At first glance, Rocketmen: The Axis of Evil might appear to be just another game patterned after great top-down shooters from the '80s and '90s. But what is different about this game is the ability to create a different-looking hero and then traverse the solar system through 10 opponent-rich levels.
Rocketmen is another iteration of the arcade shooter resurgence that current consoles have been enjoying. Although it is not exhumed from Capcom's back catalog, the core shooting experience is similar to Robotron, Cash Guns Chaos, and Monster Madness. Primary controls are mapped to the thumbsticks: shooting with the right thumbstick and moving with the left. You can also deploy secondary weapons, as well as power-ups, by making use of the L2 and R2 buttons. The R1 and L1 buttons cycle through available options. Throughout the game, you'll be picking up weapons, shooting enemies, and otherwise blowing stuff apart. You'll do all of this to save the galaxy, gain experience, and upgrade your equipment (in order of importance).
The maps are mostly linear, but there is some variation in the terrain and secondary objectives you'll complete. Unfortunately, a couple of branching paths in certain levels can't save the game from generally leading you in a specific direction. Also, each level is broken up by cutscenes. Rocketmen's visually appealing cinematics are all rendered in-engine, employing 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 and the voice acting frequently falls flat. For diehard fans of shooters who don't need a story to tie two levels together, this won't be much of a problem. Rocketmen's campaign shouldn't take the average player more than three 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.
Rocketmen changes up the shooting experience by injecting conventions of traditional action role-playing games. However, the character customization may not be as deep as many RPG aficionados would like. You can create your own protagonist by making preset decisions of gender, species, class, hair color, uniform color, and other visual attributes. Classes aren't really well-defined, but they provide your character with a different costume and a single attribute boost. The added RPG infrastructure allows you to reinvest your experience points into your attributes. Your shots will then become more powerful and your health meter will deplete slower with damage. Your speed will also become fast enough to actually dodge enemy fire and make it through the many misadventures in which you may find yourself.
Enemies don't drop loot that you can instantly equip, 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 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 short 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.
Even though the core experience of shooting martians is fun, the game has a number of problems that impair this fun. Thanks to glitches in single-player, the enemies will sometimes jump from one spot to another. The collision detection of your character is off a bit as well. When you don't walk over an item, you still pick it up. Enemy fire also hits you when its trajectory should be bypassing your position. Camera speed during gameplay is often a problem too, which results in preventing slower characters from saving prisoners, unlocking control panels, or otherwise completing secondary objectives.
During online play, the scrolling 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 were not isolated. Players frequently got stuck, failed 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.
After finishing on normal difficulty, there's really no compelling reason to play further. 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 prevent it from being recommendable to anybody but the most dedicated of shooter fans.