Ah, good old John Rambo! You know the guy. That kid friendly character that spawned an action figure range. The one whose first film was a tense, psychological portrayal of a Vietnam veteran. The one whose second film became more like American wish fulfilment. And the one whose 18-rated third film couldn’t have been more 1980’s American propaganda-like if it tried. Yep, that dude. Well, here he is in a shoot-em up based on the third movie and, you know what, Rambo III actually pretty good.
I suppose, as this is a game based on a movie, you’ll be wanting the plot. As with said movie, it’s a straight-forward affair. Colonel Trautman has been captured by the Soviets whilst backpacking around Afghanistan (I say backpacking, I mean helping the Mujahideen, which in the 1980’s was every CIA/military advisor’s premier holiday choice), and you, as John Rambo, need to rescue your friend. Much like the similarly vintage Bond film, The Living Daylights, the politics of Rambo III have not aged well but this review is about the game so we’ll park that thought there.
There are six missions in total, interspaced with what could be called boss battles against Soviet helicopters and tanks. The missions are a mix of indoor and outdoor settings, with tasks such as blowing up arms dumps, rescuing captives and generally killing every mo-fo you can find. The game can be played with one or two players, there are four difficulty settings, you can vary the number of lives Rambo has from 1 to 5, and there are continues available for when you run out of lives. The options menu also contains a handy sound test feature, for reasons I’ll explain later.
Graphically, this game uses a couple of visual styles. The missions themselves use a top-down perspective and it works well. The on-screen visual area is big enough for you to see what’s coming your way and the animation is decent. For the between level boss battles, the view switches to an over the shoulder one where you use Rambo’s signature bow to take out helicopters and tanks. Here, you have some absolutely stonking sprites which adds the to atmosphere of the game. The plot of the game is moved on by some good quality (for the time) stills from the movie, though the face that tells you to rescue captives at the start of the second mission does look like a very shocked Rutger Hauer – who isn’t in the film at all. Maybe he’s as surprised as you are to see him in the game?
Sound effects are decent, no shame there, and the effect of the bow being drawn adds to the tension as you wait for the power to build. It is the music, though, that really surprises. Most of the in game music does the job really well but in Mission Two, this is possibly the best in-game music I have ever heard in a 16-bit title. This is where the sound test menu option comes in as it’s an easy way to hear that brilliant tune time and time again.
As for the gameplay, it’s a good mix of shooting and blowing stuff up. Your machine gun has infinite ammo, just like its film compatriots (as did pretty much every other 1980’s action film), but there are three additional special weapons. Your knife can handle enemies silently, but that’s no fun. Timed explosives are useful, even if their countdown is suspiciously fast, and the ever-familiar bow equipped with explosive tipped arrows. Your supply of the latter two is limited but can be replenished from fallen enemies. There are a variety of enemies that try to take you down and the action can get quite frantic, one example being the point where you reach a bullet spewing gateway whilst trying to bomb watchtowers, with guards in them shooting at you, as their mates appear from the undergrowth to try and catch you unawares.
It’s also here that you have to deal with the life set up. One hit will put you down. If you’ve set the number of lives to one, then you’re straight onto the first use of a continue. Even when set to five lives, you’ll probably need all of those and all of your continues on your first few playthroughs to have any chance of progressing through the game so you can learn the best way of dealing with the bad guys.
The boss levels are also fun, easy enough to begin with as you have plenty of time to power up a bow shot before they fire at you, but as you progress, it gets harder as there are multiple enemies. You can’t move whilst taking your shot and moving to cover prevents you from hitting back. Strenuous stuff!
The game’s longevity is a question mark though. Finishing the game on the easiest difficulty setting won’t take too long once you have enemy patterns memorised and know the tactics to deal with each barrier and boss. That being said, there is a high score to beat and the higher difficulty levels really do ramp up the challenge. Whilst the six missions aren’t the longest you’ll ever play, there is more than enough to have players coming back time and time again.
Rambo III is, in my humble opinion, one of those rare beasts. A movie tie-in that neither disgraces the source material nor brings censure to the world of videogames. It’s not the longest of games and no, it’s not deep, but as a themed shooter, it does the job well, with great presentation and that music. Rambo III should definitely be in your collection if you’re a fan of shooters.
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A fun shooter that might be a little short, but it’s a perfect match for the film and that music is superb.
Quiet guy enjoying videogames (both retro and modern), military history, historical wargaming, sci-fi and fantasy. Run my own blog at tantobieinternettattler.blogspot.com which covers most of my hobbies and interests.