Consider yourself expendable. Disposable. Easily replaced. As the protagonist of Rage Games' newest eye-melting ammo-fest, it is up to you to shoot everything in sight and, hopefully, not get destroyed in the process. Not a cheerful premise, no matter how you look at it, but that's the breaks.
Attempting to take the reins where Konami's Contra series had pitifully tailed off, Expendable is the next-generation's torch bearer of the old-school shooters of the '80s. The game's overhead perspective is reminiscent of the view in games like Ikari Warriors, Contra, and even Smash TV. While the premise is a bit thin (you're a space-marine plopped down on a number of "hostile alien worlds" trying to save our race from extinction, or something like that), it easily sets the stage for some of the most furious shooting action you've ever seen.
Like most shooters of this nature, your main goal is to barrel your way through the levels (which in Expendable's case are fairly lengthy) while shooting the bad guys and picking up as many power-ups as possible - and power-ups there are aplenty. All sorts of items are available, from a wide variety of guns reminiscent of the Contra series (flamethrowers, Gatling guns, lasers, spread-shots, etc.), to health-packs, score modifiers, time bonuses and even human hostages to rescue. You'll need these power-ups, because while the standard gun (whose shot speed depends on the quickness of your thumb) is impressive enough, it is not all that powerful. Other semi-familiar power-ups - such as little satellites that orbit you and fire extra volleys for every normal gunshot you produce - are also available. There's a boss at the end of every couple of levels, and you'll need to use a different strategy to beat each one. Mixed in with the standard gameplay are little objectives, like having to find key cards to open doors. Other twists - like land mines, "infested" human hostages, and alien worm-dogs that leave behind a harmful ooze when killed (a tip of the hat to Aliens, most likely) - conspire to enhance the experience you get when playing Expendable. At times, certain "bonus" stages put you in a much closer third-person perspective (think over-the-shoulder, as in Broken Helix), adding a frenetic element to the already hectic proceedings. Thankfully, the control of the analog or digital pad is tight and responsive. The shoulder buttons, when pressed down (left or right will do), let you strafe, which is integral to your survival in Expendable.
Like Rage's previous Dreamcast title, Incoming, Expendable is a hardware-pushing slice of software that, even at this early stage, shows what the Dreamcast is capable of. Although Rage developed the game for PCs equipped with 3D-acceleration, the company has adapted quickly to the PowerVR2-based DC hardware. Running at a smooth 60fps, Expendable features amazing particle effects, which lavish the screen with every gunshot fired. Environments, while not completely destructible, warp and morph at times to give off a truly organic feel. The lighting effects and brilliant use of transparencies also have to be seen in motion to appreciate. Appropriately, the sound is lively, full of punch, and so is the music - although, to fully absorb the action, you should turn down the music so you can hear the sound effects.
All this blinding goodness does not come without a price. At times, your main character can seem a little small compared with his surroundings - a problem magnified when he's obscured from view, courtesy of the constant explosions. Also, the enemies are a little repetitious, and you'll likely be seeing the same droves of foot soldier, worm-dogs and hover-pack snipers time and time again. Although the variety of opponents increase as the game progresses, it still gets a little annoying to see the same type of soldier materialize relentlessly. The biggest "problem," however, is the simple nature of the game itself. While gameplay is king, and 3D doesn't necessarily need to be gratuitously complex, if you've ever played any of the classic games mentioned here, then you've already played Expendable. Although Rage tried to incorporate some simple "find the key" elements into Expendable, this is still a largely repetitious game. Things almost get silly when an on-screen prompt has you "find the yellow key" to open a gate, and the key is sitting right next to it. It's almost like, why bother? There are also some funky camera moments when you switch from one room to another that will have you running back and forth, unwillingly, until you've sorted yourself out. Playing with a friend is considerably better than playing alone, since both of you can whoop it up as the pyrotechnics flare, but gamers looking for a more cerebral challenge will be better off looking elsewhere. For what it is, (and that would be a "twitch game"), Expendable is in a league of its own, mostly because of the competent gameplay and the amazing graphics. It would be frightening to see what Rage could come up with if it moved beyond basic gameplay, because the company has the visuals down pat.
The end of it is, should you desire a return to the old-school and want no more from a game than to simply to turn it on and start pushing buttons, Expendable is the game for you. No thought process necessary, feel free to leave the gray matter at the door. While there has been an effort to overcomplicate games these days, with every button on the controller being used for something arcane, Expendable is a refreshing blast of arcade gaming that never seems to get old. That alone warrants a good hard look at this flashy game.