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Army Men RTS Review

Ben_Silverman By:
GENRE Action 
DEVELOPER Pandemic Studios 
T Contains Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Go Joe!

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.

But 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.

B- Revolution report card
  • Good concept
  • Creative levels
  • Nice delivery
  • Standard gameplay
  • Pathfinding problems
  • Weak play balance
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