Rambo isn’t a good game, but it does have ambition and solid ideas underlying the madcap attempt of recreating Far Cry as an on-rails shooter.
Rambo: The Video Game is absurd. Its scoring system is beyond random. The balancing bounces between cakewalk and Super Meat Boy masochism — the final stages in Afghanistan are some of the most tedious trial-and-error nonsense you will ever experience. It’s an incredibly unpolished experience as well, with questionable audio quality and graphics so limited that tree limbs are just stretched out individual triangles. Yet, I also can’t deny that I had fun with Rambo: The Video Game. It’s plain to see that this is a game with a beating heart beneath it.
The developers at Teyon clearly tried to deliver a game that captures the essence of the Rambo trilogy to celebrate the storied IP. Rambo has action-packed set pieces, cover-based shooting, melee combat, a loadout system with perks, sniping, boss fights, moments where you can choose to go loud or sneak around, and more explosions than a fistful of napalm. Rambo: The Video Game knows precisely what people want from a Rambo game, and it also clearly understands it can’t deliver it normally, so it translates everything to an on-rails thrill ride.
The most flawed sections are stealth and melee combat, which boil down to precisely aiming your bow and timing your quick-time events (QTEs) right. Well, unless you apply the perk that makes you succeed at every QTE, in which case the jail break level essentially plays itself. There are a few moments where stealth grants you the choice to be lethal or non-lethal, but the choice often either doesn’t make sense for the situation or is reliant on carefully timing a QTE press. You can see them trying to make it be skill-based, but it just doesn’t click. Thankfully, the rest works far better.
After you get past Rambo: The Video Game’s many blemishes, there’s a solid on-rails experience to be had. Sure, it’s no Dead Space: Extraction, but it displays greater depth than it has any right to. For instance, you’re regularly tossed new firearms that require different handling. Enemy body armor requires careful aiming, and the various foes you fight have unique traits to exploit, like how you can turn a grenadier into a handy explosive to tear his friends to bits. The numerous set pieces, from defending a wooden boat from enemy ambushes to sniping along the cliffs of Afghanistan, legitimately work, with the former easily the best section of the entire game.
Simply deciding when to spend one of your precious grenades is remarkably tense, especially since most of your cover is chewed away by relentless enemy gunfire. A grenade could take down a whole mini-boss turret or boat for you, but it might also save you from restarting a checkpoint if you use it now. It’s not an earth-shattering decision, but in the heat of the moment, it truly makes you weigh your options. The same can be said for reloading your weapons, because an ill-timed reload press can cost you time and even decrease what rounds are left in the magazine, while precision rewards you with double ammo.
Not to mention you’ll find all sorts of little bonus actions when revisiting sections of the game. For example, during the boat confrontation, you can cut off enemy gunfire by shooting shut their windows, and if you aim just right with a grenade, you can blow a whole enemy boat sky high. That seems to have been the goal overall, as Rambo: The Video Game’s infamously short runtime appears intentional, not simply to get the game finished but so that you’ll feel the incentive to toy around with its levels. Despite its overtly linear nature, Rambo: The Video Game works as hard as it can to follow in the footsteps of games like Far Cry.
Does that mean I think everyone should play it? No, for several reasons. Teyon has moved on to better things with Terminator: Resistance, the game isn’t even listed on Steam anymore, and console copies cost way more than anyone in their right mind should be charging. You can find physical DRM-free PC copies, an extreme rarity in these days of Steam domination, and apparently there’s even a Collector’s Edition with two deformed bobble head Rambo figures. If you are still morbidly curious enough, I heartily recommend playing it with a PS Move as that made the game vastly more playable. Because, sure, why not lump two obscure pieces of gaming together?
That said, in a weird way, I respect Rambo: The Video Game. Like its protagonist, it’s battle-scarred and not quite all there. I can only begin to imagine the hellish development cycle this game must’ve gone through. That it’s playable, let alone genuinely fun at several turns despite its staggering amount of issues, is amazing. Hell, they went to the lengths of tracking down the original film audio, as aged and grainy as it sounds, rather than just lifting it from the VHS tapes like some may have assumed back at launch. There was an attempt to do justice to a classic franchise that even its creators have arguably given up on. That’s honorable, and I hope Teyon’s retro license tie-in games only get better from here.