Army Men

Sandbox battles of old come alive on the virtual battleground.

Army Men, at first glance, doesn’t look much like an action game. What it looks like is an exercise in real-time strategy. You’ve got your isometric terrain maps, your air strikes and your recon flights, your paratroops, and your deployable platoons of soldiers. Strategy is certainly required by the game, but it’s really more about guiding your green soldier through the environment and shooting enemy tan soldiers. Simple times.

The plot is simple. Something that looks like a World War II newsreel lets us know that the Greens have come under attack by the evil, nefarious and expansionist Tan Empire on all fronts. You’ll control Sarge, the über-Army man capable of using all the weapons and vehicles. Sarge is also able to call in airstrikes and reinforcements (via parachute) and command them to attack and defend objectives.

Plastic Explosives

5_1Gameplay essentially boils down to controlling Sarge and conducting missions against Tan forces, sometimes with the help of other plastic companions, often times alone. Army Men was initially drawn up as a strategy game but eventually morphed into more of an action game with some strategic elements. You almost always start out alone and must battle your way across the map against Tan forces, accomplishing objectives as you go. The twenty-eight mission campaign will take you through three geographical regions, including a vast desert, swamp and an alpine forest.

You’ll have at your disposal a number of weapons and air support power-ups found scattered throughout, but have to make due with a fairly limited inventory. Sarge brandishes rifles, bazookas, mortars, grenades, flame throwers, mines, and radios, morphing effortlessly into the correct posture for each. He drives tanks, jeeps, half-tracks, and cargo trucks. He occasionally calls out orders to his back-up squad or his air support, but more often than not this is a one-man show

Action hounds can solve many of the game’s problems simply by jumping in guns blazing, but there is almost always an easier way, and that’s where the strategy comes in. If you’d rather not try to take out a dozen hostile tanks at once, a little forethought can collapse a few walls and barricade them outside. By the same token, if you’d rather not get your hands dirty at all you can dig in somewhere and just call down a few air-strikes. Unfortunately the game cuts little slack in the way of it all, with limited savegames and a low lifebar meaning you’ll have to replay long stretches of the same mission several times before you get it just right.

Thin Green Line

Missions play out in a gradual manner as you receive single objectives that need accomplishing one by one. Complete an objective and the game is auto-saved, you’re given new orders and you go at it some more until the level ends and a new map loads. You’ll find the lack of saving a severe blow to the fun about two or three missions in, when enemy forces become ever more fierce. Some of the missions get damn difficult early on, and you’ll likely find yourself restarting several times. Completing the game becomes quite a chore after several hours of gameplay, and the lackluster controls can’t even begin to help.

10_1Enemies are predictable as hell, and it’s only through superior numbers and firepower that they pose any threat. Your squadmates won’t shine any brighter, needing direct orders to either follow or attack, and don’t expect them to move out of the way of an incoming grenade. There’s a cool concept behind Army Men that occasionally fades due to the inherent difficulty and the repetitive nature of the action, not to mention the less than stellar AI soldiers. It’s more attrition than tactics past the halfway mark, but overall there’s a lot originality shinning through here nonetheless.

System Requirements: Pentium 133 Mhz, 16 MB RAM, Windows 95

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