One of the surprises of last year on the Playstation was 3DO's Army Men, an all-out mission based action game with little plastic men blasting away at each other with real weapons. The game was quite a bit of fun, especially if you didn't take the whole thing too seriously, but had a few problems that kept it from greatness. Now that 3DO has seen how popular the franchise is, it continues to churn out more games in the series for the PC and home systems with mixed results. The latest one for the Playstation, Army Men Air Attack, is the best game yet, and addresses many of the problems of the first game, such as graphics and control, while adding one or two others, mainly the length of the game, and the "legs" of the series in general.
Players assume the role of a Green Army helicopter pilot as he attempts to smash the evil Tan Army's plans in both the real and plastic worlds, which are traversed via warp portals in each level. Although I prefer the plastic world missions a bit over the real world ones, this plot point makes the game a lot more enjoyable. Call me a psychiatrist, but I always thought the idea of playing with toys involved the creation of a battlefield in one's mind as well, which is why the real world missions in Sarge's Heroes for the N64 left me cold. Anyway, after your briefing, you pick a 'copter, and co-pilot, and just go for it! The first couple of missions are pretty straighforward, and a bit easy, but things get tough quite fast, especially if you waste all your missiles blasting soldiers instead of heavy equipment! Your chopper is armed with some really cool weapons, and you pick up power-up crates with a winch, during the missions. The winch can also be used to lift and drop boulders, apples, and the like on enemy bases and vehicles, and you'll get a laugh or two each time you bean some unsuspecting Tan troops with one of these items. The co-pilots are straight out of a Sgt. Rock comic, with their "witty" comments, and respective skills- you'll want to turn the voices down after about a minute of the really corny voice and bad jokes, though!
Graphically, the game is quite nice, with the perfect viewpoint picked for the game- not too close, but far away enough so that you can see what's ahead. No player-rotated camera to annoy folks who hate doing this in an action game (me, for example!), and the environments are solid as well. In this age of Dreamcast, some folks will look at the game and find something to gripe at, I'm sure, but considering all the action onscreen, this game is a wonder of PS coding! The controls are just perfect- either analog or d-pad work fine, with simplified, remappable commands, and no worries about altitude adjustment at all- a no-no to sim buffs, but if you want a chopper sim, belly up to your PC instead- THIS game is all about blowing s@*t up! Music and sound effects are great as well, and the opening CG is just fantastic, combining the old-style newsreel footage from the first game, with some modern stuff as well. I guess it's always the 1940's in the plastic world, judging by the intro...
For some reason, the game has a Teen rating, but considering that most teens have put away their toy soldiers, and are actively pursuing other interests (smoking, shopping, sex, sports, flunking major classes), this seems odd. There's no blood at all (it's even mentioned on the back of the CD case!), and it's not the bees in the game that attack whoever pisses them off, so I guess it's just 3DO covering themselves in case some pre-teens swipe a helicopter and lay waste to their school- whatever. It's just that some parents seem to be paying a bit more attention to ratings these days, and won't buy anything not rated for the whole family. Yes, it's not Mario or Crash, but it isn't Half-Life, or Quake III either!
There are a couple of two-player games along for the ride as well, and they extend the value of the game immensely- One is a Co-op Mode, in which you both go up against the (evil) Tan Army, and a Capture the Flag game, similar to Return Fire, but with helicopters only. The main game itself, with 16 missions, is just long enough without getting dull, but hardcore gamers and those looking for a super-long action/strategy game may be a bit disappointed. So far, so good, but I have a tiny reservation or two. If anything, while playing through AMAA, I felt as if 3DO was milking the franchise a little by releasing one good game at a time, rather than one big, great game, featuring many different types of battles. With any luck, we'll see stuff like Army Men Sea Battle, Army Men Jungle War, and Army Men Jet Fighters, et al. Overkill, yep- But I guess that's what sequels are for, right? In any event, there haven't been ANY good helicopter games on the Playstation for a long, long time, and Army Men Air Attack fills that particular void quite nicely- Pick it up, soldier!
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