At first glance, Rocketmen: The Axis of Evil might appear to be just another top-down shooter patterned after Robotron, Smash TV, or Geometry Wars. The mix of RPG elements, however, sets it apart.
You create your hero and then traverse the solar system through 10 different maps. The levels are mostly linear. There is some variation in terrain and secondary objectives to be completed, but otherwise, a couple branching paths in a couple levels can't save the game from being a linear experience. Throughout the game you'll be picking up weapons, shooting enemies, and otherwise blowing stuff apart to save the galaxy, gain experience, and upgrade your equipment (in order of importance). Primary controls are mapped to the thumbsticks: shooting with the right thumbstick and moving with the left. You can also deploy secondary weapons by making use of the triggers; left one cycles through available options, while the right one deploys the selected weapon or power-up.
The character customization may not be as deep as many RPG aficionados would like. You can create your own protagonist, male or female. You can also choose from interstellar species including: Mercurian, Venusian, or a rebel human. The classes aren't really well defined, but they provide your character with a different costume and a single attribute boost. Where it really shines is allowing you to reinvest your experience points into your attributes. Your shots will then become more powerful, your health meter will deplete slower with damage, and your speed will become fast enough to actually dodge enemy fire and make it through the many misadventures in which you may find yourself.
Rocketmen changes up the conventions of traditional action RPGs. Enemies don't drop instantly equippable loot, but rather drop different elements that represent currency. You can then cash in this currency to buy powerful gun upgrades, secondary weapons, or to stock power-ups. You can accumulate additional accoutrements by completing levels, either online or offline, as well as by cashing in your hard-earned carbon to purchase three tiers of increasingly attractive armor. Whereas the initial set of armor is modest in its coverage and appearance, the top-of-the line armor lives up to its designation: wicked. Though you can't do anything flashy with it, the armor certainly protects you from taking the full amount of damage from enemy weapons.
Rocketmen's visually appealing cutscenes are all rendered in-engine and employ a fun comic-book panel style, complete with dialogue bubbles and sound-effect lettering. It's just too bad that the writing comes across as overwrought. Though the concept of the Martians causing havoc in the solar system is not beyond belief, the cutscenes don't take enough time or make enough of an effort to help players understand who they are or to suitably establish the different factions' motivations. The writing is a bit too preoccupied with adding cinematic references, smarmy dialogue, and one-liners that make the characters too self-aware. For diehard fans of shooters who don't need a story to tie two levels together, this won't be much of a problem.
The voice acting in Rocketmen doesn't succeed in carrying you to another world. The Mercurians, Venusians, and Martians draw upon modern dialects and trite sci-fi camp to create a weak story of interstellar drama that pales in comparison to the levels of excitement found in even the 1981 remake of Flash Gordon. Many of the lines come across as stilted. In addition, some of the weapon sound effects are grating after a while.
The camera speed during gameplay is often a problem. As you play through the levels, the camera frequently scrolls too slowly after you've cleared the enemies but moves way too fast at times when you are trying to secure objectives on the edges of the screen. This results in preventing slower characters from saving prisoners, unlocking control panels, or otherwise completing secondary objectives. During online play, the problem is only exacerbated. The way the levels pan may end up leaving you unable to get at an objective or trapped behind a wall, which forces other players to move on without you. We played many times with up to three other random participants and these issues are not isolated. Players frequently got stuck, failed to be able to respawn, or had to drop out because the level became a completely unplayable slide show. Although this didn't happen every time, the problem happened often enough to make any player wary of venturing into the online campaign.
Rocketmen's campaign shouldn't take the average player more than 3 hours to complete, which makes the $10 price tag seem a bit steep, particularly when upward of 30 minutes of that time is spent in supremely campy cutscenes. After finishing on normal difficulty, there's really no compelling reason to play more. The online experience is inconsistent, buggy, and difficult to enjoy even if you have three friends willing to play. And truth be told, it is just the single-player game all over again. Despite Rocketmen's great visuals and its decent RPG system, the inherent faults of the game keep it from being recommendable to anybody but the most dedicated of shooter fans.