Well, what needs to be said about Expendable that hasn't been said already? Plenty if your willing to read on. This game will remind you of Contra in 3D. Unfortunately, it lacks in similar areas as its acclaimed counterpart did after making its transition to the third dimension. The game plays out as follows: You are a soldier embarking on a 20+ mission adventure and are capable of traveling in any direction over different landscapes while viewing the action from a 3/4 overhead position. There are many weapons and power ups that you will encounter throughout the game.
The weapons lack originality but do serve the game well for all intensive purposes. Some enemies are more susceptible to some weapons; thus, making it necessary for you to have a full grasp of your weaponry. The weapons are as follows: One button will control grenades (napalm, shatter grenade, dynamite, and an air-strike cannon) while the other one controls your standard weapon. The grenades work as imagined (dating all the way back to Commando), while the primary weapons exhibit much more variety. The pulse cannon is your default weapon. How fast can you press the button? That's how fast you will fire. The reaction of your character's gun perfectly coincides with the rate at which you press the trigger. I really enjoyed this feature, as it is currently a lost style in video games these days. It seems our day of the rapid button requirement of Track and Field are paying off less and less. Is your hand getting tired? The relief of finding a new weapon should serve you well. All the new weapons you obtain will only require you to hold the button down for rapid fire (spread pulse cannon, particle accelerator, shotgun, Vulcan cannon, phantasm, spyra missiles, warhead rockets, heat seeking missiles, laser-guided missiles, flame thrower and the alien weaponry). These weapons are found throughout the game in crates you'll be thrilled to blast, as well as inside aliens you destroy. Also found here are items which increase your allotted time, create a shield for your soldier, add health in ranging implements, give you an extra life, extra continued games, and lastly key cards.
The key cards come in a variety of colors, and you must obtain them to surpass certain areas of the game. The farther you venture, the more dependent you become on them. With this being said, don't plan on being stuck in any one area for too long. Thankfully, Infogrames knowing this being an ACTION game, placed the key cards in places that aren't too hard to find. Getting stranded for a few minutes brought back nightmares from games of the past. I can't express my relief when I found the key cards relatively easily on a consistent basis. Once you are a skilled player, expect each level to take you between five to ten minutes to conquer. Aside from key cards there are various tasks asked of you in order to complete a level or open a door. This ranges from collecting cryokeys to shooting generators which hold the doors closed. The game always gives you a clear visual display of how many generators remain or what is needed to pass a certain portal. Along your mission, you will encounter many hostages that will offer a minute level of energy when saved. Additionally, you can opt to exterminate hostages. As a result you will receive a very nice "Mercy Killing" message with no further penalty. Bonus levels become available roughly every fifth mission. In the bonus area, you are required to find the key card and bring it to a specified location. The time in this area is limited, and this affects you the most since there are many crates which hold power ups on the bonus levels. If you get too greedy, you walk away with nothing.
Every so often you are treated to a very close view from behind your soldier. I loved these parts of the game and wished there were more of them. This reminded me of a pseudo-Doom style of gaming, and it was definitely a refreshing change of pace from the standard method of fighting which I'll touch on shortly.
The bosses that you'll find appear on a semi-regular basis. While they are not on every level, the bosses do play a major factor in your completing the game. After your first few tries with a particular boss, you'll no doubt spend a good amount of "continues" until you learn just what it takes to conquer the opposing boss. Loss of life mainly takes place here at the boss confrontation as well as at the laser guarded gates for which you will need key cards to pass. ONE touch of the laser guarding the gate will result in immediate death. At first this is very frustrating; however, with time and practice and just a little patience, you will have little trouble avoiding their danger.
The game is set up in a manner that asks if you'd like to save after each and every board. Believe that you'll need to complete each level in near perfection before saving. Doing otherwise, will find you on level 19 with only one life remaining. Since you must concentrate on conquering each and every level as efficiently as possible, this game offers itself nicely to finding all of the goodies and secret power-ups. You'll find that you'll attempt every level at least three times before getting it right. The first one or two attempts will prove to be frustrating due to time constraints as well as backtracking to find key cards. Once you know where everything is, it's simply a matter of talent. How much damage can you dish out, and how little will you receive? In the long run, this will be all that matters. In this area, gameplay is most important.
This game suffers in many different aspects in the area of gameplay. First and foremost being that it's very difficult to make sense of all the chaos amidst all the carnage. The soldiers and all of what you will be destroying are very small. The first several boards are plagued with very dark backgrounds limiting your view substantially. I understand that they were trying to create a mood here, but this simply doesn't work. Moreover when destroying crates, crafts, or aliens you will be treated to a phenomenal explosion. This only aids in making matters more confusing. Every boom is complemented with a blinding, bright aura and shrapnel that flies in every direction. Combine this with the dark backgrounds on the first few levels, and you are mercifully left with trying to locate your soldier, enemies, and the direction to aim your fire. Add to this a second player, and you have a real nightmare on your hands. This is what I found myself most disappointed in. This genre excels in its two-player fun; however, playing with a second player in this game is anything but fun. It becomes so confusing that rather than being complimented by having a second soldier, you are literally distracted by it. By adding a second player, you add no extra credits to the coin box; therefore, defeating this game with two players is nearly impossible. Of all of downfalls in this game, the lack of two player fun is by far the biggest.
I can't help but feel that another factor affecting gameplay negatively is the lack of a dual analog controller. Neither the game nor the system make it an available option yet. However, in playing this game, I'm constantly yearning to shoot in one direction and fire in another (a la Robotron and Smash TV). Sony's Dual Shock controller would have worked wonders for this title. To compensate for this missing element, you are able to strafe using the "L" and "R" triggers. Holding either of these buttons down, will allow you to face in one direction while firing in another. You will find that this is vital to a successful adventure. Although, I could get by using the strafe , I yearned for more control over my firepower without having to constantly reposition myself for a proper strafe angle.
The graphics on this game are a bit below average for the Dreamcast, yet still better than that of most PSX titles. As usual, the cinema displays during the game appear to be identical to the graphics you are witness to while playing, only much closer views are offered during these displays. A major complaint I have here, aside from the small size of your soldier, is the small and almost unreadable vital stats in the upper corner of the screen. While it's easy to read your time remaining and the key cards you currently possess, your energy meter and weapon shots remaining icons are almost illegible. You can tell that this game was ported from the PC's, and the designers spent little or no time adjusting these displays for the inferior resolution of a television. Also not quite making the adjustment, are the very small enemy life bars. As the game progresses the graphics seem to get better. Thank god for it, because if the entire game played out similiar to the first five levels, I might never have taken the time to complete it.
The audio department of this game is again quite average. While the sounds that are prevalent are done very well, there seem to be quite a lack of different sounds. Very little voiceover work contributes in diminishing its audio value. The GD's hold a gig of information. I can't believe that Sonic, Soul Calibur ,and NFL2K are the only games that seemed to use the potential that a GD provides its coders. I hold audio to very high standards, and I personally feel that the industry is dishing out more of the same--much too often. Exceptions like Sonic Adventure are abundantly too rare in this day and age of the GD.
I was very much looking forward to this title being the brainless two-player shooter that I've been waiting for. It now seems as if Dynamite Cop may be that game--Expendable simply didn't cut it. I found some aspects of the game enjoyable indeed, and I was tempted enough to keep returning to it until I saw this game to its completion. There is no question that this game becomes more enjoyable, and playable as the levels progress. Although this may be true, it is still safe to say that I was disappointed in the overall package. The lack of effort is apparent in porting this title from the PC to the Dreamcast. I assume the ease of this port was tempting enough to have Infogrames simply ship it out hoping to capitalize on the Dreamcast's success. Unfortunately, I think it's safe to say you can expect more titles done in this vein. That being a game having little or no work done to it, and ported from the PC to the Dreamcast for a quick buck. Let's hope this tactic does not pay off in the long run.
The following is my condensed review of Expendable:
This game offers some nice eye candy as you progress in levels; however, it is plagued by small characters, bright explosions, and poorly lit scenery.
Niether anything to rave about, nor anything to really gripe over. The sounds that exist are done very well. I simply found them limited in variety. Lack off voiceovers hurt this title. Playablity: 71
Hindered greatly by the confusing onslaught of explosions this game, makes it virtually unplayable in the two-player mode, which is where this genre usually shines. The strafe option is a must when fighting enemies. It could have been incredible had it been for a dual analog controller (a la Robotron and Smash TV), but at present it simply doesn't exist.
This title should last you a solid 30 hours of gameplay if you let yourself submerge into it. This rating could have skyrocketed had the two player option been at least playable.
My expectations were high as a result of believing this to be the brainless two-player simultaneous shooter I had been waiting for. Not long after placing it into my Dreamcast, I realized that this frankly was not it. The lack of a playable two-player game destroys this title. After my initial disappointment, I actually found aspects of the game quite enjoyable after completing several levels. This is what saved Expendable from being exactly that and from receiving an absolutely awful failing grade.
Review By: Jonathan Licata