It seemed like such a great concept. Take those little plastic Army men figures
you used to play with as a kid and drop them into a strategy game. You could set
it in a real house, complete with real dogs and real moms and real little sisters
who drive you really nuts. It would be like playing through a scene from Toy
Story, only with fewer cowboys. It sounded very cool.
But when the original Army Men
game was cracked open and installed on the GR gaming PC so many years ago, the
only sound you could make out was the collective slap of several palms meeting
several foreheads, accompanied by several expletives and at least one D'oh!
Yep. It sucked bad.
And then they kept coming. A new Army Men game seemed to arrive at the GR doorstep each month like an abandoned crack baby. Like good foster parents, we would take it in, feed it, even play with it for a time, until the evil stepmother in us decided to fling the wretched little thing out the window. Oh, the horror.
But when we opened the door and found Army Men: RTS shivering in the
cold Berkeley air, we actually hesitated before kicking it to the curb. That,
by the way, was a smart move, because it turns out that this is quite possibly
the best Army Men game yet, though that isn't saying much.
After countless misfires, the folks at 3DO finally figured out that what we
all wanted was a classic strategy game set in a miniature toy universe. They
even went so far as to hire Pandemic, the developers behind Dark
Reign 2, a proven if somewhat standard RTS. This is the backbone of Army
Men: RTS. You build bases, crank out units and defenses, mine resources
and attempt to wipe out your enemies.
As always, the primary enemy is the Tan. In the main Campaign mode, you have
to hunt down a rogue Green officer who has recently gone underground and turned
Tan, a nod to Apocalypse Now's Colonel
Kurtz. You'll travel through a garden that feels like a forest, wind your
way around couches the size of mountains, and battle ants bigger than horses.
The past few 3DO games have shown exceptional FMV work, and the trend continues
here. The tongue-in-cheek plot is supported by a slew of crisp in-game cinematics
and excellent voice-acting, a well-directed and genuinely fun stab at a story.
In addition to the main Campaign, Army Men: RTS features a short but
helpful Boot Camp Training mode, 'Intelligence Files' for viewing units and
structures up close, and the Great Battles and Special Ops bonus modes. These
last two offer 16 extra unlockable missions some of which are very difficult,
adding some life to the product.
The gameplay itself follows very basic RTS mechanics. You use your bulldozer
to build up a base, including ubiquitous structures like a Barracks, Garage
and a Resource Depot. You can build infantry and vehicles - snipers, machine
gunners, tanks, helicopters, etc. You send out little dumptrucks to mine for
your two resources: plastic and electricity. This bit's actually kind of cool
- rather than clear cut a forest, your dumptrucks will slowly melt away a giant
action figure or discarded walkie talkie. It's great getting all territorial
over a dog bowl.
To further this sense of smallness, the levels are (at last) set in
a real-world environment. You'll lead your soldiers through a backyard, past
giant garden gnomes, all the way into the basement of a house. You'll have to
cross a kitchen sink while being chased by ants. You'll even traverse a cluttered
living room to blow up a massive source of electricity - a PS2. The creativity
that the Army Men series has been lacking is finally evident, and it
pays off in spades.
while the story and creativity are there, so are some typical real-time strategy
problems. Units rountinely exhibit a particularly annoying pathfinding issue
that I like to call "A Weekend At Disneyland." For some reason, they tend to
follow one another in a line despite having plenty of space to navigate. I suppose
that's fine for tanks, but when a soldier is stuck behind a Half-Track, which
in turn is stuck behind another soldier, it looks more like a conga
line at a wedding than a military formation. Who trained these guys, Desi
Arnaz and Carmen Miranda?
The AI is also suspect. Tan soldiers will just sit there getting wasted by
your superior forces and will rarely try to overwhelm your base. For the most
part, each mission can be beaten fairly easily if you just give yourself enough
time to crank out enough units. Things almost always boil down to a war of attrition.
This was fine several years ago when strategy gaming was just making a name
for itself with games like Warcraft II and C&C, but at this point
it just feels dated.
The control is surprisingly simple. Rather than making you drag-select like
in PC strategy games, Army Men: RTS understands it's on a console system
and lets you select units with the press of a button. A highlight circle will
increase in diameter as you press Circle, allowing you to select as many or
as few units on screen as you'd like. It's not quite as intuitive as the PC
mouse interface, but all things considered, it works well.
Army Men: RTS strays even further from its troubled past with decent
in-game visuals. Nothing flashy, but the animations are adequate, there's a
decent zoom, and the framerate hold up even when major plactic warfare gets
going. Explosion effects are a little bland, but nothing to get too upset about.
Which accurately describes Army Men: RTS. This isn't a superb game
by any stretch of the imagination, but it also won't cause you permanent damage
like some of the other
Army Men games. Casual strategy fans should check it out, though you die-hards
will probably find the shallow gameplay to be a little, uh, plastic.