Hello, you have no family, no friends, and no memories of the past. The first thing you felt after your adult birth was the cold of an incubation capsule and the constricting fit of body armor. Bummer, eh? Such is the life of a 25th century expendable soldier, and such is your role in Infogrames' Expendable for the PlayStation. It seems that in man's quest for colonization, a cutthroat alien race has discovered humankind. Now, this race is on its way to Earth, and it's up to you and a million rounds of ammunition to stop them.
Expendable is a modern-day variant of the genre originated by such titles as Smash TV, Total Carnage, and NARC. As an expendable soldier, you must jaunt from planet to planet, destroying everything in site and liberating hostages. Whether taking place on Sirius or Bok'H, the game displays everything from above, at a slight tilt to provide an easily managed field of view. As you wander about fulfilling your duties - blowing stuff up - you'll acquire a variety of weapons, from split-beam lasers and plasma flamethrowers to the ever popular "blow everything to kingdom come"-type bomb. Movement is made via the analog or D-pad, with strafing relegated to the L2 and R2 buttons. This leaves the main buttons for weapon cycling and firing. The layout itself isn't bad, but for those who have played the Dreamcast port, it does lack a certain fluidity, mostly in turning, which seems overly sluggish. Still, blowing up enemies is easy, aiming requires only a minor learning curve, and the feel is such that you'd think the glory days of top-down shooters had returned.
In transition from the Dreamcast to the PlayStation, all 24 original levels remain. Whether alone or with a friend, you have three lives and nine continues with which to stunt the enemy's advance across six unique worlds. Admittedly, wandering levels and blowing up repetitive enemies and scenery get old after awhile, but the game's exciting visuals, coupled with gratuitous giant bosses and moody cutscenes, deliver the brunt of the game's punch. Expendable is not about intrigue or stealth, rather it is about blowing planets apart so that the aliens can't have them and dotting the landscape with their entrails. If you get bored with the main game though, there's always the two-player deathmatch mode to fall back on.
As is Rage Software's way, it's eye candy that will ultimately determine Expendable's long-term appeal. While not as crisp or fluid as the Dreamcast version, the PlayStation title still packs a mighty visual wallop. The main character and enemies walk with a highly animated jaunting gait, and the characters are clothed in soldier garb that lets you know by its color who is friend and who is foe. Each level, though only a series of twisting and turning corridors, will guide you through precarious rock formations, spiraling towers, and a whole host of vehicular or foliage nuisances. Explosions are over the top, shaking and filling the screen with bone-crunching particle and smoke effects. While Quake players have seen bloody, splattering entrails repeatedly in their games, Expendable is one of the first PlayStation games to feature such sickeningly putrid alien gore. At worst, some will find trouble with the way scaling is handled, in that the protagonist easily gets lost among an army of alien soldiers, but this is a subjective issue. People with large televisions likely won't have any complaint.
Backing it all up, Expendable's soundtrack is one to crank. The music for each level is both haunting and energizing, in the way that only 1980s science-fiction programs could achieve. If you've ever watched such films as Lifeforce or Scanners, you'll find similarities within Expendable. Toss in a little Blake's 7 from the '70s, and you've got yourself one ambient experience. The music is subtle yet jarring, without resorting to modern-day cliches. There are no high-hat crescendos or rhythmic bass beats, only rock-solid dark ambient techno. In spite of these excellent musical overtones, Expendable falters a bit in the sound-effects department. Explosions are jarring and the weapon sounds are fine, but enemy death and space-ship effects are both uninspiring and overly used. Taking into account the game's arcade-like focus though, you might allow the game some leeway in this area.
When you get right down to it, Expendable is sheer, unadulterated shooting. Run through a bunch of levels, blow everything to bits, and try not to get shot. That is Expendable's hook. If you played Activision's Apocalypse and were left wanting more, Infogrames' Expendable might be what you're looking for. After the visual masterpieces of Incoming and Expendable though, it would be nice to see what Rage could accomplish by directing its visual talents toward a more intelligently inspired game.