Review: This game is in a word... expendable.
The best thing about Expendable, as far as I'm concerned, is its opening movie. Your character, a clone-grown soldier who is born only to kill in the name of humanity, is hatched out of a cloning vat, branded, thrown down an elevator shaft, dressed in armor, has his orders and training beamed into his head, and then thrown into a dropship with another soldier to go fight off yet another alien invasion. During this entire three- or four-minute ordeal, the poor bastard is making these pre-verbal grunts and cries, like a confused infant, and screams when the dropship's rockets ignite. It's a compelling image. Unfortunately, with Expendable, it's all downhill from there.
In short, Expendable is another game in which you have to mercilessly mow down hordes of alien soldiers, who, despite having pummeled the forces of Earth into submission, are willing to stand there and get blown away by a single insane warrior with massive phallic compensation guns. Of course, at the end of this trail of bleeding alien wreckage, you'll have to take out a large ship or monster, which has enough firepower to wipe out an army but falls readily to a repeated assault on a single crucial, yet unarmored, point. I love Shooter Logic, man.
Now, Expendable's okay. I'll admit it. There's nothing all that wrong with the game, or, rather, there's nothing that a couple more months of playtesting couldn't've fixed. My biggest problem with it, and I'll be blunt, is that I played it after I played Capcom's Cannon Spike.
If you've played CS, you might as well not play Expendable; if you've played Expendable, you may wish to check out CS for a better example of the same sort of game. Both are top-down shooters, sort of, although Expendable usually twists the perspective a bit, occasionally even deviating into third-person shooter territory. Expendable's got more weapons, more levels, more secrets, and generally lasts longer before being shelved, but CS has far, far better gameplay.
That said, Expendable isn't all that bad. The aliens start off as bleeding practice dummies, but they start mixing up their tactics soon enough. They'll use cover and equipment to their best advantage, and frequently catch you in crossfire. More to the point, they've got some impressive toys, many of which can reduce you to jambalaya in a remarkably short period of time. For your part, you've got decent weapons, plenty of ammo, life pickups that are about as numerous as they need to be, and hostages to rescue. (It's bizarre, but Expendable is the only game I've ever played that doesn't penalize you for whacking hostages; they just call it a "mercy killing" and don't give you the hostage-rescue bonus. Odd.)
The problems start with the play control. You can move and fire along an eight-direction axis, and you can strafe with the trigger buttons. The aliens, however, are not so hamstrung. One of the most frustrating things about the game is that frequently you'll be stuck in a narrow passage that you can't move straight down, as its heading is stuck halfway between two points on the control axis. While you attempt to accommodate this problem, aliens are putting plasma charges into you at an astounding rate, and you won't be able to hit them with your weapons without charging directly into a hail of bullets.
For that matter, those control limitations really start to chafe when you're surrounded by aliens and need to switch directions. Without the strafe button, you're limited to firing in the direction you're moving in, which means it's almost impossible to dodge crossfire and retaliate simultaneously. It's not an insurmountable obstacle by any means, but it's not as easy as it should be, either.
The time limit on the levels is another real drag on the action. The game rewards exploration and experimentation, so you can find secrets and extra weapons. However, it also has a punishingly short time clock, meaning that unless you regularly luck out and find extra time clocks, you're going to get killed by the timer at some point--and then, since your next life starts off with only sixty seconds on the clock, it's probably going to happen again in about a minute. I can understand wanting to keep the action and pace going, but too often, the time limit looks as though it's there to arbitrarily kill you if you're fighting too strategically (read: hanging back and returning fire, rather than running in and blowing aliens away point-blank).
My final problem with Expendable is the same problem I had with Dragonriders of Pern; the onscreen icons are way too small for my 17" television. I find it annoying that I have to squint to see how much ammunition and health I have left, what my score is, and so on. Now, I'll admit that 17" isn't all that big, but I've only had problems with it for two games so far. Couldn't the icons and text have been expanded? I can't afford another glasses prescription right now.