|Genre: Shooter||CDs: 1|
|Publisher: Infogrames||Released: April 19, 2000|
|Developer: Rage||UPC: 0 20295 14024 3|
|Sony ID: SLUS-01075||PSRM: 017530|
|Players: 1 to 2 Players||Memory: 1 Block|
|Accessories: Analog, Vibration|
|ESRB: Teen – Animated Violence|
Don’t stop Running, Don’t stop Shooting, Don’t start Thinking…because you are Expendable.
- There are no known variants.
- There are no known misprints.
500 years after humanity took their literal first spin around the Earth, it finds itself further and further out into the cosmos. After colonizing every possible world they can get to, our descendants will eventually find themselves face-to-face with the Charva. An alien race able to breath oxygen has begun taking over our established colonies, decimating everything in their path. As they leap frog planets on their way to Earth, a mother-ship cuts across their path.
This giant craft carries the Expendables – human super soldiers curated from infancy to adulthood into lean mean, killing machines. Once programmed and armed, they’re dropped off at the nearest planet in need of rescuing.
Despite a few extra pages diving into the details of the Charva, that’s really all the player needs to know about the game’s storyline. This two-player co-op shooter is a hefty homage to games that have come before it – Contra, Metal Slug, Ikari Warriors, and to a small degree even Smash TV. While Expendable’s individual pieces are slightly flawed, once they’re assembled into the final game, the complete puzzle is a bit problematic.
Let’s start at the most obvious – the game play. Right away you can see the 3D equivalents of classics like Contra and Ikari Warriors at work. Top-down, forward progression based-levels waiting to take down the enemies found through-out. After so many minutes, you’ll be confronted by a boss character and continue your mission once they’re eradicated. Every so often you’ll be gifted a Bonus Mission for extra points and pick-ups.
The first of Expendable’s two major flaws will be tackled right-away, starting with the control scheme. Your first instinct upon seeing the game would be that it’s a twin-stick shooter like Ikari or Smash TV where the left stick moves you and the right stick points the gun. Instead, it’s more like…Resident Evil. Up moves forward, down moves backward, with left and right turning you. Using the L2 and R2 buttons allows the solider to strafe, which combined with the D-Pad presents a bit more maneuvering.
This choice in controls actually confused me at first – having not read the manual, I thought my Dual Shock was broken. Once it was revealed that this was it, it took a few levels to iron out the mental hoops. Rage really missed an opportunity here with the controls, and while the game is still fully playable, a lot of frustrating hiccups could have been avoided.
Let’s get into weapons. A machine gun-like rifle with infinite ammo acts as the base weapon, with other pick-ups along the way. Laser beams, homing missiles, spread shots and more are able to be picked-up and put into play. Up to three weapons can be stored at once, along with the current level’s choice of grenade. Weapons can be switched between on the fly, but the player’s next pick up over-writes the current weapon in use, so be careful. Some weapons can be leveled up if they’re picked-up multiple times, but trying to keep track of them is nigh impossible. Rather than have the weapon containers be visually distinct, they’re the same containers with different colored glowing effects.
In the heat of the moment, this can be unceremoniously cruel, as it means you now have to remember colors and squint for a moment as you try and make out color hues between dodging bullets. On a stranger note, there are quite a few moments where it felt like your default weapon was stronger than any of the given pick-ups. An odd sensation, as it defeats the whole purpose of hunting down a favorite pick-up. I’ll gladly take more damage over a wider spread or homing options.
Speaking of, the homing missiles have a quirk to them that I really wish I had known before playing. If you hold down a button, you can essentially control the missiles to their intended target. This gimmick plays a crucial role against a boss fight involving 4 base stations. If you don’t hold down on the D-Pad while firing the missile, it will hit too low. A 15-minute fight of confusion was whittled down to about 5 minutes once I realized the control function. Of all the games to require reading the manual first, an arcade shooter would have been my last guess.
Charva military personal are an interesting lot – they’re essentially just aliens walking around in powered armor suits with an occasional jetpack or tank options for good measure. As the player moves through the game, enemy formations will range from full on charges, stationary positions, and the ever-popular hide behind a machine gun turret. More importantly, there is a cohesiveness to their designs and their movements. I’ve seen way too many games just toss in whatever character designs came their way; with Expendable it really does feel like you’re against a giant unified army.
Boss fights also have a nice variety to them, as you’ll take on ships, huge machinery, giant penned creatures, and other oddities. Every so often the game will throw you a curve ball in terms of boss weaknesses. The previously mentioned creatures have a unique mechanic where they are only susceptible to gas spouted from vents around their pen. Players will have to act like bait to lure the creatures to their untimely deaths.
Expendables is a surprisingly long game – about 4 hours start to finish. Blissfully you’re allowed to save between levels and have the ability to earn extra lives along the way. With a limited number of continues however, the game becomes a daunting challenge. Like Smash TV’s confined spaces, Expendables can put too many characters firing way too many bullets on screen at any given time. Despite have a health bar, there are 1 hit kills, or more painfully multiple enemies who can do quarter-health damage.
There’s a section in the game I lovingly refer to as my quarter life crisis, as three of these enemies are present and I just kept getting my ass handed to me. Having played this on the normal difficulty with a GameShark used for infinite lives, I can not fathom how one would finish it under normal circumstances given how brutal some sections can be.
Gamers looking for secondary challenges will be pleasantly surprised. Various secrets are hidden through-out, and like everything else in the game, their locations are just as random as ever. One might be hidden inside a hostage, one might just be a hidden path off the main road, while one was just killing off an enemy solider lounging in a life preserver in a pool.
The hostages are the other collectable in the game, similar to how they’re done in the Metal Slug series. If you see one, you just run up to them and they’re transported to safety. Not one to make things simple, there are fake hostages that turn into enemy creatures, and then hostages already tied to processing tables. These tables are often used as blockades, so in order to remove them you will need to find keys to activate and remove the beds from the playing field. The keys are dropped by enemies or hiding in containers found in the levels.
Worse still, is that the regular hostages are not impervious. Should one of your stray bullets hit one, they die and you get a good ol’ “Mercy Killing” award. This brings me to another oversight on the programmers’ part. With the number of hostages and secrets in the game, when you hit the end level score screen, there is no indication of how many hostages or secrets there are in total. This oversight ruins any replay functionality from a completionist standpoint. There’s no point in trying if you don’t know your final needed tally.
On the positive side, Expendable is to be commended for it’s graphics and sound effects. The levels have plenty of variety, tons of particle effects and visual trickery to provide really fun set-pieces and in-game cinematics. Sound effects are excellent as well, and while I wish I could critique the soundtrack, I think I only really heard the title screen and mission briefing music. The actual level soundtrack is unceremoniously buried under all the weapon and explosion sound effects.
The 2nd of the previously mentioned flaws is that Expendable’s difficulty is not to be trifled with. It’s one of the few games I’ve played in over 30 years where I felt infinite lives still wasn’t enough for some sequences. Chokepoints abound, and at some points it felt like intentional sabotage to make the player constantly have to replay the game. I can’t fathom what 2-player madness could occur with all the on-screen debris flying about.
Despite all the various oversights mentioned in this review, Expendable is still a damn fun shooter. While it gleefully pays homage to shooters of yesteryear, its hindsight failed to catch the design problems that lied ahead. While no means perfect, Expendable is a fun romp through a once almost forgotten genre.
- Fantastic graphics and sound effects
- Weapon Variety
- Secrets are fun to discover, if a bit random
- Hard to hear the soundtrack
- Base weapon often feels like the best choice
- Insane difficulty paired with a severe lack of continues
Final Score: Solid – 7 / 10
Look past its design oversights and absurd difficulty and gamers will find a fun, white knuckle shooter that keeps a classic genre alive and well. Just bring a GameShark with you…
- According to the manual, in 2463 – ‘humankind will have been exploring the stars for 500 years.’ This time frame lines up to the year 1963 when in real life NASA orbited the Earth multiple times in test runs.
- Like Die Hard Trilogy before it, the player is awarded a ‘Mercy Killing’ for shooting a hostage.
- For what is essentially just an arcade shooter, Rage spends a few pages in the manual fleshing out the lore of the the alien race, the Charvas. It’s an interesting read.
- There are programmers cheats supposedly, but all online listings were proven not working.
- Expendable’s end boss bears an uncanny resemblance to Metal Gear Solid’s Rex, just without the rail gun.
- One of the game’s secrets is just eliminating an enemy soldier lounging in a lifesaver ring in a pool.