“G.I. Joe: War On Cobra Review – No Go, Joe”
There are a few different kinds of mobile games, but G.I. Joe: War On Cobra is one of the worst types. A title with unnecessary push notifications, constant up-selling of paid content, and a prevalent and incessant loot box mechanic, G.I. Joe: War On Cobra is reminiscent of the most unpleasant things most players think of when someone mutters the term “mobile games.”
It’s doubly unfortunate, then, that G.I. Joe: War On Cobra appears to be marketing itself to children, or is at least not doing much to dissuade the notion. Each login to the game sees players being slapped with an advertisement for a $19.99 content pack, and each win in battle is punctuated by the delivery of a loot box which can’t yet be opened until the other loot boxes a player has in their inventory have been accounted for, either by paying to open them with one of the many in-game currencies or with real-world money. This wouldn’t be so bad, if not for the fact that G.I. Joe: War On Cobra is marketed by Hasbro and uses the action figure versions of all the characters.
Games like G.I. Joe: War On Cobra spark a difficult conversation, one which must involve the fact that the game itself is completely free to download. Even though it sports no apparent unique attributes or substantial steps forward in the gaming world, G.I. Joe: War On Cobra is still a title which likely took months of development time and had a team of designers working to make it the best they possibly could. These developers need to get paid for their work, and the company which supported them throughout the process needs to recoup its losses. If the game doesn’t have an initial purchase price, that money must come from elsewhere, hence the free-to-play model.
Players have seen this practice in countless mobile and PC titles throughout the past decade, with the free-to-play model even eventually making its way to some console games in the recent past. There are multiple variations, and G.I. Joe: War On Cobra does a commendable job of hitting nearly all of them in some fashion or another.
Firstly, there’s the push notification and forced waiting mechanic, popularized in classic mobile titles like The Simpsons: Tapped Out. The main idea with this microtransaction process is to force players to wait an increasingly long arbitrary amount of time for tasks to be completed, and then offer them the chance to “skip” the waiting for a certain cost. Often, this cost will be presented as in-game currency, which titles like G.I. Joe: War On Cobra like to shower new players with upon starting out. However, the amount of in-game currency distributed for free soon begins to dwindle, and players are then presented with the choice of either waiting the required length of time for their actions to be completed or purchasing a pack of in-game currency for real-world money.
Secondly, there’s the classic loot box mechanic popularized in so many first-person shooters but perhaps best (and most evilly) presented in Star Wars Battlefront II. A game mechanic which has sparked entirely new laws focused around decreasing the risk of gambling addictions in children, loot boxes are a reward at the end of every completed mission in G.I. Joe: War On Cobra, although if the player already has acquired four of them the next loot box will be lost until they free up space by opening the previous ones. This also ties in with the aforementioned pay-to-not-wait mechanic, as once a player runs out of free loot box openings they must either wait the allotted amount of time or pay to open a new open immediately.
Nothing about the loot box mechanic employed in G.I. Joe: War On Cobra is fun, engaging, or appropriate, and yet it is seemingly integral to the game’s main experience, with the process being repeatedly and unnecessarily mentioned at almost every turn. For a game so outwardly focused on recreating the look and feel of children playing with toys, and one which is indeed made by the same company which created those toys in the first place, this constant pull for players to open their wallets is at its best unnerving, and at its worst predatory.
The minute to minute gameplay of G.I. Joe: War On Cobra, when not navigating through menu screens and unlocking various amounts of various forms of currency, sees players somewhat strategically placing troops on a battlefield and watching as they automatically attack the current area’s enemies, occasionally offering chances for additional interaction through special moves which have their own specific cooldown timers. It’s perfectly adequate but brings absolutely nothing new to the tactical battlefield, a fact which is somewhat disappointing since there are already a plethora of games featuring the exact same mechanics on the market.
The main selling point of G.I. Joe: War On Cobra, then, must be the characters, with the dialog and animations perfectly matching their Hasbro counterparts. All of the featured iconic G.I. Joe memorabilia appears intact in War On Cobra, although the ability to jump at any time between playing as the Joes and playing as a member of Cobra seems somewhat counter-intuitive to the entire premise of the show, and the player’s shifting allegiance is seemingly tolerated by both sides rather simply. Truly, the main characters serve as nothing more than glorified tutorial-givers, and once this part of the game is over they disappear for the majority of a player’s experience.
G.I. Joe: War On Cobra brings to mind the worst aspects of mobile tie-in games, and it does nothing unique enough to distinguish itself from the titles its gameplay evokes. It’s hard to imagine any hardcore fan of the G.I. Joe series over the age of ten which would gain any sort of real enjoyment out of this product, and yet the predatory nature of the game’s microtransactions makes it an uncomfortable recommendation for anyone with children young enough to accidentally spend money because they didn’t understand the many different currency systems.
There was clearly a team of dedicated artists, designers, and producers who wanted to remain as true to the G.I. Joe license as possible when developing War on Cobra, but unfortunately the primary, secondary, and tertiary gameplay loops are all punctuated with incessant menu hopping, loot box opening, and time wasting. Nothing about the game feels designed to be fun or entertaining, and instead feels like a forced slog to promote paying extra money. Luckily, the game is free to download, but this can easily be seen as the cause of many of G. I. Joe: War on Cobra’s issues rather than its saving grace, since most of its problems stem from the free-to-play model.
It’s hard to pin down who exactly G.I. Joe: War On Cobra is for, let alone who to recommend it to. Players who have nothing else to do with their phones, perhaps, or hardcore Joe fans just looking for any fix they can find, may discover some enjoyment in the mobile title. However, for the majority of the gaming public, there’s nothing here which hasn’t been done before, better, and less predatory, in many other games already.
G.I. Joe: War on Cobra is available to download now on Android and iOS devices.
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