Based on WizKids' table-top strategy game comes Rocketmen: Axis of Evil.

User Rating: 4 | Rocketmen: Axis of Evil PS3
This downloadable title is a top-down action RPG in the vein of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance or the classic Gauntlet. Players can blast their way through ten levels solo or with up to three friends locally or online.

After creating a character from one of eight gender, class and race types you'll join the Alliance of Free Planets made up of Earth's rebel forces led by Rocketmen Alex and Nick, the Venusians and the Mercurians. Together they will try to take down the threat of the evil Legion of Terra and their hordes of Martian warriors. More…

The story in Rocketmen: Axis of Evil is told in a hybrid 3D cell-shaded, comic panel presentation. These cutscenes, both during and in between the game's missions feature surprisingly decent voice acting and witty, self-aware dialogue. However, presumably due to the size limitations downloadable games, the scenes have no sound effects and animation is scarce. Instead, rookie developer A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games had to use mostly static images and visual representation of sound effects similar to a comic book. While you can tell a lot of effort went into the story presentation, it ends up feeling kind of unfinished because of the limitations.

Gameplay is familiar and straightforward. Players move about the screen using their left analog stick and fire weapons using the right one. Though it controls like fellow PlayStation Network game Everyday Shooter or Xbox Live! Arcade's Geometry Wars, Rocketmen plays like a traditional dungeon crawler with one distinct difference: a scrolling playfield. Think of it as Gauntlet on rails with guns.

The scrolling playfield is probably the biggest flaw in Rocketmen as far as I'm concerned. I frequently missed out on power-ups and loot because the screen would scroll to the next area. There is a "Loot Vacuum", but it proved ineffectual due to a small radius. Once the screen moves to a new area it does not go back and you are forced to progress where the game tells you to.

Not only does this make the game feel more linear than it already is, but there were a few times I actually got stuck in a level forcing me to reset the game. Some of the game's levels can take over 30 minutes to complete and there is no checkpoint system so having to reset can be more than a little annoying.

As you make your way through the levels, you'll have ten secondary weapons in addition to your standard issue pea shooter. There's a good variety here, from missiles to mines, automated turrets and even an air strike. There are also four pick-up weapons that can be upgraded between levels. The Razor is essentially a saw blade shooting gun, The Vulcan is a machine gun and there are also a rapid-fire laser and a shotgun.

You'll be using this arsenal against countless hordes of swarming Martian grunts as you progress. There are a few other enemy types that appear, but for the most part its wave after wave of green ogre-looking soldiers. There are some sub-boss and boss type enemies that show up during the game as well, though they too suffer from repetition.

When you are being swarmed, the frame rate can take a real hit, often slowing to a 10-15 fps crawl even after installing the 13MB version 2.0 patch. The problem seemed to worsen quite a bit when I tested the multiplayer with my partner. I can only imagine how muddled a four-player game could get. It was never unplayable but very noticeable.

It's a real shame too, because Rocketmen is a pretty good looking game, especially for one that can be had for $10 and is crammed into 128 MB. Most of the levels are pretty large and detailed with breakable objects, weapon pick-ups and loot. The textures look decent enough at 720p (it supports 1080i too) and they managed to pull off some flashy weapon and explosion effects as well, again at the cost of performance. I couldn't help but think that they could have done with a few less useless boxes in order to stabilize the game a bit further.

Rocketmen Screen 02

Sound wise, Rocketmen simply falls flat. Besides the aforementioned voice acting, the sound design ranges from almost non-existent to grating. Generally, the soundtrack consists of nothing but subdued orchestra swells that get drowned out by the sound effects. Between the constant "pew pew" of your standard blaster and the incessant ringing and buzzing of various goal indicators, I found myself turning the game down on more than a few occasions.

As you progress through the levels your score is changed to experience points that you can use to upgrade base statistics like speed and damage. You'll also be offered a new armor pieces that provide minor stat upgrades and really appear on your character, which is a nice touch.

It took me about 5 hours to get through Rocketmen, though it felt a lot longer. There were times I was simply waiting for the end of a level so I could save and quit. While there is legitimate replay value for those obsessed with high scores or climbing the online leaderboards, I'm sure most will have had their fill after one time through the game.

This is not a difficult game to get through at all. Aside from a couple of occasions that force you to restart a section of a level, the only penalties for running out of life are loosing 10% of your current level score (experience points) and five seconds of your life waiting to respawn.

For the most part Rocketmen is a family-friendly title. There is no blood or intense violence, though towards the end of the game I found some dialog and story choices that put it squarely into "T for Teen" territory. If playing along with a parent or older sibling, the game would probably be suitable for your average ten year old. It's easy to control, primarily using the two sticks and shoulder buttons of your SIXAXIS controller. The DualShock 3's rumble feature is not supported, which would have been nice for telling when you're taking damage.

I have mixed feelings about Rocketmen: Axis of Evil. On one hand it really is a good chunk of game for $10, mostly family-friendly and ambitious for an original, downloadable game. On the other hand it feels shallow, has the terrible scrolling mechanism and seems almost unfinished. Luckily, there's a demo on PlayStation Network to help you decide for yourself if Rocketmen is right for you. Though CAPCOM provided me with the PlayStation 3 version for review, the game is also available on the Xbox 360 via Xbox Live! Arcade at a cost of 800 Microsoft Points.

The Able Gamer Score: 2/5

Brian J. Papineau – The Able Gamer